From Hedwig to Lady Day to Violet... A Revival or Not a Revival: The Eternal Tony Question

By Robert Simonson
24 Apr 2014

Neil Patrick Harris inHedwig and the Angry Inch.
Photo by Joan Marcus
However, in the 1990s, material for revivals began to emerge from places other than the age-old dramatic canon or dusty books. Plays of more recent vintage, by playwrights who had already experienced stagings and successes Off-Broadway and elsewhere, were plucked by producers and given a shot on Broadway. This state of affairs made for some sticky situations for the Tony deciders.

In the 1996 race, Sam Shepard's Buried Child — produced on Broadway for the first time that season, but first produced Off-Broadway 17 years prior — was nominated for Best Play. Gary Sinise, the play's director, argued that nearly half of the drama had been rewritten by Shepard since it was first staged in New York. The Tony Administration Committee agreed that the work was sufficiently "new" and let it compete with contemporary plays like Seven Guitars by August Wilson and Master Class by Terrence McNally (which eventually won). Nonetheless, most observers believed it should have been categorized as a revival.

The previous year, Indiscretions, a play written by Jean Cocteau in 1948 under the title Les Parents terrible, was nominated as Best Play against the more modern likes of Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and Love! Valour! Compassion! by McNally. In that instance, the committee decided the Cocteau qualified as new simply because the play had never been on Broadway before. In 1999, Not About Nightingales, an early uncovered play by Tennessee Williams getting its first production, was nominated alongside Closer by Patrick Marber, The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh and Side Man by Warren Leight.  This set up the strange scenario that a dead playwright might win the prize for best new play over three living ones.

The same thing happened in 2001, when Fortune's Fool, a play written in 1848 — two centuries previous — by the very-dead Russian master Ivan Turgenev, was nominated as Best Play. At the time, a Tony spokesman cited the precedent of the 1995 Broadway mounting of Cocteau's Indescretions, arguing that the play had been substantially rewritten by adaptor Mike Poulton.

Among Turgenev's co-nominees was Edward Albee, who was represented for The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?. Asked by the New York Times how he felt sharing his category with Turgenev, Albee told the paper, "I'm most fascinated since I've been reading his novels since I was 16. I can't wait to meet Turgenev.''

Such surreal contests have been less common in recent years, but they still come along. The instance of Cabaret — a new Broadway run of the exact production a revival that had already been to Broadway years ago (and won Tonys), and with the same lead actor (Alan Cumming), no less — is without precedent. It seems clear that neither the production, its scenic effects, its directors or Cumming will be eligible for nomination. How the other actors in the revival will be treated is another matter.