I TOLDJA, didn’t I? that Broadway’s silly season would start as soon as the Tony nominations were announced, and here we are with today’s New York Times report that “producers” of shows nominated for best new and revived plays and musicals are in jeopardy of losing their right to drop $2,500 for a Tony medallion if their show wins. Primo Tony baloney, this is. Why? Because this has nothing to do with $2,500 baubles and everything to do with the fine romantic nuttiness that is the Tony Awards business. And business it is, with sales of Tonys adding $300,000 to the bottom line of the dysfunctional coalition that runs the awards (about which more later).
Start with the evolving concept of “producers.” There are 16 shows nominated in the top categories: Five for Best Play, four for Best Musical, four for Best Play Revival and three for Best Musical Revival. How many entities produced these 16 shows? 20, 50, 100, you say? How about 193? More, if you consider the fact that many of those entities are actually investor consortiums. These are people who know the meaning of the word agate and want no part of a below-the-title listing for their $50,000 stake. They want to say, to their friends and to the press, “I produced After Midnight!” (21 “producers”), and the actual producers accommodate because money talks and everyone walks to the podium on June 8, Tony Night, hosted by Hugh Jackman and telecast on CBS beginning at 8 PM, in case you didn’t know.
Topping the list: A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder, 28 “producers,” and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, 25. Carrying on the honored-in-the-breach tradition of one show/one producer: Cameron Mackintosh, the sole name above the title in the nominated revival of Les Miserables. Similarly, Tom Schumacher for Disney Theatrical Productions’ adaptation of Aladdin. And Manhattan Theatre Club’s joined-at-the-hip Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove, the sole producers of Best Play nominee Outside Mullingar.
Who’s stirring up all this ruckus? That’s the more important question, because it goes to the cracked heart, not to say mind, of the Tony Awards. They’re administered by Tony Awards Productions, a historically unhappy marriage of the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing. The League is a real estate oligarchy of landlords and producers whose common interest is leveraging the awards as a marketing tool for an industry defined roughly by about three dozen theaters, most of them in the Times Square neighborhood. The Wing is a charity with the good fortune of owning the title, named for Antoinette Perry, an actress-turned-director and producer whose chief claim to fame in addition to having co-produced Harvey was as founder of the Wing, which invented the Stage Door Canteen centers for WWII vets.
These two groups don’t like each other so much. For many years, there was talk in the League cabal about creating their own awards, in order to have total control. The Wing responded with snorts and hoots, saying, “Sure, try it.” The Tonys have prevailed, mostly on the strength of the CBS telecast and the exposure the industry gets for a show that runs off-season and competes for share with the NBA playoffs. But it wins Emmys.
This infighting and protectionism is the reason the Tonys not only don’t represent the best work in the U.S. theater capital each year, they often don’t even represent the best of Broadway. So much acrimonious, nitpicky negotiating takes place each year before the nominating committee goes to work that rulings about eligibility often look arbitrary because, well, they are. “I went to those meeting every few months,” one member of the Tony Administration committee recently told me, “and I realized, They’re just making it up as they go along! It’s incomprehensible.”
That helps explain how it came to pass that this year’s nominations failed to recognize so many vote-worthy performances (Daniel Radcliffe, Denzel Washington, Roger Rees, Zachary Quinto…) and best-show nominees (If/Then, The Bridges Of Madison County…). Awards to those shows ought to have been decided by the Tony voters, not the backroom cliques. It also tells us why the best play and musical of the year, IMHO — The Apple Family Plays and Fun Home, both presented by the Public Theater — will get no love from Jackman, or anyone else, on June 8. The Tonys hate off-Broadway and have all sorts of rationales for ignoring it, even though the vast majority of Broadway shows originated in the nonprofit theater, many in New York.
All of which is why the effort by the Wing to stop the sale of phony Tonys is kind of sad and kind of silly. Recognize the Tony Awards for what they are — or get outta the business. The show business, remember?