The David Desk Awards plus Thoughts on B’way’s Future

Normally this would have been one of the best weeks of the year for theater lovers. The Tony Awards for Broadway’s best would have presented on Sunday June 7. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Broadway theaters have been shut down since March 12 and are not likely to reopen until January 2021 at the earliest. (The Metropolitan Oper recently announced it would not reopen until New Year’s Eve and the New York Philharmonic has suspended performances until Jan. 5.) In a May 25 interview with Tim Teeman of the Daily Beast, Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin was cautiously optimistic about the Main Stem lights being relit. But she stressed social distancing and playing to half-empty housing would not fit with the Broadway economic model which requires packing in as many bodies as possible for maximum profit. A few shows such as Plaza Suite, MJ: The Michael Jackson Musical and 1776 have announced opening dates for the spring of 2021, but those may be aspirational like Trump saying he wanted packed churches on Easter.

An empty Times Square. Photo taken by David Sheward

Without a vaccine or even treatment for the coronavirus, theatergoers will probably be reluctant to return. Earliest estimates for the development of a COVID vaccine are the end of the year, but then it would take months to be mass produced and made available to the general public.

What would Broadway look like without a vaccine? It might mean closing the entire Times Square area off from cars so that the side streets from 42nd to 50th could be used for long lines of patrons to get their temperatures checked and handed face masks (if they didn’t bring their own) as well having their bags searched. (The latter practice started just a few years ago in the wake of various terrorist threats.) Getting into the theater could become just as time-consuming as going to the airport with patrons being advised  to show up two-to-three hours before curtain time.

There’s also the threat to performers. Will actors have to wear face masks and maintain a separation of six feet? The British play Lungs will be presented online with the only cast members Matt Smith and Claire Foy keeping well apart. But that’s a two-character play. How will huge cast musicals function? Singing at full volume causes potentially virus-laden droplets to be propelled to cast mates. A church choir practice was one of the super-spreader events in the early stages of the American outbreak. The choreographer of Mrs. Doubtful recently posted she was restaging all of that show’s dances with social distancing. But will that be enough?

In addition to no Tony Awards, the digital versions of the Drama Desk and Obie Awards, as well as several digital Tony tribute substitute programs and theater benefits, have been postponed because of the nationwide protests against racial injustice and the murder of an unarmed African-American man, George Floyd, at the hands of police officers. The DDs were going to be handed out on NY-1 on Sunday May 31, but the local all-news channel opted (correctly) to run ongoing coverage of the demonstrations.  Drama Desk co-presidents Charles Wright and David Barbour issued a statement in support of the protests and Black Lives Matter. The DDs will be now be presented on Sat., June 13. The Obies were to be presented online on June 4 and their presenters came to a similar decision. There has been no new date announced for the Obies at press time.

So with no Tonys, and delayed Drama Desks and Obies, here are my personal choices for the best of the truncated on and Off-Broadway season. I call them the David Desk Awards:

Michelle Pawk, John Zdrojeski, and Zoe Winters in Heroes of the Fourth Turning.
Credit: Joan Marcus


72 Miles to Go.. (Hillary Bettis)

Eureka Day (Jonathan Spector)

Heroes of the Fourth Turning (Will Arbery)

The Inheritance (Matthew Lopez)

Linda Vista (Tracey Letts)


Jagged Little Pill

Soft Power

A Strange Loop

Musical Revival

West Side Story

Actor (Play)

Ian Barford, Linda Vista

Frances Jue, Cambodian Rock Band

Kyle Soller, The Inheritance

James Cromwell and Jane Alexander in Grand Horizons.
Credit: Joan Marcus

Actress (Play)

Jane Alexander, Grand Horizons

Liza Colon-Zayas, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven

Judith Ivey, Greater Clements

Actor (Musical)

Joshua Henry, The Wrong Man

Larry Owens, A Strange Loop

Isaac Powell, West Side Story

Conrad Ricamora, Soft Power

Adrienne Warren in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
Credit: Manuel Harlan

Actress (Musical)

Alyse Alan Louis, Soft Power

Beth Malone, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Karen Olivo, Moulin Rouge

Shereen Pimentel, West Side Story

Elizabeth Stanley, Jagged Little Pill

Adrienne Warren, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

Featured Actor (Play)

Edmund Donovan, Greater Clements

Paul Hilton, The Inheritance

Samuel H. Levine, The Inheritance

Featured Actress (Play)

Julia McDermott, Heroes of the Fourth Turning

Lois Smith, The Inheritance

Jennifer Van Dyck, The Confession of Lily Dare

Zoe Winters, Heroes of the Fourth Turning

Jay Armstrong Johnson in Scotland, PA.
Credit: Nina Goodheart

Featured Actor (Musical)

Jay Armstrong Johnson, Scotland, PA

Christian Borle, Little Shop of Horrors

Danny Burstein, Moulin Rouge

Featured Actress (Musical)

Yesenia Ayala, West Side Story

Kathryn Gallagher, Jagged Little Pill

Lauren Patten, Jagged Little Pill

Director (Play)

Stephen Daldry, The Inheritance

John Ortiz, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven

Director (Musical)

Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop

Phyllida Lloyd, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

Diane Paulus, Jagged Little Pill

Leigh Silverman, Soft Power

Ivo van Hove, West Side Story

Moulin Rouge, Set by Derek McLane, Costumes by Catherine Zuber, Lighting by Justin Townsend
Credit: Matthew Murphy

Set Design

Derek McLane, Moulin Rouge

Clint Ramos, Soft Power

Narelle Sissons, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven

Costume Design

Anita Yavich, Soft Power

Catherine Zuber, Moulin Rouge

Lighting Design

Justin Townsend, Jagged Little Pill, Moulin Rouge

Hugh Vanstone, The Height of the Storm

Video/Projection Design

Luke Halls, West Side Story


Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jagged Little Pill

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, West Side Story

Travis Walls, The Wrong Man


An earlier version of this article appeared on the David Desk blog and

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