THE BLOG
03/26/2013 04:27 pm ET Updated May 26, 2013

Cinder-Ella: Are You New or a Revival?

As I've written here before, you generally get what you ask for when you request something of the generous Tony Awards Administration Committee. So it was not surprising Cinderella got categorized a "revival" -- after all, as Michael Riedel wrote a couple of weeks ago, that means it is a shoo-in for a nomination. But was that the right call?

The thing about the Tony Awards' rules is that there is a lot of room for "discretion" when interpreting them. This is true in many categories, including the acting categories. Take for example, The Mystery of Edwin Drood's Chita Rivera, who will be considered in the featured category despite being above-the-title. The Tony Awards Administration Committee moved her down, even though Cleo Laine, in the same roles, was nominated as Best Actress when the show was originally on Broadway. The discretion that the Administration Committee is afforded is all the more obvious when you have rules like the "Classics" rule, which governs whether works never before on Broadway will be considered in the revival categories.

The rule was enacted in fall 2002, the season after Fortune's Fool was eligible in the Best Play category. (It came just in time to prevent Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Little Shop of Horrors from being deemed "new.") The rule is as follows:

A play or musical that is determined by the Tony Awards Administration Committee (in its sole discretion) to be a 'classic' or in the historical or popular repertoire shall not be eligible for an Award in the Best Play or Best Musical category but may be eligible in the appropriate Best Revival category, if any, provided it meets all other eligibility requirements set forth in these Rules.

What is a classic? What does it mean to be in the historical or popular repertoire? It's all up to the Administration Committee, which basically means it is about what the producers of a given show want. I was shocked when Patrick Marber's After Miss Julie was deemed a revival a few seasons ago. That show wasn't a classic, it wasn't August Strindberg's Miss Julie. It had a BBC adaptation, a couple of mountings in London and maybe some in America (I'm not even sure) -- it certainly wasn't well known in America. But it was named a revival under the Classics rule.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella
is, of course, a closer case. We all know the music from the three television film versions of the musical, the tours and the regional mountings. The traditional Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella is certainly in the popular repertoire. But... Then... This isn't the traditional Cinderella. What is on Broadway has a very new book from Douglas Carter Beane -- Ella (her given name, according to Mr. Beane) doesn't even lose her glass slipper. (Beane's book will be eligible in the Best Book category.) It also has four additional songs from the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalog.

This may sound familiar from the not-too-distant past -- the 2002-2003 production of Flower Drum Song (which also had additional songs and was advertised as a "new musical") was eligible in the revival category; its new book from David Henry Hwang was also eligible. That was on Broadway before however, so the ruling was less curious. And there is something to be said for the theory that a Broadway run alone shouldn't make the difference between whether a show is new or a revival. (Orphans, one would think, would also be a revival this season, despite it never having been on Broadway. That would seem to be the right call in that situation.)

But, then, shows such as White Christmas have been eligible in the Best Musical category. White Christmas was actually closer to its source material, which is in the popular repertoire, than this Cinderella is to its source material or the tours. Is the difference that, other than the one Los Angeles mounting of the same production, White Christmas was never a stage show? Should that matter? In the end, doesn't this Cinderella have more similarity to White Christmas or even Nice Work If You Can Get It than it does to a revival of Annie?

It's a close call. The problem is, the producers would have gotten anything they asked for -- in a season with less new musicals, they would have chosen that. In other words, it's just more jockeying. I wish the Tonys had rules that didn't allow for quite so much jockeying. Of course, there is no rule that would encompass every situation. But maybe if the Administration Committee sat and made decisions without an appeal letter from producers? Just an idea. After all, we're not talking about that many shows.

As for Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, congrats on your now inevitable Tony nomination. You made the right choice.

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