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Tony Awards rulings continue to confuse category placement

April 30, 2010 | 11:57 am

Tony Award On Friday, the administration committee for the Tony Awards convened for the fourth and final time this theater season. The committee is made up of two dozen theater folk, with 10 apiece from the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing -- which jointly host these top theater kudos -- and one each from the Dramatists Guild, Actors' Equity Assn., United Scenic Artists and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

They rule on category placement -- usually only those performers listed above the title contend in the lead categories at the Tony Awards. However, with the increase in equal billing for all, there is a need to separate out the true star turns from the supporting players. Such was the case with Friday's finding that only John Gallagher Jr. gives a leading performance in "American Idiot" while his cast mates are all in featured roles.

Producers can petition the committee to slot certain performers in one category over another. The Roundabout Theater website touts Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat as starring in "Sondheim on Sondheim." However, Friday the committee conceded that they could all contend in the featured races. Cook won the featured actress Tony Award for her role as Marian the librarian in 1958's top  tuner "The Music Man" while Grammy and Emmy nominee Williams nabbed a lead actress Tony nomination for the 2002 revival of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and Wopat -- best known for TV's "The Dukes of Hazzard" -- is a two-time Tony nominee for his lead roles in the musicals "Annie Get Your Gun" (1999) and "A Catered Affair" (2008). 

Although the committee's decisions about the nature of the roles in new works are debatable, past Tony nominations should guide them when deciding placement for performers in revivals. Yet this is not always the case. On Friday, the committee decided that Viola Davis gives a leading performance in "Fences" in the same role that won Mary Alice the featured actress Tony for the original 1987 production.

In February, the committee ruled that even though Jessica Hecht was playing the same role in a revival of "A View From the Bridge" that netted Allison Janney a lead Tony Awards nomination back in 1998, she should contend in the featured race. That puts her in direct competition with co-star Scarlett Johansson, who impressed the critics with her performance as a nubile niece lusted after by her uncle.

Nominations for the 64th annual Tony Awards will be announced on May 4.

Photo: Tony Award statue. Credit: American Theater Wing

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