Back on April 13, the Tony Awards Administration Committee held a major meeting and released its first round of decisions regarding the eligibility of various Broadway shows for Tony nominations and awards. More shows have opened since then, and the Tony season has officially ended, so the committee met once more, the afternoon of May 4, to clarify rules regarding such late-season openers as The Green Bird, Uncle Vanya and Dirty Blonde.
According to Tony spokesperson Keith Sherman, there weren’t that many decisions to be made this time around, except to confirm the expectations that both Dirty Blonde and The Green Bird will be considered new plays, rather than musicals. That said, the musical stagings in Dirty Blonde can be considered for a choreography nomination, and the music in The Green Bird can be nominated for Best Score. (Please remember, these are not nominations; these are just guidelines of what can be nominated, if the Tony Nominating Committee so chooses.)
Tickets to the 1999-2000 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall will go onsale at 10 AM, May 8 -- the same day the nominations will be announced. Tickets will be available only by phone and only by Visa credit card; they can’t be purchased in person at Radio City or Madison Square Garden (whose parent company owns the renovated venue).
Prices are $200 and $100, plus a $3 “facility charge” per ticket. For tickets and information on the black-tie event, call TicketMaster at (212) 307-4544 As for the announcement of the Tony nominations at Sardi’s restaurant, presiding over the event will be Bebe Neuwirth and Kelsey Grammer. Neuwith has played Chicago's merry murderess Velma Kelly off and on for the past three years (winning a Tony for the role), while Grammer is due on Broadway this summer as Macbeth. The two are better known as television couple Frasier Crane and Lilith Sternin, of "Cheers" and "Frasier."
Also to be present at the announcement will be American Theatre Wing President Roy A. Somlyo, ATW Chair Isabelle Stevenson, League of American Theaters and Producers President Jed Bernstein, and League Chairman Cy Feuer.
The Tony ceremony will air on June 4, for an hour on PBS and then two hours on CBS. Rosie O’Donnell will host the 54th annual awards, from renovated Radio City Music Hall.
IBM, the American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers have just launched www.tonys.org, a website of Tony news and information that promises live coverage of the event.
Among the April 13 rulings by the Tony Administration Committee: True West, a hit mounting of Sam Shepard’s 1982 dark comedy, can be considered for Best Play status. (“After all,” Tony spokesperson Keith Sherman told Playbill On-Line, “the category isn’t best new play, just best play.”)
Also, unlike the year Side Show's Siamese Twins were nominated for a single Best Musical Actress Tony, the stars of True West must be considered individually. Even though both Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly trade off lead roles every few performances, the Tony nominators must consider them for the roles they played on opening night: Reilly was the drifter, Lee; Hoffman the preppie screenwriter, Austin.
The producers had hoped for a different decision, and director Matthew Warchus has even written a letter (dated April 17) to the Administration Committee, requesting that they change their minds. In his view, the “experiment” of doubling the roles is “built on a crucially deep level of collaboration which was, as you can imagine, no mean feat to achieve. Fortunately both actors have a profound and sincere affection and respect for each other and have developed a truly remarkable mutual trust. You can see, therefore, that anything that seeks to separate them and view them as individual contributors or, worse still, competitors [italics Warchus’], is an anathema to the whole ethos of the production.”
A Tony spokesperson at the Keith Sherman press office told Playbill On Line that a reversal is extremely unlikely. “When a ruling is made by the committee, it’s final. Those are the rules.”
The Tony administrators also didn’t have a change of heart regarding Contact, which Musicians Union Local 802 wishes hadn’t been ruled eligible as a new musical. The Susan Stroman-John Weidman uses a pre recorded soundtrack of pop hits and classical music, rather than an orchestra of union regulars.
On April 18, soon after the Tony officials’ decision, union president William Moriarty made his grievance more forcibly, sending a letter of protest to American Theatre Wing president Roy A. Somlyo. "No music, vocal or instrumental, has been created for this production," Moriarty's letter stated. "To the best of my knowledge, no work has ever been considered for a [Best Musical] Tony -- an award ostensibly for creative merit -- that contained no creative musical elements. Second, no newly created musical performance, whether instrumental or vocal, occurs in this production. Dancing, of course, takes place, but in our opinion, that alone is not sufficient to define musical theatre. A musical must contain music as a creative element."
Moriarty wasn't alone. Theater Development Fund executive director, Jack Goldstein resigned from the Tony nominating committee in reaction to the Contact ruling. Still, the Tony committee has made its decision, and as such, according to ATW president Somlyo, it’s made in stone.
Other recent decisions by the Tony Administration committee include:
Waiting in the Wings - eligible for Best Play, going by the same rules as True West.
Swing! - eligible for Best Musical status, even though a vast majority of the songs are pop hits from another era.
Riverdance - eligible for Best Musical status, even though the vast majority of the songs are dance numbers from a previous go-`round at Radio City Music Hall. Pat Roddy and Eileen Martin, the lead dancers, can be considered for lead actor and actress in a musical.
Tango Argentino - on Broadway years ago, it's eligible for Best Musical Revival status.
Squonk - not eligible for musical, play or revival, even though there is a story, of sorts, and original music throughout. The piece could be considered for a special or honorary Tony.
Dame Edna: The Royal Tour - not eligible for musical, play or revival, best actor or, um, actress. Like Squonk and last season’s Swan Lake, it could be eligible for a special or honorary Tony.
A Moon For The Misbegotten - Though billed above the title, Roy Dotrice is a featured actor, rather than a lead.
Jackie Mason: Much Ado About Everything - like Dame Edna,, it's eligible only for a special or honorary Tony. Tony spokesperson Sherman noted that the show "didn't invite the Tony voters" and was thus not in the running for the other awards. Producer Jyll Rosenfeld told Playbill On-Line (April 14) that Mason would have gladly invited Tony voters, but American Theatre Wing head Roy Somlyo told her there would be little point in doing so, especially since inviting 800 or so voters to the 578-seat John Golden Theatre to see the show would likely be a hardship.
Natalie Merchant In Concert - is not eligible for anything because it was simply a specialty engagement.
-- By David Lefkowitz