Update on Tony Buzz | Playbill

Tony Awards Update on Tony Buzz
With just hours to go until the 1996 Tony Awards, things are popping on Broadway right down to the wire. Here is a rundown of the Tony news, updated to May 31.

With just hours to go until the 1996 Tony Awards, things are popping on Broadway right down to the wire. Here is a rundown of the Tony news, updated to May 31.

* IATSE settles May 31 with the League of American Theatres and Producers, paving the way for the June 2 Tony broadcast. Keep your fingers crossed.

* The New York Times reported yet another Tony snub May 31. It seems that veteran lyricists (and six-time Tony winners) Betty Comden and Adolph Green were scheduled to present the 1996 Tony Award as Best Musical, but were bumped this week in favor of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The paper reports Comden saying, "It's their loss . . . I even had my dress picked out."
The Times reported that Comden and Green, co-authors of shows including On the Town, The Will Rogers Follies, Bells Are Ringing and Peter Pan, are "hurt and disappointed," and turned down a consolation offer to present in one of the other categories.

* On May 29 the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (carpenters, electricians and certain other backstage workers) threaten to picket the June 2 Tony Awards if a new contract is not negotiated by June 1. Negotiations are continuing May 31.

* New York State Supreme Court Justice Sheila Abdus Salaam dismisses State Fair producer David Merrick's suit May 28, clearing the way for the June 2 Tony Awards show to go on as scheduled. * On May 23, State Fair producer David Merrick schedules a May 28 court hearing on his $2 million lawsuit against the Tony Awards that also seeks to stop the Tony's from giving the Best Score Tony. See items below for details.

* The New York Post reports May 23 that Julie Andrews has given the Tony Awards permission to show two clips of her on the June 2 Tony broadcast. Both are archival clips of Andrews, in My Fair Lady and Camelot, the two previous roles for which she was nominated -- but lost -- the Tony.

* In the May 22 Newsday, columnist Jan Stuart savaged Victor/Victoria and rebutted a letter from actor Charlton Heston to the New York Times supporting star Julie Andrews' decision to decline her Tony nomination as Best Actress in a Musical. Stuart quoted Heston's letter citing the "outrageous bias of the committee. Critics are repelled are repelled by success unless they themselves anoint it." Stuart pointed out that only two of the 14 Tony nominating committee members were critics -- but that a critics' organization, the Outer Critics Circle, named Victor/Victoria outstanding Broadway musical of the season.

* In the People magazine that hit the stands May 20 (dated May 27) Tony spokesman Keith Sherman is quoted saying of Julie Andrews' withdrawing her name from Tony consideration: "If that translates into more people tuning in [to the Tony broadcast], that's for the benefit of Broadway." People also reports that ticket sales for the show jumped 30 percent the week following Andrews' announcement.

* In the Village Voice, waspish columnist Michael Musto writes about Julie Andrews, "You can't get mad every time someone you think deserves an honor doesn't get one, or Jennifer Jason Leigh would be a serial killer.

* Victor/Victoria producer John Scher is quoted in the May 22 New York Times and on the Associated Press saying V/V declined to allow a segment to be shown on the Tonys broadcast because they were given just one minute in the show, as part of a medley, and "We didn't feel we could present our show as part of a medley."

* In an attempt to appease all sides in the 1996 Tony Awards debate, Tony show executive producer Gary Smith announced May 21 that all of the season's new Broadway musicals -- except Victor/Victoria, which declined -- will get the chance to show segments of their shows on the June 2 Tony broadcast on CBS. Everyone from Victor/Victoria will boycott the show. See separate story for details.

* On May 21, State Fair producer David Merrick filed suit in New York State Supreme Court seeking $2 million from the Tony Awards for "Breach of Contract" and "Breach of Fiduciary Duty" for not nominating the show's entire score for Best Score. A copy of the suit made available to Playbill On-Line said that Merrick is seeking an injunction against the Tonys, preventing them from accepting ballots in that category or granting a Tony Award in that category.

* Escalating his war of words against the Tonys, State Fair producer David Merrick reportedly threatened the Tonys, via a May 20 letter, with a restraining order that would halt the June 2 broadcast if the entire score of his show wasn't considered for Best Score. Only four songs from the show -- those that were interpolated from Rodgers and Hammerstein's trunk -- were nominated for Best Score. The New York Post reports that Tony officials were scheduled to meet May 21 to decide how to respond.

* Also on May 20, the producers of Swinging on a Star fired off an open letter to Master Class producer Robert Whitehead (and members of the press), responding to his comments in the May 19 New York Times (see Tony Madness item immediately following this one). In the story, Whitehead was quoted as saying "It is stunning to me that Frank Langella was not nominated for his extraordinary performance in The Father. And why choose Swinging on a Star as a musical nominee? Choose something that is already playing and struggling to keep going." In response, the producers of Swinging on a Star wrote "We deserve better from you, Bob," and proceeded to point out that The Father "closed months ago too." In the letter's capper, they allege that Whitehead, who is a Tony voter, "never even attended one of Swinging on a Star's 116 performances, and yet you still object to our nomination. For shame!"

* On May 19, the New York Times ran a story asking 13 prominent theatre celebrities to comment on, yes, the Tony Madness. Harold Prince, winner of more Tonys (20) than anyone, said the nominating process "does not reflect the opinion of majority of those of us working on Broadway." Andrew Lloyd Webber said "I totally understand how Julie [Andrews] feels. . . . I felt exactly the same way when my then wife, Sarah Brightman, was not nominated for . . . Phantom of the Opera. But everyone involved in Broadway theatre must support the Tonys." Librettist Arthur Laurents pointed out that his first two shows, West Side Story and Gypsy didn't win the Best Musical Tony Award, but Hallelujah Baby! did. Playwright Wendy Wasserstein lamented that the Tonys are being debated on the front page of newspapers "and not the crisis of the National Endowment for the Arts funding . . . or ticket prices or the future of Broadway."

* On May 17, the New York Times devoted most of its Friday theatre column, On Stage and Off, to a quasi-investigative piece alleging that most Tony voters ought to be disqualified because they have not seen all the nominated shows. Thirteen of 17 unnamed Tony voters surveyed by the times said they hadn't seen Chronicle of a Death Foretold. (A similar survey conducted the same day by the New York Post reported that only 1 of 12 Tony voters it surveyed had seen Chronicle.) The Times article concludes that no one is policing the Tony's rules. The story's headline: "Chronicle of a vote foretold: The Tonys' porous honor system is a not-so-well-kept secret."

* On May 16, the Theatre Guild, co-producers of State Fair with David Merrick, reportedly demanded an audit of all voters in the Best Musical category to make sure they'd seen Chronicle of a Death Foretold before they voted in the Best Musical category. See separate story for details.

* On May 15, at the Tony nominees luncheon, Swinging on a Star producer Paul Berkowsky claims his show, nominated in several categories including Best Musical, is being "screwed" by the producers of the Tony Awards broadcast because he's being given only one minute to present a scene from his show, when the non-nominated shows, including Big are being given two and a half minutes. See separate story for details.

* David Merrick threatens May 14 to sue the Tony committee for nominating only four songs from State Fair for Best Score. See separate story for details.

* The artists who actually were nominated for Tony Awards -- remember them? -- picked up their Tony nomination scrolls (and met with the press) May 15 at Sardi's restaurant in New York and were outspoken about the nominations. See separate story.

* Julie Andrews announced May 8 that she was declining her Tony nomination as Best Actress in a Musical as a protest against the fact that no one else from her show, Victor/Victoria, was nominated. See separate stories for details, reactions and a text of the speech.

* As a result, a TV network reportedly was negotiating with Julie Andrews and other Broadway performers to appear in a TV special opposite the Tony Awards June 2. But with only two work weeks to go before June 2, and no production in sight, it's looking unlikely. See separate story for details.

* New York magazine reported that CBS would drop the contract to televise the awards ceremony when the contract expires in 1997. A CBS spokesperson subsequently denies the story.

* Westchester Gannett newspapers reported that the Tony producers have a tape of Julie Andrews singing "Le Jazz Hot" that they may use on the June 2 broadcast, though Andrews has declined her nomination and is believed to be boycotting the show.

* Talk show host David Letterman opened his May 13 show by bowing to his studio audience and announcing, a la Julie Andrews, that he was declining his Tony Award nomination. He is not nominated for a Tony Award.

* State Fair producer David Merrick attacked the Tony nominating committee in a May 10 newspaper ad, saying "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do." Because only four of the 15 songs in State Fair are nominated for Best Score, Merrick, as a publicity stunt, sends cotton balls to Tony voters to stick in their ears during the non-nominated songs. See separate story for more examples.

* The New York Post put the Tony Awards on the front page three days running. On May 6 the headline was "Tony Baloney." On May 7, "Mary Poppins Hoppin' Mad." On May 8, a photo of Julie Andrews gesturing next the to headline, "Julie Andrews: Take this Tony and . . ."

* The May 13 Variety ran the headline "Broadway goes ballistic over Tony noms" with a story comparing the Tony controversy to Britain's Mad Cow disease.

-- By Robert Viagas

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