Where Will the Tonys Have ROOM?

Will ROOM be a musical or play for the Tony Awards? And who decides?

By: Jan. 30, 2023
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Sometimes seasons go by without any truly perplexing questions for the Tony Award Administration Committee. This will not be one of those seasons. As I wrote last month, there are close calls on what will be considered a new play versus a revival and now thrown into the mix is the play or musical decision involving ROOM.

How Tony eligibility works is it starts with a letter from the production. A lead producer submits a letter regarding the producer's position on categorization--that includes play versus musical and if the production believes anyone should be categorized differently than their opening night title billing would indicate. The producer also submits answers to a questionnaire regarding original or replicated elements. The Administration Committee does the rest. What the production requests is not public, but sometimes leaks out. Therefore, we know the 24-member committee does not always follow producer requests. For example, Scott Rudin pushed hard for SHUFFLE ALONG to be considered a revival, but it was ruled eligible in the new musical category. (Read here for more detail about the eligibility process.)

With regard to what is a musical versus a play, the lines are usually clear. However, there is the tricky "play with music" genre. Within that genre there are pieces like IMAGINARY FRIENDS that seem like plays despite some added original songs. Then there are the ones where the line is fuzzier like END OF THE RAINBOW or LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL, both of which were considered plays but could have gone either way. In a letter sent to the Tony Administration Committee in 2014 arguing why LADY DAY should be considered a play, its producer wrote: "There is no set-in-stone definition of what makes a musical a musical and a play a play. Traditionally, however, the line between musicals and plays with music has been drawn based on the music's function within the show. In a traditional book musical, songs are integral to the plot, blended seamlessly with the dialogue and used to advance situations or to express emotion too powerful for the characters to speak. In LADY DAY, on the other hand, the musical numbers exist only as performances within the larger work."

ROOM--which will star Adrienne Warren, a Tony winner for Best Actress in a Musical--is seemingly close to the play/musical line for viewers. The songs in ROOM obviously don't exist only as performances, but quantity and context also matter in the categorization determination. J. Kelly Nestruck, theater critic for Canada's The Globe and Mail, called ROOM a "play with music" (which is how it was characterized by producers in other mountings) in one piece he wrote and an "unorthodox musical" in another.

Time will tell what producers petition for when ROOM hits Broadway. Part of this is strategy. The Administration Committee is finally meeting on January 31 and that meeting will partially decide how crowded the play field is. But even if all the questionable new-ish plays are deemed revivals, which is highly unlikely, the Best Play category is still more packed than the Best Musical category and insiders are expecting one more play announcement.

With ROOM not opening until April 17, the Administration Committee decision will not be made until the last meeting of the season.