Tony Decisions On True West & Contact Raising Some Industry Hackles

News   Tony Decisions On True West & Contact Raising Some Industry Hackles After weeks of waiting, the Tony Administration Committee released the first round of its decisions regarding the eligibility of various Broadway shows for Tony nominations and awards (with more expected when the committee meets again May 4). Among the April 13 rulings: 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.”)

After weeks of waiting, the Tony Administration Committee released the first round of its decisions regarding the eligibility of various Broadway shows for Tony nominations and awards (with more expected when the committee meets again May 4). Among the April 13 rulings: 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.

Aida - Though billed below the title, Heather Headley and Adam Pascal are leads, rather than featured actors.

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.

*

When the Administration Committee meets May 4 (the day after the cut off date for eligibility), they’ll deal with such shows as The Green Bird (play or musical?), Uncle Vanya, The Real Thing, Taller Than A Dwarf and Jesus Christ Superstar. Nominations will be announced May 8 at Sardi’s theatrical restaurant. It’s expected that by then, there will also be news about ticket availability for the June 4 Tony Award ceremony at Radio City Music Hall. Rosie O’Donnell will host the 54th annual Tony Awards.

*

Last year, the Tonys took place in the Gershwin Theatre, after two consecutive years at Radio City. Radio City was being refurbished during 1999, making presentation of the awards in the hall impossible.

The years in Radio City coincided with O'Donnell's hosting of the event, as well as some of the highest television ratings the show had seen in years. O'Donnell bowed out in 1999, and, after a long search, the Tonys opted for multiple hosts for the ceremony. The ratings took a tumble with the change in venue and host.

As in recent years, PBS will broadcast the first hour of the three-hour event, with CBS carrying the 9-11 PM (EST) slot. Jac Venza, co-executive producer (with Jeff Folmsbee) of the first hour, noted in a statement that PBS would continue to follow its "unique documentary approach that allows audiences to learn more about the important artists behind the scenes who make a Broadway show a success."

Walter C. Miller and Rosie O'Donnell are executive producers of the CBS telecast, with O'Donnell stating, "I'm thrilled and delighted to be hosting the Tonys again... We intend to entertain television audiences with Broadway's best."