PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 17-23: The Replacements

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 17-23: The Replacements The idea has been wafting about Broadway and its side streets for some months, but on Sept. 22 the official word was handed down: The Tony Awards Administration Committee has crowned a new category sure to stir up a Shubert Alley's worth of dust: Best Performance by an Actor/Actress Recreating a Role.
Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof.
Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus

The trophy opens of a whole new world of recognition for those brave and frequently unsung souls who follow Mr. and Mrs. Star into the leading parts of a long-running play or musical. Latecoming Tevye Harvey Fierstein is probably kicking his milkcart around the Minskoff that the change didn't come a season earlier. But you can bet that a few actors who have joined a Broadway show since last June have already put in calls to their producers insisting that their hats be thrown into the 2005-06 ring.

According to a statement released by the committee, those actors eligible for this category "must not have appeared in the role when the production opened on Broadway. They must also be contracted in the role for a minimum of six months of public performances. Additionally, the producers may not submit more than two candidates per 'Long-Running' Show for the Award (including both Actor and Actress) for any such season."

The new Tony is, in one sense, a Godsend for producers. Whereas in the past, the only carrots they possessed to lure name performers into established productions were promises of money (checks which could never compare to those offered by Hollywood anyway) and the dream of legitimacy-confirming, ego-boosting rave reviews. Now they can dangle the prospect of a shiny mantlepiece ornament. Few actors out there have met an award they didn't covet.

However, the category could also easily prove a nettlesome source of controversy and grievance. After all, which two of a show's eligible candidates will the producers' put forth? How do they avoid offending the unnominated? And then there's the potential for hypocrisy. Certainly starry names like Fierstein, Reba McIntyre (Annie Get Your Gun), Brooke Shields (Wonderful Town) and Bruce Vilanch (Hairspray) would have had a very good chance at getting nominated. But will producers extend the same courtesy to lesser known but respected theatre journeymen? Certainly, for talented, uber replacement actors like Charlotte D'Amboise and Brent Barrett, the new prize represents a golden opportunity. But they are to be forgiven if they are cynical about the probability of being remembered by their employers come Tony time.

*** The Jukebox Musical has waved a double goodbye in recent weeks. Lennon revealed it would close Sept. 24. Soon after, All Shook Up, the Elvis Presley songbook-driven musical, posted a notice for Sept. 25.

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A couple Broadway Christmas entertainments opened for business. Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular, the comedy about three different couples and three different Christmases, began performances by Manhattan Theatre Club at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre Sept. 22. It will stay there until Dec. 18.

Meanwhile, a coast away, the pre-Broadway engagement of Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life — starring Tony Award winner Rivera — officially opened at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre Sept. 22. The limited run at the California theatre will play through Nov. 6. After that, the musical celebration of the life and art of the singer-actress-dancer will begin previews at Broadway's Schoenfeld Theatre Nov. 23 for an official opening set for Dec. 11.

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The theatre's efforts on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Katrina continue apace. A starry line-up has been assembled for the Sept. 25 Broadway's Celebrity Benefit for Hurricane Relief. Scheduled to perform at the concert — produced by the company of Wicked and made possible by the Nederlander Organization — are Bryan Batt, Victoria Clark, Charlotte D'Amboise, Raul Esparza, Adam Guettel, Bill Irwin, Brian d'Arcy James, Terrence Mann, Rue McClanahan, Idina Menzel, Liza Minnelli, Julia Murney, Bebe Neuwirth, Phyllis Newman, Kelli O'Hara, Denis O'Hare, Bernadette Peters, David Hyde Pierce, Phylicia Rashad, Carole Shelley, Ben Vereen and Frederick Weller.

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