Four days before the Tony Awards nominations are announced, an administrative panel has made some decisions that will have a powerful effect on who walks away with trophies.
The panel ruled Friday that Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, in which Audra McDonald performs about a dozen Billie Holiday songs while also telling stories, isn’t a musical and can only be considered eligible in the Best Revival of a Play category.
That puts the 90-minute show, which has just a 27-page script and stars only McDonald, a three-piece band and a dog, in the ill-fitting position of potentially competing with bigger, longer play revivals like The Glass Menagerie, Waiting for Godot, Of Mice and Men, and Macbeth.
McDonald said in an interview that she was fine with the decision. “I certainly feel like it’s a play. The songs don’t push the [story] forward in any way. They’re not inner monologues or even conversations,” she said. “I could have seen it go another way, but in the end I have no control.”
The ruling takes McDonald, a five-time Tony winner, out of the best actress in a musical category, which should be a relief to Idina Menzel (If/Then), Kelli O’Hara (The Bridges of Madison County), Sutton Foster (Violet) and Mary Bridget Davies (A Night with Janis Joplin) – all considered good candidates for nominations.
Now McDonald faces potential competition from the likes of Cherry Jones in the The Glass Menagerie, Rachel Weisz in Betrayal, Rebecca Hall in Machinal and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who was ruled eligible for the best actress category for her performance as Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun.
Nominations for the Tony Awards will be announced Tuesday morning.
The panel also ruled that The Cripple of Inishmaan, making its Broadway debut starring Daniel Radcliffe, will be considered eligible in the Best Revival of a Play category. The decision was expected since the Martin McDonagh play had been seen in New York before – in 2008 at the Atlantic Theater Company and in 1998 at the Public Theater.
The same logic holds true for two other shows – Violet and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which are both now considered musical revivals even though they are making their maiden voyage on Broadway this season.
Violet, staring Foster and featuring music by Jeanine Tesori, was mounted off-Broadway in 1997, while Hedwig, now starring Neil Patrick Harris, was a cult off-Broadway hit in 1998.
The last big decision was to make Alan Cumming ineligible for a lead acting musical prize in the revival of Cabaret that opened Thursday since he’s already won the award for the same role in 1998. The panel also ruled that Cabaret will be eligible as Best Revival of a Musical and Michelle Williams can compete as best actress, but none of the production elements will be eligible since they were carried over from the previous revival.
The other big nominee in the best musical revival category will be Les Miserables.
The decision to take Cumming out of the best actor in a musical award is sure to come as good news to Ramin Karimloo and Will Swenson, both stars of Les Miserables; Zach Braff of Bullets Over Broadway; Steven Pasquale of The Bridges of Madison County; Jefferson Mays of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder; and Harris, all considered possible nominees.