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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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.