Backstage brouhaha at the Drama Desk Awards
According to Riedel, "Tony Phillips has left his post, charging in a stinging resignation letter that the committee chairwoman, theater critic Barbara Siegel (of Theatermania.com), is 'an imminent danger to the integrity of the organization.' "
Phillips of Edge Publications has "watched with growing alarm" as Siegel has steered "this organization away from its mission statement into some wan, doddering, second-rate mock of the Tony Awards."
"Broadway insiders have noticed that, in recent years, the Drama Desk has been nominating more and more commercial shows, often those featuring famous actors," adds Riedel. "'They're trying to be like the Golden Globes," says a press agent. 'And they certainly want the stars to come to their parties.'"
The main gist of Phillips' argument is that the organization is abandoning its roots, but he is years late in making this point.
While the Tonys, which date back to 1947, celebrate the best of Broadway, the Drama Desk kudos were begun in 1955 to celebrate the entire New York theater world. Indeed, for the first 14 years, winners came exclusively from the burgeoning off-Broadway scene.
However, beginning with the 15th festivities in 1968, those appearing on Broadway became eligible for consideration. For the next 5 years, long lists of outstanding performances both on and off-Broadway were named as the year's best.
And when the awards turned 21 in 1975, they seemed to come of age and began naming nominees before announcing the eventual winners. Since then, nominees have tended to be those who would go to compete at the Tonys, leaving the off-Broadway performers in the wings.
Indeed, three of the four lead acting winners in 1975 took home Tonys too -- Angela Lansbury ("Gypsy"), Ellen Burstyn ("Same Time Next Year"), and John Cullum ("Shenandoah"). While a performer from an off-Broadway show will still win the occasional Drama Desk award — as did Christine Ebersole in 2006 for the original run of "Grey Gardens" — the proceedings are usually more of a dress rehearsal for the Tony Awards.
Personally, I'm most alarmed and upset over the allegation that Siegel nixed the legitimate nomination of the sexually outrageous rock tuner "Twist" as best musical because it might be a "potential embarrassment." Of course, none of us award-watchers expect the Broadway-fawning Drama Desks to have the guts to ever let a show like "Twist," win, but, if these awards wish to perpetuate the myth that they actually care about off-Broadway, then they must permit the outrageous, edgy stuff to have its occasional nomination in a top category. Because that's why off-Broadway exists — to cultivate and encourage such shows. And those shows thrive on such notice when they, rarely, get it.
Please notice the ultimate, sad, real twist in all of this. CLICK HERE to check out the official website of the musical "Twist." Notice how the show proudly trumpets the one, lesser nomination (let's call it the sole bowl of gruel) it did get from the Drama Desks — for best musical composition — on its home page. How nice that that Siegel (starring as Mr. Bumble?) didn't snatch that away. Now notice the subtitle of this musical: "Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?"