05/19/2010 01:49 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tonys: I Don't Pretend That What Was Wrong Can Be Right, But...

Well, Santo Loquasto no longer has his Tony nomination. I would be happier with that if the Tony folks had opted to nominate a worthy replacement, but, I still think the theater world is a little more just than it was a couple of weeks ago. In keeping with the movement towards fairness in nominations, many people emailed me to question the nomination of Promises, Promises orchestrator Jonathan Tunick.

For those of you who do not know, Tunick orchestrated the original production of Promises, Promises and he is now nominated for his work on the revival. This is not the only occasion Tunick has been honored for his work on the revivals of shows he orchestrated the first time around--the same thing happened with Nine and Follies. But, this year, there is a particular light shined on this sort of thing. Should Tunick's nomination be rescinded like Loquasto's? I'd say "no."

The orchestra for the revival of Promises, Promises is considerably smaller than the one used in the original, a fact that necessitates a significant amount of orchestration work. As theater writer, and orchestrations expert, Steven Suskin explained:

"When you cut out an entire swath of musicians--and Promises seems to have lost between seven and nine, perhaps a third of the players--you basically need to start over. A hack orchestrator might just take all the stuff originally played by the cut instruments and give it to synthesizers; in that case, it will sound--well, synthesized... The Promises brass section is reduced from six to four. The orchestrator could keep some trumpet solos, yes; but a chord written for six brass is missing colors when played by four. If you want the same effect, you've got to rewrite it."

Tunick had other things to contend with in addition to the orchestra reduction. There are two added songs in this revival, some new dance music scattered throughout and a change in the music that ends the acts (or so I was told by someone I trust). So, it seems, yes, Tunick's work was enough to qualify it for eligibility. But, there is still the more important question of whether the Tony Administration Committee inquired as to what percentage of the orchestrations were new.

I've discussed in previous posts the rules regarding eligibility and petitioning. Now, there has been some suggestion that the Ragtime people should have gone out of their way to say Loquasto wasn't eligible. That makes no sense to me--who, except a saint, would send a letter to say, "Wait, you shouldn't give our person a Tony nomination?" If you think that is going to happen, you think too much of your fellow man. It is the Tony people's responsibility to administer the awards according to the rules. If they want to have a rule that says eligibility rests on an element being new, then, the Administration Committee has to find out if the product is new. That is what is necessary for the sake of consistency and fairness.

Did the Administration Committee inquire about Tunick's orchestrations? I doubt it. They clearly didn't ask questions about Loquasto's costumes. And orchestrations are harder for most people to nail down. (That is actually why I believe the category calls for a specialized voting pool--I don't think the average Tony voter knows exactly what they are voting for when they vote for orchestrations--but I'll save that whole diatribe for another post.) If no one at the Tonys looked at Tunick's work on the orchestrations in detail before the nominations, that was at error. It doesn't mean his nomination should be rescinded, but it does speak to a flaw in the system. A problem that should be--and hopefully will be--corrected in future years.

Tunick's work for the Promises, Promises revival deserved a nomination, but his eligibility still should have been examined. No question about it. There aren't 200 categories or 200 shows. It's not that hard for the Administration folks to examine the candidates. They must do it, look at themselves and be proud.