Friday, April 25, 2014

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).


  1. Genevieve3:52 PM

    Thank you, Matt!! Very helpful in understanding.
    So for Revivals, are they generally not eligible for score or book (unless the book has been significantly changed), but are eligible for other awards for things that change from production to production, like costumes/sound design/lighting?
    I understand the reason for the rule change re Revivals, now that you give it context, but it's a shame that a show that was only produced off-Broadway before can't get Tony recognition for a terrific score (Violet, and Fun Home if it goes to Broadway in the future, I'm looking at you).

  2. Genevieve3:53 PM

    That is, I didn't know there had been a rule change about revivals, but the Turgenev nomination explains why they did change it.

  3. You've mostly hit it. That said, the rule is "popular repertoire" puts you into the "revival" category. Usually, that means a substantial, multi-year gap between first production and Broadway debut. If Fun Home makes a transfer next season, I fully expect it'll be eligible for Best Musical. (Violet was first produced in 1997.)

  4. Joseph Finn8:59 AM

    So if I'm reading this right, Audra McDonald just needs the Leading Actress in A Play to complete that quadfecta.

    And thanks for that revival rule change explanation (and honestly, much as I like to gripe about silly award rules (hi, Best Song Oscar and the Emmy Miniseries categories!), I think the Tony people made a very good change there and it's now a more reasonable rule that allows for common sense.

  5. Yes, if Audra wins, she'll have the quadfecta. I'd say she's got a good shot, but it's not a clear path--Tyne Daly, Mary Louise-Parker, Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei, Estelle Parsons, and Cherry Jones are all eligible there.

  6. I think the only thing stopping Audra from winning is the fact that she's already got five Tonys. Because she is STUNNING in Lady Day. Absolutely magnificent.

  7. The biggest threat is apparently Cherry Jones, who was apparently magnificent in Glass Menagerie. That said, I think Audra has the advantage if just because her show is still running.

  8. Mr. Cosmo9:26 PM

    Fun Home damn well better be eligible.

  9. Mr. Cosmo9:30 PM

    Cherry Jones was very good in Glass Menagerie, but I haven't seen enough productions to know if she was that transcendent re-interpreting of a role that seems to be required to win for a familiar play. She did have a handful of moments where you knew you were watching a spectacular actress, but it wasn't like watching Doubt and saying "yep, that's your winner."

  10. I fully expect it is if it transfers next year. The longer they wait, the trickier it gets, since it's already starting to get regional productions.

  11. Well done, Matt! I work in NYC theater and I don't know all of that info! (Like which awards are voted and which are panels, for instance.) And I'm always interested in how the Tony committee makes its rulings each year, like this year's ruling on which shows were revivals.

    Will you be posting reactions to tomorrow's Tony nominations?

  12. We'll see. It's simultaneously a kind of boring year (NPH and Cranston are basically already locks to win) and an exciting one (the Best Musical race is really wide open, since we've got an abundance of musicals that have weird baggage). And I had to look up the voting/panels stuff.

    Also, reports are that Hedwig and Violet said "we want to be treated as revivals," but Inishmaan tried to get into the "new play" race, but was shot down.