THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW
By Robert Simonson
September 23, 2005
The idea has been wafting about Broadway and its side streets for some months, but on Sept. 22 the official word was handed down: The Tony Awards Administration Committee has crowned a new category sure to stir up a Shubert Alley’s worth of dust: Best Performance by an Actor/Actress Recreating a Role.The trophy opens of a whole new world of recognition for those brave and frequently unsung souls who follow Mr. and Mrs. Star into the leading parts of a long-running play or musical. Latecoming Tevye Harvey Fierstein is probably kicking his milkcart around the Minskoff that the change didn’t come a season earlier. But you can bet that a few actors who have joined a Broadway show since last June have already put in calls to their producers insisting that their hats be thrown into the 2005-06 ring.
According to a statement released by the committee, those actors eligible for this category “must not have appeared in the role when the production opened on Broadway. They must also be contracted in the role for a minimum of six months of public performances. Additionally, the producers may not submit more than two candidates per ‘Long-Running’ Show for the Award (including both Actor and Actress) for any such season.”
The new Tony is, in one sense, a Godsend for producers. Whereas in the past, the only carrots they possessed to lure name performers into established productions were promises of money (checks which could never compare to those offered by Hollywood anyway) and the dream of legitimacy-confirming, ego-boosting rave reviews. Now they can dangle the prospect of a shiny mantlepiece ornament. Few actors out there have met an award they didn’t covet.
However, the category could also easily prove a nettlesome source of controversy and grievance. After all, which two of a show’s eligible candidates will the producers’ put forth? How do they avoid offending the unnominated? And then there’s the potential for hypocrisy. Certainly starry names like Fierstein, Reba McIntyre (Annie Get Your Gun), Brooke Shields (Wonderful Town) and Bruce Vilanch (Hairspray) would have had a very good chance at getting nominated. But will producers extend the same courtesy to lesser known but respected theatre journeymen? Certainly, for talented, uber replacement actors like Charlotte D’Amboise and Brent Barrett, the new prize represents a golden opportunity. But they are to be forgiven if they are cynical about the probability of being remembered by their employers come Tony time.