How COVID Impacted the 2022 Tony Awards – The Hollywood Reporter
The COVID safety managers, stage managers, cast and crews that kept Broadway productions going during the 2021-2022 season were among those honored during the 2022 Tony Awards, held Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall.
During the ceremony one of the biggest nods to the pandemic-affected season, which began with theaters reopening in 2021 after being dark for more than a year, was during Skylar Astin and Marcia Gay Harden’s presentation of the featured actress in a play award when COVID safety managers were shouted out and thunderously cheered by the Tonys audience.
“It took the entire community to bring Broadway back, to welcome almost 7 million theater goers to a shortened season,” Harden said. “The Broadway League celebrates the crucial role played by the COVID safety managers. One hundred and fifty are here tonight as guests of the Tonys.”
“They made it possible for audience members to feel and be safe and they continue to keep everyone onstage and backstage able to perform,” Astin added.
While accepting Take Me Out‘s win for best revival of a play, Second Stage Theatre’s Carole Rothman captured the struggle that most Broadway productions were facing all season in her speech.
“It’s been a tough time for the theater, for our artists and for New York City. It’s taken great courage and commitment on the part of so many people to come back to the theater, which is a place of joy. Everyone at Second Stage is immensely proud of our production of Take Me Out and Clyde’s,” she said, before thanking “the understudies and the remarkable company that has stuck with us for over two years.”
Directly after, actor Anthony Edwards — who took the stage in his wife Mare Winningham’s musical Girl From the North Country to avoid a COVID-related performance cancellation — also acknowledged the precarious situation productions have been under all season.
“Just as all Broadway shows have had to cope with the effects of COVID and cast changes, this show got into a situation where there were no more swings or understudies, and I was asked at the last minute if I would cover a role,” Edwards said. “Terrifying, truly. But sharing the stage with these performers was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
During the show, several winners, including Company star Patti LuPone, also acknowledged the pandemic season and those who made it possible for shows to go on.
“I started this journey with Marianne Elliott in 2018. Four years, two countries, a seemingly endless and extremely vulnerable lockdown, three different viruses in three consecutive months and two sublime casts,” LuPone said while accepting her win for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical. “A finer group of actors and comedians I couldn’t imagine who it is my honor to work with every night. Thank you to the stage managers, the backstage crews … all of the understudies across all of the stages in New York, all of the COVID safety people.”
Company director Marianne Elliot also acknowledged those in the theater company fighting for the survival of live theater, which she said seemed in jeopardy, while accepting her win for best direction of a musical.
MJ lighting designer Natasha Katz celebrated Broadway’s return after several years of isolation during her acceptance speech for best lighting design of a musical during the Tony Awards’ first hour Act One, which streamed on Paramount+.
“These last couple of years of sort of being in isolation is such a gift to be back in a watching Broadway shows and going to see the theater again,” she told the Radio City Music Hall crowd. “The love of the audience has been absolutely overwhelming, and I have cherished every moment of working and every moment of watching these incredible other artists this year.”
Dana H. sound designer Mikhail Fiksel won for best sound design of a play, the production notably among one of the first to shut down during the pandemic season as theaters struggled to entice domestic tourists and New Yorkers to come back. Actress Phylicia Rashad also championed the company and crew of Skeleton Crew as she took home the win for best featured actress in a play. Written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson — two of the seven historic Black playwrights whose work was part of the past Broadway season — Skeleton Crew arrived and closed amid the season’s harshest COVID wave.
Despite being the first full season back from the industry’s 18-month shutdown, the COVID-19 pandemic had a slightly lower profile during the Sunday night event versus the previous year. During the 2021 show, which honored productions that opened during the 2019 season before the shutdown, Broadway’s Back! host Leslie Odum Jr. dedicated an entire swath of his monologue to singing about protocols while presenter Wayne Brady noted during the official 74th annual show the efforts taken to protect guests through its COVID protocols.
There were also more somber moments during last year’s show, including an emotional In Memoriam tribute led by Bernadette Peters honoring those Broadway lost to COVID-19, while various winners such as The Inheritance producer Tom Kirdahy, A Soldier’s Play director Kenny Leon and Moulin Rouge! producer Carmen Pavlovic were among those that acknowledged personal losses as well as the closings of various shows due to the pandemic.
It was announced on June 6 that attendees at the 75th annual ceremony would not be required to wear masks, though some attendees were seen masked during the ceremony. Show attendees were, however, required to be tested for COVID-19. The testing requirement was aimed at supporting the nominees and performers who currently have testing requirements on their own shows and would be sitting in the orchestra of Radio City Music Hall, along with producers, theater owners and celebrity guests.
Beyond the Tonys, Broadway has begun to lift some of the pandemic protocols it put in place for audiences and performers upon reopening last September. While vaccination is still a requirement for performers, it is no longer for audiences with theaters requiring it on a case-by-case basis. Masks are still required for audiences through June 30.