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Tony Committee Makes New 'Classic' Ruling

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"Fortune's Fool," the 1848 Ivan Turgenev play nominated for a Best Play Tony last season, would not have been eligible for that honor under a new ruling issued by the awards' administration committee that effectively redefine what is considered a new work for Broadway. The ruling, made last week, specifically addresses the issue of whether a work that has never been produced before on Broadway can nevertheless be deemed a "classic" work and therefore called a "revival."

The new ruling reads: "A play or musical that is determined by the Tony Awards Administration Committee (in its sole discretion) to be a 'classic' or in the historical or popular repertoire shall not be eligible for an award in the best play or best musical category but may be eligible in that appropriate best revival category."

In a statement, Keith Sherman, a spokesman for the Tony Awards, said the language was included in a document mailed last week to the Tony Awards nominating committee for the 2002-03 season, which began this May. "Ultimately," Sherman said, "all of these determinations are up to the Tony Administration Committee, but here, the guidelines for their determinations have been further specified."

The new rule acknowledges a recent trend: productions of works which have never been mounted before on Broadway but which are of sufficient age—or, as the ruling phrases it, are in the "historical or popular repertoire"—that makes it difficult to call them "new." For example, "Indiscretions," a 1938 work by Jean Genet ("Les Parents Terribles") had never run on Broadway before Kathleen Turner, Eileen Atkins, Roger Rees, Jude Law, and Cynthia Nixon starred in the 1995 production of the show. At the time, the play was made eligible for the Tony Award for Best Play, despite the fact that it was over 50 years old and that Genet died in 1986.

Indeed, "Fortune's Fool" represented an even more extreme example of the trend. Had the play captured the 2002 Best Play Tony, it would have gone to a work written in 1848 by a man who expired in 1883—yet, under the previous way of thinking, it was still a work never performed on Broadway and therefore thought of as "new." Under the new rule, "Fortune's Fool" would more likely have been deemed a "classic" and therefore eligible only for Best Revival of a Play, its Broadway debut notwithstanding.

Yet while calling "Fortune's Fool" a "classic" may pacify those who believe that a Best Play Tony should not go to a dramatist who has been dead for over a century, just what constitutes being "in the historical or popular repertoire" remains open to question. For example, the new ruling could also apply to the current Broadway run of Terrence McNally's "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune." The play, which successfully ran Off-Broadway in the early 1980s, had never played Broadway until the current run starring Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci. If it chooses, the nominating committee could deem "Frankie and Johnny" a classic, thereby rendering McNally ineligible for a Best Play Tony. The actors, however, would still be eligible for acting honors.

A similar determination could be made regarding the upcoming Broadway mounting of "Little Shop of Horrors." The Howard Ashman-Alan Menken tuner ran for nearly a decade at the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway, but this production, slated to open next July, would be its first Broadway run.

So what is "Little Shop?" A classic or a revival?

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