Tony Awards Will Demand a Loyalty Pledge from Producers in 1997

Tony Awards   Tony Awards Will Demand a Loyalty Pledge from Producers in 1997
Jonathan Tunick, William Brohn and their colleagues must be sighing to the heavens. The Tony Awards, now in its 51st year, have finally added a new category for Best Orchestration.

Jonathan Tunick, William Brohn and their colleagues must be sighing to the heavens. The Tony Awards, now in its 51st year, have finally added a new category for Best Orchestration.

In their change of "Rules And Regulations Of The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards 1996-1997 Season," the Tony Awards Administration Committee also made some other revisions:

* Producers of shows, when certifying that they've complied with all Tony rules, must accept the authority of the Tony Committee "in all matters relating to the administration of the Awards." This new 'loyalty oath' is designed to head off protests, boycotts and lawsuits such as the ones that dogged the 1996 awards.

* The recently renovated New Amsterdam Theatre will count as a new Broadway house, increasing the number to 36.

* Shows that have been previously produced in Manhattan (i.e. Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, like last season's Buried Child), but weren't Tony eligible at that time, will now be eligible for awards. * The current Tony nominating Committee has 27 members, which can now go up to 30 (or be as few as 15). The previous scale was between 9 and 18 committee members.

* Nominators are on the panel for a three-year term, with one-third of the Committee changing annually. This is a change from the annual review process, wherein some nominators are asked to stay and others let go. (All the members of last season's committee were asked back).

* To avoid filibustering and overmuch campaigning, the new Tony rules also shrink the unlimited discussion period before the secret ballot to two hours. Weighted voting has been eliminated. Now nominators simply select four candidates in each category.

Asked about the Orchestration addition, press representative Jim Byk, of the Keith Sherman office, told Playbill On-Line he was personally thrilled by the Committee's decision. "I play piano, french horn and violin, and I'm very much into listening to orchestrations. Especially in revivals, you can hear dramatic differences between old and new."

How did the new category come about? "The Wing asked the Musicians' Union if they felt something should be added. Their suggestion was orchestration." Asked how Committee members can judge a score's orchestration -- which is less obviously quantifiable than, say, an acting or costume choice, Byk noted that members of the Musicians' Union are on the Nominating Committee. "Besides," he added, "it could be treated as another design element. You CAN hear it."

As for the new rule about producers abiding by Tony regulations, Roy Somlyo, in his 28th year at the Tonys as Managing Producer for the American Theatre Wing and The League Of American Theatres & Producers, told the New York Post that the decision was made to curb "legal challenges" brought by theatrical producers."

Somlyo was referring to a lawsuit brought by David Merrick last season when his State Fair became subject to unusual strictures and stipulations. Jim Byk explained, "The Committee wasn't going to allow State Fair for best score at all, because so much of that material was written for the movies. Eleven out of 15 songs were automatically qualified, because the category calls for best original score written specifically for the theatre. But the Tony Committee wants to be inclusive, not exclusive. So they said that since the other four songs fit the criteria, they should be eligible." The upshot was that Tony voters could only consider four songs from State Fair instead of the entire score.

Rather than being grateful for the dispensation, producer David Merrick sued. The case was later dismissed.

"The irony is," sighed Byk, "if Victor/Victoria had been nominated for best score, they would have had to disqualify four songs [including the trademark, "Jazz Hot"] because those were written for the movie."

Among the 27 Nominating Committee members for this year's Awards are Betty L. Corwin, theatre archivist; David Ives, playwright; Geoffrey Holder, director; Sheldon Harnick, lyricist; Merle Debuskey, former press agent; Price Berkley, publisher; Ming Cho Lee, set designer; David Richards and Douglas Watt, critics; and Barnard Hughes, actor. Dramatist Jon Robin Baitz was supposed to be on the committee, but he's been sidelined by recent, serious heart bypass surgery.

In other Tony news, Gary Smith will return for his fifth year as Executive Producer of the CBS-TV Tony Award broadcast, set for June 1997.

For information on the Tonys, check out their website at

-- By David Lefkowitz

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