With the announcement of the 2000 Tony nominations on May 8, the countdown begins for the 54th Annual Tony Awards ceremony, which will be shown consecutively on two networks on June 4: 8-9 PM on PBS, and then on CBS, 9-11 PM EST. As reported earlier, Rosie O'Donnell hosts this years show, which will be held at Radio City Music Hall.
Tony organizers say that ballots will be mailed by the end of this week to the 705 members from the theatre and journalism communities, who will vote for Tony winners in 21 categories. If there was any indication of the final outcome this season, it may be that this year's Tony nominations ceremony reflected a sense of balance, according to Tony insiders.
"Two years ago was the year of the musical and last year was the year of the play," said Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American and Producers. "I think this year was perhaps the most well-balanced. On the one hand you have great play revivals, with Moon for the Misbegotten and The Real Thing; and new plays like True West and Copenhagen. But, then you've also got the musical contenders, particularly in the revivals with Kiss Me, Kate, and Music Man. So you've spread the joy around a little bit."
Journalists gathered at Sardi's for the Tony nomination announcements on May 8 at 8 AM where Kelsey Grammar (opening soon on Broadway in Macbeth) and two-time Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth (Chicago, Sweet Charity) announced the nominees along with Bernstein, American Theatre Wing president Roy A. Somlyo and Chairman of the American Theatre Wing, Isabelle Stevenson.
The announcements went quickly, with Neuwirth and Grammar playing off each other well, recalling their theatre backgrounds and generally conjuring the domestic banter that made them popular with television audiences when they starred as husband and wife in the long-running hit series, "Cheers." The Tony nominators met and voted on May 7 at the board room of the League of American Theatre and Producers, which is where the Tony offices are when they're not in the Sardi's Building with managing producer, Edgar Dobie. "We're spread out a bit between the Ameican Theatre Wing and the League," Somlyo explained, "but we met and we shared a little dinner and they went to work very quickly." Somlyo told Playbill On-Line that part of the reason that the nomination voting went so fast last night (May 7) was that the nominees were in a room that was a bit warm.
"We put them in the room at 5 PM and by 9 PM all the decisions had been made," Somlyo said. "And quite credibly, I don't think anything [in the list of nominations] was particularly unusual and it was a very good selection. As usual, it wasn't easy -- there were 24 nominators in the room and to come up with all this without much difficultly is really something."
The League's Jed Bernstein feels the mix of nominations was good and that there are interesting themes in this season's nominations list.
"The fact that we've had a mother and daughter [Rosemary Harris, Waiting in the Wings and Jennifer Ehle, The Real Thing] nominated for the first time in the same year is kind of cool," Bernstein said. "A lot of things happened in pairs this year: Both gangsters from Kiss Me Kate, both actors in True West, four nominations for Susan Stroman and then four nominations for John Michael LaChiusa. So, there's a lot of doubling up, which I think adds to the point that Broadway's more prolific than ever. "
Somlyo and Bernstein emphasized the strict guidelines that are observed for the Tony process, where auditors count the ballots and the nominators vote in secret.
"In case there's a tie, they have to come back and re-vote," Somlyo said. "[This year] I think there were three of those." Yet, Somlyo could not say which three categories inspired tie votes.
"None of the vote is disclosed to any of us," Somlyo explained. "It's strictly confidential to the accountants and never goes beyond that. We don't know which categories had ties, because that's between the nominators and the accountants. It's designed that way so we don't have any controversy later on."
There were six special Tony awards this year and Somlyo outlined the reasons for each.
"The Utah Shakespearian Festival of Cedar City, Utah, is a wonderful Shakespeare company," Somlyo said. "They operate year round and they do an outdoor season as well. They aren't too well known around the country, but anybody who has been there or knows about them gives them high marks."
Somlyo explained that the special Tony Award to Dame Edna: The Royal Tour wasn't made just because she didn't qualify in any other category. "It was something well deserved and if you noted at the nominations ceremony today, there was a great deal of applause, in fact, the only time there really was applause was with that announcement," Somlyo said.
Other special award winners include T. Edward Hambleton, who Somlyo described as "a long time, great producer." Hambleton established the Phoenix Theatre, which was one of the first Off-Broadway theatres. Somlyo added. "He did over 200 productions as a producer there."
The three other awards will go to Eileen Heckart who says her role in The Waverly Gallery will be her last performance. "We're delighted they voted for her," Somlyo said.
Somlyo described special Tony award winner Sylvia Herscher as one of the great people who worked behind the scenes for many years. "She started out in this business [and became] known as the general manager for Jule Styne, "Somlyo said. "After that she was an agent at the William Morris Agency and she was also in music publishing. Sylvia's great skill is to put people together to create successes. She brought the lyricist to A Chorus Line, she specialized in musical theatre and she has been able to bring book writers together with composers and lyricists. "
Somlyo also noted that Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert has now been recognized with a Tony after "seven years of turning the city on it's end, in only four performances."
"I think the [special award] selections were very good this year," Somlyo said. "We probably have more special awards that usual, but I don't know if it's a record year or not because in the early years, the '60s and '70s, when we were really trying to establish the program, we often did special awards to attract attention to the Tony's. We don't need to do that any more fortunately, but this year we had three special honors and three special Tonys.
"It's a wonderful thing for us to be able to do special awards because there are many candidates that are presented to us and it was difficult not to include these six who were named. Every year you see more people who are worthy and I'm delighted at the selections that we made."
Somlyo also acknowledged a broader reach for the Tony's. "I can't say that [special awards are] going to lead to including Off-Broadway in the mix someday, but it certainly does show that we recognize that theatre is elsewhere. The Tony Awards were established for Broadway and that's what we are. But, at that time, Broadway was the center of theatre. We now know that excellent theatre goes around the country, although our mechanism only permits us to give out regular awards to Broadway productions. So, yes, we do want to recognize and we openly salute all the other theatre of quality that goes around in this country.
The 2000 Tony Award Nominating Committee comprises actress-director Billie Allen, scenic designer Lisa Aronson, educator Mary Schmidt, actor John Cunningham, publicist Merle Debuskey, executive Jerry Dominus, administrator Henry Guettel, composer-lyricist Carol Hall, actress-writer Geraldine Hammerstein, artistic director Jay Harnick, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes, script consultant Betty Jacobs, musical director Jack Lee, writer-editor Stuart Little, librettist Thomas Meehan, actress-casting director Joanna Merlin, administrator Jon Nakagawa, general manager Peter Neufeld, actress Estelle Parsons, casting director Shirley Rich, actress Frances Sternhagen, educator Arnold Weinstein and artistic director George White.
Tickets to the Tonys are on sale to the public at $100 and $200 each. The Tony's will take place at Radio City Music Hall. For tickets call the Tocketmaster Tony Hotline at (212) 307-4544.
-- By Murdoch McBride