The farther away one gets from history, the more question marks tend to swirl around events, facts and figures of the time. With the May 7 announcement of the Tony Awards nominations, a piece of accepted theatre history has suddenly had a "1984"-like unbirth.
When Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan's The Producers collected 15 Tony nominations yesterday, word went out that it had tied the nominations record; the last show to accomplish that feat was Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company in 1971. That show received nominations for Best Musical, Book of a Musical (Furth), Score (Sondheim), Lyrics (Sondheim), Actor in a Musical (Larry Kert), Actress in a Musical (two noms for Susan Browning and Elaine Stritch), Featured Actor in a Musical (Charles Kimbrough), Featured Actress in a Musical (two noms for Barbara Barrie and Pamela Myers), Choreography (Michael Bennett), Set Design (Boris Aronson), Lighting Design (Robert Ornbo), Director of a Musical and Producer of a Musical. Harold Prince won for the latter two categories.
Or were they one category? The American Theatre Wing's book, "The Tony Award" has always listed 1971's Play, Musical, Producer of a Play and Producer of a Musical as four separate categories (the two producer categories were eliminated the next year).
As reported by the New York Times and confirmed by the Keith Sherman press office, Tony Award Productions is now saying that the 1971 listing has been a longstanding mistake; that the two producers categories was already eliminated by 1971. That being true, then Company received only 14 Tony nominations, and The Producers' 15 set a new record rather than tying an old one.
Backing up the Tony officials' claim that the Best Producers categories (for plays and musicals) had been eliminated and were listed in error are the fact that the Otis Guernsey "Best Plays" volume for that year does not list them separately among the Tony nominations, nor do the two categories show up in Lee Alan Morrow's 1987 coffee-table tome on the Tonys. Also, according to the American Theatre Wing's book, the four nominations for Best Play are for exactly the same shows as those listed for Best Producer (Dramatic), and the three nominations for Best Musical are the same three listed for Best Producer (Musical). Also, the producers' names are listed next to the titles for Best Play and Musical. Throwing doubt on the situation, though, is the fact that the mistake appears in all three editions of The Tony Award book — including a revised, updated edition reprinted by Heinemann just this year. (That said, the Tony book has also long been criticized by the theatreatti for spelling errors and omissions, so a long-running mistake would not be shocking.) The listings are:
Producer (Dramatic): * Helen Bonfils, Morton Gottlieb & Michael White (Sleuth); Alexander H. Cohen (Home); David Merrick (The Philanthropist); Zev Bufman (Story Theater).
Producer (Musical): * Harold Prince (Company); Jeff Britton (The Me Nobody Knows); Hillard Elkins & Lester Osterman (The Rothschilds). (The * denotes the category's winner.)
The New York Times story on the 14/15 nomination confusion notes that "newspaper articles from the time are inconclusive" and that the 1971 Tony Playbill does not list a producer category. "Company received 14 nominations in 1971," Keith Sherman told Playbill On-Line May 8. "The records have been incorrect. We learned that Hal Prince won two, not three awards — as producer for best musical and director, but not a separate award for producer.
Company won for six of its 14 Tony nominations. The Producers is nominated for Musical, Book, Original Score, Actor (Lane, Broderick), Featured Actor (Bart, Beach, Oscar), Featured Actress (Huffman), Set (Wagner), Costumes (Ivey Long), Lighting (Kaczorowski), Choreography (Stroman), Director (Stroman), Orchestrations (Besterman).
— By David Lefkowitz