Final Tony Admin Decisions Leave Some Scratching Their Heads

Ahead of tomorrow's Tony nominations, a look back at what happened last week.

By: May. 01, 2023
Click Here for More on Industry Trends Weekly
Final Tony Admin Decisions Leave Some Scratching Their Heads

Tomorrow is the big day--the Tony nominations. That means last week brought us the last eligibility decisions. Let's peek behind the curtain at some of the main things we learned.

First, the score for NEW YORK, NEW YORK was deemed ineligible for Best Score, presumably because the Administration Committee did not feel enough of the songs were new. There is not a hard-and-fast rule about how much music has to be new in order to qualify for the Best Score award, but the general guideline followed has been that the original content has to be over 50% of the score featured in the show. This rule was analyzed in 2003 when URBAN COWBOY was originally deemed not eligible in the category, but then the Administration Committee reversed course when it was pointed out that Jason Robert Brown in fact wrote over 50% of the songs featured in the musical. Now, most consider material "new" if it has never been commercially released. But on the Tony questionnaire, the production must give a percentage of material "written for this Production." NEW YORK, NEW YORK may have an argument that the majority of songs in it are "new," as in were not previously commercially available, but they do not have a good faith argument that a majority of songs were "written for this Production" because so many of the songs are trunk songs. This "written for this Production" analysis is an odd way to approach the question because in most cases you will never know how many songs were trunk songs--composers insert old, unreleased material in shows all the time. But the wording of the questionnaire is what it is.

Second, Liza Colón-Zayas is Tony eligible for her performance in BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, but questions still remain. As previously reported, a Tony rule would indicate that nominators that did not see Colón-Zayas must recuse themselves. I asked a Tony spokesperson to confirm whether the rule's plain language applied and whether any exception was being made to the rule. No response on that. I also asked if the nominators who did not see her performance did indeed recuse themselves. (Emily Altman, Kathleen Chalfant, Kristoffer Diaz, Michael R. Jackson and Tracey Scott Wilson have recused themselves since I reported on the Tony nominators, bringing the list down to 40.) A source has informed me that nominators that missed Colón-Zayas remain on the current nominator list, but a Tony spokesperson said she had "no insight" into whether that was true.

Third, if this season has proven anything, it's that the phrase "opening night" no longer has any meaning. INTO THE WOODS changed its opening date for Tony purposes months after critics had come. And now THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN'S WINDOW technically "opened" before the cutoff, but that opening did not include inviting critics, it just included saying it was opening night (which is all that is required under the rules).

Fourth, the Tony Administration folks clearly don't want to give any additional special Tonys to puppet creators. In 2011, Handspring Puppet Company got one for WAR HORSE. In 2019, Sonny Tilders got one for KING KONG. What are LIFE OF PI puppet designers Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell getting for their amazing work? A possible joint Tony nomination for Best Costume Design of a Play with actual costume designer Tim Hatley. No one in the general public had previously thought of puppets as costumes, but that was the Administration Committee's call.

Fifth, the PARADE orchestrations are not Tony-eligible. The great Don Sebesky, who sadly passed away over the weekend, orchestrated the original PARADE. The revival has both Sebesky and Jason Robert Brown credited with orchestrations, but the differences were not enough for eligibility.

A decision more important than any of these is on the horizon. If the Writers Guild of America strikes, that strike's impact on the Tony Awards will be dramatic. But, meanwhile, the nominations are what is on everyone's mind.