THE BLOG
03/24/2014 12:50 am ET Updated May 23, 2014

Cabaret : Everybody Loves a Winner Once

I read Michael Riedel's column in last Friday's New York Post with the kind of dumbfounded look I have on my face when I see really bad theater that somehow made it to Broadway. I thought: "Could anyone possibly think Cabaret should be eligible for a Tony Award for Best Revival? Could anyone think Michelle Williams would be ineligible?"

As I have written many times, the Tony Awards Administration Committee does what it wants. The rules it is tasked with interpreting are often unclear. In fact, I looked and could not find in the rules language that would explicitly deny Cabaret eligibility. However it seems ridiculous to me that it would be considered. This is a carbon copy production. Roundabout even announced it as such. As per the Roundabout website: "One of Broadway's greatest productions returns! Alan Cumming ("The Good Wife," Roundabout's The Threepenny Opera) reprises his Tony®-winning performance in Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) and Rob Marshall's (Nine and Chicago, the films) Tony-winning production of Cabaret." That's right, this production already has its Tony. It should not be able to receive another one.

There is sadly precedent for it being eligible. Some of which is from long ago, some of which from not so long ago. The last Les Miserables revival was essentially a remount of the original production, yet it scored a Best Revival nomination anyway. And this issue has actually come up with regards to Cabaret before -- the nominated 1987 revival was mostly faithful to the original production (including having the same Master of Ceremonies, which probably sounds familiar by now), but at least it had slight design team differences. Here, according to Roundabout itself, the company is simply bringing back its Tony winner.

What are the Tonys here for if not to honor theatrical creativity? What creativity is there in remounting a production at its last home? A play or musical is not eligible for the Best Play or Musical award if it substantially duplicates a previously presented play or musical. Why is a revival that exactly duplicates a revival capable of being nominated? (The "substantial duplication" language was created to keep producers from claiming barely revised work was "new." It says that a play or musical can be eligible if it contains "substantially duplicate elements of productions" but only if "the duplicated and the original elements, in their totality, create a new play or musical." While it was not created for this purpose, I believe its logic holds here. This is not a new revival.)

However, whatever the Administration Committee decides to do with Cabaret as a production, Williams and other new cast members will likely be eligible. "Regardless of whether a production of a play or musical is eligible for a Best Revival category, the elements of the production shall be eligible in those categories in which said elements do not, in the judgment of the Tony Awards Administration Committee, substantially duplicate any prior presentation of the play or musical..." So says the Tony rules. This wording has allowed many actors to be eligible in the past, including Christina Ricci for Time Stands Still and the actors from the return engagement of White Christmas. There has been no change in the language of the rule in recent years. Excluding Williams and her costars (with the exception of Cumming) from the nominations would be an unnecessary slight.

And so it goes every year -- there is a fuzzy grey area and the Tony Administration Committee steps in. Last year they broke with tradition and went out on their own a little bit, defying some producers. I hope that continues with regards to Cabaret. A facsimile should not be treated as an award-worthy new entry in the theatrical landscape.

Subscribe to the Culture Shift email.
Get your weekly dose of books, film and culture.