Chatter from Shubert Alley: Will there be Five instead of Four???

Five Nominees Best Musical BroadwayFor years I’ve been writing about my hope that the Tony Awards would relax their strict rules about the number of nominees for Best Musical and Best Play.  It was back in 2010 that I first wondered if Broadway could have more than the perfunctory four nominees.  And  then, in 2012, I wrote about it again in my 3 Things Theater Can Learn from the Oscars blog, when the Oscars rewrote their rules and made the number of nominees flexible . . .  any number between five and ten depending on how many the nominators felt were worthy.

And I’m super-pumped to announce that the Tony Administration did pass a new rule this year that allows a fifth nomination for the Best Musical, Best Play, Best Revival of a Musical, and Best Revival of a Play trophies . . . again, if the nominators feel the field warrants it.

Of course, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that this ruling didn’t come a few years earlier as I’m pretty sure Godspell would have grabbed one of those extra slots, instead of getting nudged out by the Superstar revival that only lasted a few months.  But I’m still dancin’ in the streets, as I think this new ruling allows a greater celebration of each specific season and the number of quality musicals represented, instead of handcuffing the committee to only a certain number of kudos.

I know it’s not easy for that Admin Committee to alter existing rules.  It may seem easy to us, but we have to remember that each slight adjustment could have a major effect on theater history, never mind our entire society!  Shows that get nominated have a shot at winning.  Shows that win can not only experience greater financial success in the short term, but those plays usually are performed more often around the world, which means their message is spread to more people . . . which means more people can be affected by what they say.

So allowing a fifth nominee for those four categories is a pretty massive change, and I thank the Admin Committee for doing it.

And what a perfect year for this new policy to take effect.  Just look at the field for Best Musical this year:

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
A Night With Janis Joplin
After Midnight
Big Fish
Bullets Over Broadway
First Date
Soul Doctor
The Bridges of Madison County

Just look at all those new musicals!  It’s no wonder some of them are having a bit of trouble getting their noses up off the ground.  It’s a like a giant Broadway cage match!

The chatter all over Shubert Alley and every other Broadway Street this year is whether there will be five nominees instead of four.  It’s a tough call.  Since the critics sent out more “mixed messages” reviews, the Nominators aren’t going to want to just reward what some people might feel are mediocre productions.  Then again, I do think there’s a bit of a critical backlash happening amongst the theatrical intelligentsia who make up the Tony Nominators.  I’m hearing things like, “Critics don’t define excellence.  They just provide color commentary.  And the Nominators are the ones with the ultimate authority.”

All this means there’s a second reason for shows in the fray to be nervous on April 29th when the noms are announced.  Will the show be nominated?  And will there be five instead of four?

My opinion?  I think there will be a full five finger set of nominees this year.  And I do believe this season represents a perfect reason as to why this rule makes so much sense.  We’ve got more new musicals than usual.  And what a diverse lot we have!  To limit it to four would not properly represent the season that Broadway is having.  Gosh, I remember when Sunset Boulevard took the top prize in 1995 practically by default, because there was only one other nominee that year (one of the first jukebox musicals – Smokey Joe’s Cafe).  And let’s face it, Awards are not only rewarding excellence, but also the best soft-marketing we have.  And the shows, and Broadway itself, could use it.

Whether you like all the shows or not this season, we should take pride in the fact that there are twelve potential nominees for Best Musical this year, and I’m hopeful that five will be honored with a nomination on April 29th.

What do you think is gonna happen this year?  Five or four?


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  • Mark Robinson says:

    I think four nominee slots was/is plenty. The idea is to nominate the “best musicals” of the season and not “every musical” of the season. Looking over the list of what has opened this season, one might think we have a lot of superb choices to nominate in the category of “best musical,” but almost none of these musicals has had rave reviews. Each has positive elements but they almost always overcoming major shortcomings. I do not like padding a category just to have nominees. It doesn’t really mean anything to have the additional nominee.

  • Anything, ANYTHING, that has to do with the Tony Awards is the result of a noxious mix of incestuous political, and self interested economics. That’s fine, by the way, it’s their ball and they can do exactly as they please.

    The “rules’, such as they are, are subject to any change for whatever reason, that they deem fit. Since there really is no “best” anything, it would be nice if they could finally get it together to use the TV broadcast to its maximum promotional potential.

    But, this is Broadway, after all. I don’t recommend anyone holding their breath.

  • Have to disagree with you this time, Ken.

    With four nominees, a third of the musicals that merely opened this season will be nominated, quality be damned. (And four of the possible nominees have already closed.)

    With five nominees, that percentage goes slightly above 40%. That’s approaching half.

    Do more than 40% of the musicals that opened this season really deserve to be nominated for Best Musical? Uh uh.

    Comparing those numbers and percentages to the Oscars is a bit presumptuous and misguided. For example, last year 289 films were eligible for nominations. Of that, only 9 were nominated, or 3%.

    And that sounds about right. These awards are the Honor Rolls of their respective businesses, and though we are clearly in an era of “Everyone’s a Winner”, having too many nominees lessens the prestige and luster of the Tony Awards.

    All that said, if the nominating committee agrees in any given year that there are five outstanding musicals that deserve to be nominated, okay. But what I sense and fear is another classic situation in which the committee is literally obligated to fill slots to make producers happy.

    No one wins with that, cause frankly, those shows that get filler nominations (and we know what I’m talking about) undermine the idea that only the best of the Broadway season is being honored. Not only that, I’d go so far as to say I think it’s disrespectful to the nominees who really have achieved excellence in any particular season.

  • Lynn Manuell says:

    I actually was enchanted and LOVED Big Fish. I know generally people don’t nominate shows that are closed and not likely to tour, so I feel sadly it will be overlooked, but I’d love it if it wasn’t.

  • Jared says:

    There are a lot of Bitter Bettys in these comments. As someone who has seen a vast majority of the musicals up for consideration, I would say there is certainly enough quality to merit 5 nominations this year.

    Let us not forget that no show is perfect. Looking back at the Best Musical winners (not nominees, the ones that actually won the prize) from the past years, pretty much every show has had it’s share of detractors among the press. And I personally have noticed that the press is much harder on new musicals, which discourages experimentation and has led to many of the “big” shows in the past few years feeling more like corporate products than works of art.

    AND more importantly, what almost every story I’ve seen on this subject overlooks is the fact that the rule change also allows the nominators to DECREASE the number of slots to 3 if there isn’t much competition. So it doesn’t mean that all 5 shows will be nominated if there are only 5 eligible productions. The Tony committee has reduced the number of nominees per category before (like only having 4 Best Actress in a Musical nominees in 2011), and I’m sure they would have no qualms about doing so again.

    Finally, people complain about filler nominees, but the fact of the matter is that most of us can identify those shows on sight. The nominations don’t really increase their box office or prestige, and conversely, no amount of awards consideration can get people to see/produce a show they aren’t interested. I don’t see anyone chomping at the bit to do “Fela!,” even though it had the most Tony nominations that year and a lot more critical acclaim than eventually winner “Memphis.”

  • ECP says:

    Very mixed feelings about the so-called “newness” of Broadway musicals. To take another page from AMPAS and perhaps spread the wealth of marketing/promotional ops, introduce another category:

    Big Fish
    Bullets Over Broadway

  • neil says:

    In a world where teams with losing records can make a sports playoff (such as the 2010 Seattle Seahawks), I don’t think diluting the nominating pool by adding another musical is such a great idea. How about taking on a more worthy cause? If Hollywood has a best song category, why doesn’t Broadway? Musicals keep the industry afloat and seeing a best song competition would be a just reward for some worthy composers.

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