STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Second-Guessing the Awards

Special Features   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Second-Guessing the Awards
It happened a few years ago, when I was a member of a theatrical awards panel. (I won't say which one.) This group met three times before doling out its nominations, and here were the seven of us, convening for the second time.

It happened a few years ago, when I was a member of a theatrical awards panel. (I won't say which one.) This group met three times before doling out its nominations, and here were the seven of us, convening for the second time.

So as the secretary passed out the sheets showing what we all had decided from the first go-around, I noticed one name I was surprised to find on the list. (Let's call him Wilson Rodgers.)

And at that precise moment, another panel member said, "Wilson Rodgers? I don't remember our putting him on the list."

"I don't either," I said, as a few others in the group expressed the same opinion.

"No," said the secretary, "we did. I have it right here. It was even unanimous." Yes, in fact, it had been. Right then I recalled the mechanism behind our putting Rodgers on the list. You see, the person we'd discussed before him -- let's call the guy John Harrison -- we'd argued about for a good half hour. Three of us desperately wanted Harrison on the ballot, three definitely did not, and one wasn't so sure.

After torturous 30 minutes -- which, incidentally, resulted in Harrison's not making the cut -- Wilson Rodgers was the next potential nominee to be discussed. And to show that we really weren't bad and cantankerous people, that we really could get along with each other, all of us immediately smiled broadly, said Yes! to Harrison, nodded pleasantly to each other, before immediately moving onto the next candidate.

Now, weeks later, with our tempers cool and our critical faculties influenced by nothing but the level of achievement, Wilson Rodgers was quickly reassessed and taken off the ballot. But the point was made: Sometimes nominators do make decisions based not entirely on artistic merit. In our effort to give-and-take, we showed that we were, after all, only human. (Given that we make our living as critics, there are those who'll tell you we're substantially less than that.)

But such a situation may well explain to you why a few of the nominations given in the past week or so wound up the way they did. And if you have an issue or two (or seven) with Tony's Broadway nominations and Drama Desk's on and off-Broadway citations, do factor in that unknown quotient of the human nature of the parties involved.

All right, there's always a lot of second-guessing when it comes to these things. But if I may cast my three electoral votes . . .

The press all went to Dana Ivey as a repressed sort in Chris Durang's Sex and Longing -- and bravo to the Drama Desk for making her nomination a double one, including this along with her Ballyhoo performance. Couldn't the Tonys have followed suit? But I'll go out on a limb and say I was pretty impressed by Sigourney Weaver, who perfectly captured the spirit of this nymphomaniac's nymphomaniac.

And while I too liked Brian Murray in The Little Foxes, I sure admired him off-Broadway in The Entertainer. The Drama Desk's love was apparently not as deep.

I liked that Lesley Azvazian's Nine Armenians got a few Drama Desk nominations, but would have preferred to have seen it in the Outstanding Play category. Given that the Drama Desk can nominate as many as six contenders -- and it stopped at five for Outstanding Play -- why deny such a quality item as Nine Armenians?

Don't expect me to go to bat for either Leslie Bricusse's book or lyrics to Jekyll & Hyde, but Frank Wildhorn's music has become a coast-to coast favorite, and to be denied a nomination for both awards struck me as surprising. Now the Tonys have a smidgen of an excuse: It has but a Best Score category that encompasses both music and lyrics, so they could defend themselves on the omission by citing Bricusse's work (though it inexplicably gave a Best Book nod to the show, probably to throw it some sort of bone). But the Drama Desk does separate Outstanding Music from Outstanding Lyrics, so it might have included Wildhorn.

I was delighted that the Drama Desk remembered James Morgan for his magnificent set for No Way to Treat a Lady. This was a delightful cartoon that stretched from the left wall of the York Theatre all the way to the right, and showed New York City in the early 1970s. So we saw ads for Company, No, No, Nanette, Merman in Dolly, as well as for the Continental Baths. Best of all, the World Trade Center was there -- but as a skeleton of its current self, for it was then a building under construction.

But the set wasn't just cute. It served a purpose. Its cartoon nature ameliorated the darkness of Lady (A musical about a serial-killer? Sounds crazy, no? Except it worked better than you might have thought.) And though I congratulate the Drama Deskers for endorsing the set, I do wonder where's the rest of Lady's nominations? (It received no other.) Now maybe they didn't want to nominate Douglas J. Cohen's book, music, and lyrics because it did have a run at the Hudson Guild 11 years ago -- but how do they explain no Outstanding Revival? (Especially when you consider how good Adam Grupper, Alix Korey, Marguerite MacIntyre, and Paul Schoeffler were.)

And a special Drama Desk Award for the Moscow Theatre Sovremennik? Well, maybe their Into the Whirlwind, which I skipped, was the greatest thing since sliced blinis, but their Three Sisters was at best journeyman stuff. I felt I was watching a group of acting students do a competent job. Acting styles between the two nations must be very different.

I'm not alone in my assessment. Last week I was talking to an internationally known performer who's won at least one Tony award in almost every one of the last four decades, and this luminary happened to bring up this Three Sisters and echoed my ho-hum reaction.

Of course, it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback on such matters. So I'll say to you that if you have any problems with the nominations and winners of the Lucille Lortel and Theatre World Awards, well, here I am for the harassing, for I'm a member of both committees. Just don't blame me for not voting for Wilson Rodgers.

-- Peter Filichia is the New Jersey drama critic for the Star Ledger.
You can e-mail him at

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