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Tonys rip up the awards-show playbook with a streaming-only ceremony on Paramount+

Kathyrn Gallagher is in "Jagged Little Pill," which leads with 15 Tony Awards nominations.
Kathyrn Gallagher in “Jagged Little Pill,” which leads with Tony Awards nominations with 15.
(Matthew Murphy)

The brightest Broadway stars of the pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 theater season are finally set to convene at a postponed Tony Awards ceremony that will break from tradition in a big way.

When the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing present the 74th annual awards Sept. 26, almost all of the 25 categories — including those for acting, writing and directing — will be presented exclusively on the streaming service Paramount+.

To the chagrin of many theater fans, only three awards — best musical, best play and best revival of a play — will be broadcast on CBS immediately following the streaming event as part of a live concert featuring Tony winners and other Broadway actors.

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The switch to streaming comes during an awards season beset by declining viewership. Ratings for the 2021 Oscars hit an all-time low, with fewer than 10 million viewers tuning into the telecast. Although ViacomCBS said its Paramount+ service (formerly CBS All-Access) has a subscription base reaching 36 million users, it lags behind streaming giants like Disney+, which reached more than 100 million global subscribers only 16 months after its launch.

The pandemic’s gutting effects on Broadway will be hard to miss during the ceremony and the concert — titled “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!” — both timed to the anticipated return of live theater. Nominations for the show were announced last October, as performers and producers were struggling with the financial fallout of the COVID-19 shutdown. The shortened 2019-2020 season left only 18 shows eligible for the awards.

The musical “Jagged Little Pill” led the nominations with 15, followed by “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” with 14, and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” and “Slave Play,” each with 12.


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