EXCLUSIVE: Deadline theater critic Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres president Jordan Roth discuss the hottest topics on the Rialto, the only precondition being: no holds barred.
GERARD: Congratulations, Jordan, on the Thoroughbreds you have in this year’s Tony derby. (Congrats to all your competitors, too, btw!) The nominees were announced Tuesday and while there were only a few surprises, a perennial conundrum once again appears: how to address nominated shows that have long-since closed. The 842 Tony voters are required to swear on a stack of Bibles that they’ve only voted in categories in which they saw every nominated
show or performance. This year that matters more than ever, because it means that if you didn’t see best musical revival nominee Falsettos, you shouldn’t vote for Hello, Dolly! If you didn’t see August Wilson’s Jitney, you shouldn’t vote for Present Laughter. If you didn’t see Cate Blanchett in The Present, you shouldn’t vote for Laurie Metcalf, Sally Field, Laura Linney or Jennifer Ehle, to cite just a few important examples. The only voters I can guarantee saw every one of those shows are my colleagues and me from the (sadly) ever-shrinking New York Drama Critics Circle. For decades, now, I’ve argued that the Broadway League should keep track of how many voters make it to the fewer than 40 shows that open each season.
ROTH: I, for one, won’t be voting in all categories this year, as I couldn’t see every fall show with our newborn at home. The shows have always known how many voters actually attended, because they distribute the tickets. And last year, the League created an online self-reporting site where all voters can record the performances they attended, which the shows can then cross reference against their own records. But ultimately this will remain an honor system unless our Tony voting system leaves paper and becomes digital. Then voters would only be able to access a category to vote once their attendance at all nominated shows in that category had been verified. This feels inevitable at some point – though I will miss inking my check mark in the paper box, just as I miss pulling the lever to click the X into the box in elections.
GERARD: I’ll let you slide on revealing just how many voters did see Falsettos, which you produced. Next subject: In its wisdom, The New York Times introduced its new co-chief drama critic, the estimable Jesse Green, by publishing his online conversation with Ben Brantley on the day of the nominations. Six weeks before the Tony Awards, they made their preferences clear, and they’ll no doubt do it again with
the annual Who Should Win/Who Will Win column in an upcoming Arts & Leisure section. I wish the Times had shown just a little restraint here (fat chance). The opinions of its critics are hardly unknown. It particularly depressed me to see one of my favorite shows of the year, Indecent, barely get a mention. I think that’s a lumpy piece of deck-stacking.
ROTH: The Times’ annual Should Win/Will Win column causes lots of consternation in offices and theaters across Broadway. We all think it’s completely unfair and prejudicial – until our show is picked as a Should/Will and then it’s completely reasonable and right-minded. When you look at the last five years, the Will Wins were correct only 66% of the time, and that number drops five more points when you take out last year with all its not-hard-to-call Hamilton categories. So while it may feel like that column is swaying votes, the numbers say otherwise. That might change if it moved a few weeks later. As it is now, the column is published about a week after nominations come out so it’s only capturing (and in some cases creating) the first rush of sentiment. But so much can shift in the five weeks that follow.
GERARD: Our readers would love to have some insight from you as to the actual cost of a Tony nomination. In the big races, what’s the producers’ tab for pitching their shows on the Tony broadcast? And is it worth it?
ROTH: A big musical will end up spending $250,000-$300,000 on its number including telecast fees, rehearsals, scenery pieces, etc. (a bit less for a smaller musical), plus another $100,000 or so on other Tony-related expenses. That doesn’t include advertising, and sky’s the limit there. Refer to this Sunday Times Arts & Leisure for a hefty corner of the sky. Is it worth it? For some shows definitely, for others not at all. But you don’t know which you are until it’s over. So we’ll all always try… and hope.
GERARD: Let’s take a minute to mourn a bit for the big shows that were passed over, either completely or in the major categories, among them Bandstand, Amélie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Bronx Tale. Will there be a lot of blood on the floor before the season is over?
ROTH: Sadly, as you reported last night, Amélie has just announced closing for May 21. You and I share a love and connection to this piece – and we are not alone. The shows that have to close immediately following nominations or the awards are the shows that haven’t been able to find a big enough audience and need the light of the Tonys to lead audiences to them. The shows that already have found an audience will for the most part continue to, and while getting a bunch of nominations would have helped, not getting them won’t fatally hurt immediately. Whether a show got 15 nominations or zero, whether a show will run till the end of the week or the end of the decade, let’s remember that every show is made with love and optimism and good will. And they all deserve the same from us in return.
GERARD: Speaking of good will, here’s a non-Tony-related pitch: On Monday (6 PM at SubCulture on Bleecker Street), Come From Away star Chad Kimball will host a benefit with a ton of Broadway talents in support of NF Hope, which raises money for research into a treatment and cure for neurofibromatosis. It’s organized by Jeff Leibow, who left his role in the Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys after seven years when his nine-month old daughter was diagnosed with the incurable condition. I may not be able to predict all the Tony winners, but I can say with some assurance that when New York troupers get behind a project to raise money, you are going to get way more than your money’s worth. Check out nfhope.org/nfhope/nyccconcert. Or just send cash.