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Tony Time Is Here Again

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This is Tony nominations week. I am sure you can sense my excitement through your computer screen. To get you all in the mood to celebrate the golden disk, I am answering another set of questions about the Tony rules.

Question #1: How is one Fela! guy eligible and not the other?

A few people emailed me to ask this same question. The situation involving Fela! is as follows: Sahr Ngaujah plays the role about five times a week, with Kevin Mambo in for the other three. The producers of Fela! petitioned the Tony folks to allow both Ngaujah and Mambo to be eligible together. They were turned down. Now, on the face of it, that is not surprising. After all, the award is for an "Actor," not "Actors." Nevertheless, just last year three actors won for playing the same role, Billy Elliot. I can't tell you why the Tony Administration folks would not extend the same treatment to the Fela! leads. I have a feeling it has something to do with the fact that the performers do not equally share the role. I also think a big factor in the decision to allow the Billy boys to be considered jointly had to do with the fact that they were kids. But that is just me conjecturing.

Question #2: How can music from plays be eligible?

There is simply no reason music from plays cannot be eligible, so they are. The category is "Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre." There is no mention of whether that score is for a musical or play. In a year with more original musicals, we generally don't think about such things. Nominators will generally be more inclined to nominate a score for a musical than one for a straight play. However, in 1999, Jeanine Tesori was nominated for her score for Twelfth Night. And this year we'll likely see two plays nominated alongside the musicals Memphis and The Addams Family. I personally wish there wasn't a Best Score category this year (a feeling echoed by Time Out New York's theater writers last week), but, as long as there is going to be one, I guess the nominators will fill it.

Question #3: Why was the Special Theatrical Event category eliminated?

I could give you some stock answer from the Administration Committee press release, but the real answer is, there is no answer. Tony rules and categories change. Why was the Best Replacement category eliminated before it was ever awarded? Who knows? I personally think the Special Theatrical issue is a complicated one, involving theater politics. In years when there are only one or two eligible shows, the Tony people could eliminate the category if it finds no eligible event worthy of a Tony Award. (Likewise if there are a dozen eligible shows that are not worthy, though that is a less likely scenario.) But that gives rise to a host of problems. Let's say, in a year with the Special Theatrical category, Betty White comes to Broadway in a one-woman show backed by big-name producers. It is, in theory, hands-down a Special Theatrical Event, but it's the only one eligible for the category that year. If her producers petition and get Special Theatrical placement, the show automatically will get the award, because there will be a reluctance to shoot-down a golden girl by eliminating the main category for which her show is eligible. If the production doesn't get Special Theatrical placement, the Administration Committee's decision will simply be based on the offerings of the season, not the show. Is that really right?

Question #4: How does the petitioning process work?

The Tony Award Rules say nothing about petitioning, though that is the word used in the press. What the rules say is that any person "may request" in writing that the Tony Awards Administration Committee "take specific action in respect to any matter before the Committee." American Theater Wing Executive Director Howard Sherman explained:

The Tony Award Administration Committee has agreed that it will vote upon any producer's written request, but the committee ultimately makes its own decisions, and indeed can rules in the sole discretion on any issue pertaining to the categorization of elements and their eligibility regardless of whether a producer has made a request or not. At times, the committee also requests information from productions to have back-up information before a ruling.

So, basically, you don't have to petition, but you really should. In the rules it actually says that such campaigning is "strongly recommended." The Administration Committee meets periodically throughout the season to make eligibility decisions. A production petitions by its representative simply sending in a letter--no one appears in front of the Administration Committee, there is no real hearing--within two weeks following the production's official opening or by the Tony eligibility date, whichever comes first.

When it comes to voting time, the members of the Tony Awards Nominating Committee are presented with a list of all eligible candidates in each category. "The members of the Nominating Committee receive those ballots as worksheets following the final admin committee meeting," according to Sherman. The lists were in the hands of nominators this past Saturday and will be in use later today during the big nominators meeting.

That's all I have time for. I wish all eligible contenders good luck. And, for the people who are annoyed they aren't eligible, feel free to post about your anger in the comment section.