The Tony Awards' 7 Deadly Sins: Actresses Who Were Nominated in the Wrong Category

By Ben Rimalower
June 7, 2014

Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower offers a collection of seven actresses who were nominated in the wrong category for the Tony Awards.



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Every year, the Tony Awards nominating committee meets several times to decide who will be eligible for nominations in each category. Sometimes they adhere to clear precedents established in previous years, and other times more "activist" nominating committees attempt to alter the guidelines.

This can be a good thing. The Featured Actor/Featured Actress categories, which in years past were based strictly on featured billing (rather than above-the-title Leading Actor/Leading Actress billing) regardless of the size of the role being played, have evolved and come to be based on the size of the role. Some years, the nominating committee must deal with unique circumstances that require their decision — for example whether to allow Alan Cumming to be nominated this year recreating his Emcee in the Mendes/Marshall Cabaret (in keeping with previous similar situations such as Lonette McKee in Show Boat and Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!, Cumming was deemed not eligible).

Even rarer have been the times the committee broke with precedent, like when Company replacement Larry Kert was ruled eligible for a nomination in place of original star Dean Jones, or when an entire replacement category was announced, then not used and later canceled. It's all fascinating for the theatre-lover and then, sometimes it's frustrating, when the nominating committee gets it wrong, as in these Seven Deadly Sins.

Click through to read my selections for the Top Seven Singing Actresses Nominated in the Wrong Category.

Mary Beth Peil and Yul Brynner in The King and I.
photo by Henry Grossman

7. Mary Beth Peil

1985 Tony Award nominee, Best Featured Actress In A Musical for The King and I

Should have been nominated for Best Actress In A Musical

I'll start with something really basic, a simple break with precedent. There are really two title roles in The King and I and they're both clearly leading roles. Broadway legend Gertrude Lawrence starred as Anna ("I") in the original 1951 production and Yul Brynner became a Broadway legend playing the King of Siam. Because his billing was below the title, he was nominated for Best Featured Actor In A Musical in the 1952 Tony Awards, while Lawrence was nominated for Best Actress In A Musical.

Years later, after the policy prioritizing billing over role size had shifted, Mary Beth Peil was nominated for Best Featured Actress In A Musical for her Anna in 1985 revival. Why? The leading actress category was eliminated that year due to slim pickings. This was insane! Why not just nominate her for Best Costume Design? Lump her in with the Best Actor In A Play nominees — heck, give her the Special Tony Award for Regional Theatre! Maybe it was payback for the opposite situation in 1952, but it was ridiculous.

6. Alyson Reed

1988 Tony Award nominee, Best Featured Actress In A Musical for Cabaret

Should have been nominated for Best Actress In A Musical

This is another ridiculous shoehorning. It's been frequently said the 1988 Best Actress In A Musical category was a competitive one. In an awards night upset, Joanna Gleason's beloved Baker's Wife in Into the Woods edged out Patti LuPone's front-running Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, along with Broadway favorites Alison Fraser and Judy Kuhn in Romance/Romance and Chess, not to mention mega-stars Bernadette Peters and Sarah Brightman, who were not even nominated for Into The Woods and The Phantom Of The Opera.

Perhaps, in consideration of this, the producers of the 1987 revival of Cabaret (starring Joel Grey, now above the title, but ineligible for his recreation of the Emcee) submitted their Sally Bowles, Alyson Reed, in the Best Featured Actress In A Musical category, possibly calculating she had a better chance in this less competitive pool. But I mean, come on! Had these producers ever seen Cabaret? I'm willing to blur the lines between lead and supporting actor a bit to accommodate extenuating circumstances. I supposed you could even argue that some performers have such a grand presence that an otherwise featured role becomes a lead in their hands, but Sally Bowles is a lead no matter how you slice it. Unfortunately, for Alyson Reed, even in the Best Featured Actress In A Musical category, Sally Bowles was not a Tony-winning role.

Annaleigh Ashford
Photo by Matthew Murphy

5. Annaleigh Ashford

2013 Tony Award nominee, Best Featured Actress In A Musical for Kinky Boots

Should have been nominated for Best Actress In A Musical

Adorable, charismatic, gifted Annaleigh Ashford is a star on the rise, no doubt. I remember her catching my eye even in her Broadway debut in the minor role of one of Elle Woods' sidekicks in Legally Blonde. There was certainly no denying this talent as she originated her first Broadway leading role in Kinky Boots in 2013. Anything sound weird about that statement? No? Of course, not — because Lauren in Kinky Boots is a leading role. Everyone knows that. Why was Ashford nominated for Best Featured Actress In A Musical? I really haven't the foggiest idea. I suppose it's not an enormous part, she doesn't have all that much solo singing material and the show is really pitched as a non-romantic love story between Lola and Charlie with the Charlie-Lauren relationship more of a B-plot. I guess I can buy that, but I certainly hope Ashford got a leading lady salary!

4. Susan Browning

1971 Tony Award nominee, Best Actress In A Musical for Company

Should have been nominated for Best Featured Actress In A Musical

It was all well and good for me to advocate leading role consideration for some poor, unfortunate souls relegated to the featured category, but it's a little trickier for me to come out and claim an actress in the lead slot should have been nominated for featured. I hope I don't offend — as the queens on "RuPaul's Drag Race" say, "No tea, no shade." This is not a comment on anyone's work, just a proper classification of the size of their role. A clear-cut transgression of this nature occurred when Susan Browning was nominated as Best Actress In A Musical for her April in Company. Remember which one April is? In the song "Barcelona," Bobby calls her, "June." That's right; she's his leading lady and he can't even remember her name. A likely story.

Susan Browning, Donna McKechnie and Pamela Myers
photo by Martha Swope



John Cameron Mitchell and Daisy Eagan in The Secret Garden
Photo by Bob Marshak

3. Daisy Eagan

1991 Tony Award winner, Best Featured Actress In A Musical for The Secret Garden

Should have been nominated for Best Actress In A Musical

I suppose The Secret Garden is another one of those ensemble shows, where there isn't a crystal-clear lead role, but I think most audiences would feel that to be Mary Lennox. The Secret Garden is her story, its plot hinges on her arrival and centers on her even as it momentarily focuses on the periphery. I actually think that the producers of The Secret Garden knew this, but also knew Lea Salonga was all but assured the 1991 Tony Awards for Best Actress In A Musical and figured the nominating committee would be willing to see it either way. Both things proved true and it paid off, with Eagan winning the Tony for Best Featured Actress In A Musical.

Dorothy Loudon
Photo by Martha Swope

2. Dorothy Loudon

1977 Tony Award winner, Best Actress In A Musical for Annie

Should have been nominated for Best Featured Actress In A Musical

At least Daisy Eagan won, whatever the category. Poor Andrea McArdle doesn't even have a Tony! My point here is going to be my most controversial, but please hear me out. I know we all worship Dorothy Loudon and consider her Miss Hannigan in Annie one of the great Broadway triumphs of the last century. That said and despite all of Loudon's undeniable star wattage commandeering that stage, I maintain Miss Hannigan is the bad guy, the comic foil, perhaps the definition of a featured role. Before you start throwing things at me, think of it this way: In my version of history, Dorothy Loudon would still have won a Tony for Annie, albeit as Best Featured Actress In A Musical, and then with the unbeatable Loudon out of the category, Andrea McArdle could have won her rightful Tony for Best Actress In A Musical for her peerless performance as Annie. I rest my case.

Elaine Stritch
Photo by Denise Winters

1. Elaine Stritch

2002 Tony Award winner, Best Special Theatrical Event for Elaine Stritch At Liberty

Should have been nominated for Best Actress In A Musical

I certainly don't begrudge Elaine Stritch the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event for Elaine Stritch At Liberty. It's a category that's never really made much sense to me, which I suppose is the point, as it's designed to be versatile, broadly conceived to include a range of potential productions from the brass/percussion concert Blast! to diva recitals by Barbara Cook and Liza Minnelli to Kiki And Herb: Alive On Broadway. In my estimation (and that of the Drama Desk Awards), Elaine Stritch At Liberty was a musical, or I would at least argue a narrative theatre piece, not just an event, but my main beef is with Elaine Stritch's exclusion from Best Actress In A Musical category, which she surely would have won. We have been so fortunate to have the titan walking among us. Now she's retired in Michigan with only her Special Theatrical Event Tony and we have reaped the Broadway we sowed.

(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues, currently on a worldwide tour. Read more about the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)