ANOTHER OPENIN', ANOTHER SHOW:With the theater season now at an end, we had a request for a little explanation of theatre awards. I (as an amateur) will chime in, and I'm sure y'all will correct me if I get anything wrong. (Sadly, we don't have Vox-style cards set up, so you'll have to cope.)
So, what are all these awards? There are oodles of theatrical awards. Some awards are for Off-Broadway only (Obie, Lucille Lortel), some are for a combination of Off-Broadway and Broadway (Drama League, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle), and the Tonys are for Broadway only. Complicating matters, different ones have different categories and eligibility rulings. So, for instance, After Midnight is a "revue" for purposes of the Drama League awards, and a "musical" for purposes of the Tonys. Some of the awards have a special category for "solo performance," which would typically be a "Best Leading Actor/Actress" award for other awards.
Who votes for these? Depends on the award. Drama Desk is a critics-only voting base, Drama League is based on audience voting, Outer Critics Circle is non-New-York-based critics (sort of the Golden Globes), and the Tony Awards is a mixture of writers, performers, producers, other theatre professionals (lighting, scenic design, etc.), but not including any "opening night" critics.
Who determines acting categories? Unlike most film awards, the Tonys have a bright line rule. If you are billed above the title, you are eligible as a "leading" performer. If you are billed below the title, you are eligible as a "featured" performer. Of course, it can't be that simple--you can petition the Tonys for consideration in a different category. This commonly happens when either (a) the show doesn't have an above-the-title star, despite having "lead" performers, or (b) a "name" performer is billed above the title despite having a featured role.
Who's eligible for an acting award? In almost every circumstance, you have to be the performer playing the role on opening night of the show to be eligible. Replacements aren't eligible for Tony awards. Now, exceptions have been made, typically in the form of "special" Awards for roles that have a rotating cast (the various opera stars who appeared in Baz Luhrmann's La Boheme got a collective special award, as did the original Matildae), though the three boys who alternated in the title role of Billy Elliot got to share the Leading Actor Tony.
OK, so what's a "play" and what's a "musical?" This can be a surprisingly tough question. Obviously, a "musical" has to have music in it, but just because there's music in it doesn't mean it's a musical. Formerly, there was a "live music" requirement, but (controversially!) Contact was nominated for and won the Best Musical prize and several acting awards in the Musical category despite having no live music and almost no singing (it relied on pre-recorded music). Nor does even a substantial amount of singing necessarily render a show a "musical." For instance, Master Class contains several arias sung during the show, but it's always been a "play" for Tony purposes.
So, what's a "revival" and what's a "new" show? Again, this is a surprisingly difficult question. Formerly, the rule was "if it hasn't had a Broadway run before, it's a new show. If it has, it's a revival." In 2002, after Ivan Turgenev's 1848 play Fortune's Fool was nominated for Best Play, the rule was changed. Now, shows that are "in the popular repertoire" are revivals even if they've never been on Broadway before. So, for instance, although last year was the first Broadway production of Cinderella, it was nominated as a revival. Complicating matters further, if a musical has received a substantially new or revised book, it can be eligible for "best book" even though the show's a revival--Cinderella got a Best Book nomination. Also significant--a revival traditionally must be to at least some extent a "new" production, rather than bringing in a road company of a previously closed show for a "return engagement."
So, how does this matter this year? Actually, this was a really complicated year on this front. You had four shows making Broadway debuts that have been around for several years and have been produced extensively in regional theatres (Hedwig, Violet, Cripple of Inishmaan, Lady Day), a show that could have been deemed either a play or a musical (Lady Day), and a show that's a "return engagement" of a prior production, though with much new casting (Cabaret). The Tony Administration Committee ruled today that all four of the shows are revivals and that Lady Day is a play, giving Audra McDonald a decent shot at being the first performer ever to win all four different acting Tonys (Leading/Featured in a Play/Musical). Most surprisingly, Cabaret will be eligible for a Best Revival nomination (partially, I expect, to fill out the category and so it can perform on the broadcast), performers other than Alan Cumming (the only returning cast member) will be eligible for acting awards, but Cabaret will be ineligible in technical and direction categories (since it's the same production that was considered in 1998).