The musical "Urban Cowboy," already battling negative reviews and dropping attendance, is fighting to ensure its eligibility for a Best Score Tony nomination.
The concern arose after a meeting of the awards' administration committee on Thurs., April 24. The group met to address various topics, from classifying productions to considering producers' special requests for positioning actors for leading or featured nominations. Since 1996, at least 50% of a Broadway musical's songs must be written expressly for the stage, and, Tony spokesman Keith Sherman told Back Stage, the committee believed that the "Urban Cowboy" score failed to meet the standard.
"On the title page of the opening night program there is no credit for score; on the page beyond it is a list of the songs with credits," Sherman said. "The committee made a ruling on that, and now the producers of the show have said to the committee, 'Wait a minute, that's wrong; our score should be eligible and we always thought that our score should be eligible.' And now it's going to be brought up in the next committee meeting." The season-ending rule-making session is scheduled for May 8.
Various press outlets have reported since the April 24 meeting, in addition, that anywhere from nine to 14 of the song titles—written by Jason Robert Brown, Jeff Blumenkrantz, and Bob Stillman, among others—were written for the show.
The rule dates back to 1996, when only four songs from the Broadway version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "State Fair" were considered Best Score-eligible. That action prompted producer David Merrick to launch a $2 million lawsuit against the Tonys that was dismissed only days before the ceremony.
Meanwhile, the committee issued a flotilla of additional rulings. Among them: Antonio Banderas, star of the hit revival "Nine," will be the show's only performer eligible for a lead acting Tony Award. Based on Fellini's classic film "8fi," "Nine" centers on a creatively blocked filmmaker (Banderas, the sole adult male in the cast) and the panoply of women in his life. The producers asked the group to name the legendary Chita Rivera eligible for a leading musical actress nomination, thus easing possible competition with fellow performers Jane Krakowski and Mary Stuart Masterson, among others. The committee demurred; all the women in "Nine" are eligible for featured actress nods.
And despite the entire cast being billed above the title, just two of the four actors in Yasmina Reza's "Life x 3"—John Turturro and Helen Hunt—can receive leading actor nominations; co-stars Brent Spiner and Linda Emond can only be recognized in featured slots. Ditto the actors in "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg": Eddie Izzard and Victoria Hamilton are the show's only potential contenders in leading actor categories. Paradoxically, while the cast list of the aforementioned "Urban Cowboy" is billed below the title, the committee said Matt Cavenaugh and Jenn Colella, the show's two young stars, would be eligible nominees for leading performances.
And in yet one more ruling, the committee said "A Year With Frog and Toad" could be nominated for Best Musical.
With regard to one of the Tonys' newest categories—Special Theatri-cal Event—the group ruled at their last meeting in January that "Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam"—which announced this week it would close May 4—would be a potential nominee. Now, the group has added "The Play What I Wrote" and "Prune Danish" to the list. The former is a British comedy-variety import directed by Kenneth Branagh, written by Hamish McColl, Sean Foley, and Eddie Braben, and featuring McColl, Foley, Toby Jones, and a special weekly guest star. Under the rules, none are eligible for individual Tonys. "Prune Danish" was comic Jackie Mason's most recent solo turn.
Finally, one big question remains on hold: Will the three rotating casts of "La Bohème" be eligible for Tonys, or only the cast that performed opening night? In January, it was ruled that Puccini's opera, while never before on Broadway, is a "classic" work and thus eligible for Best Revival of a Musical.
Rulings, Rulings, Rulings
However voluminous and contentious last week's rulings were and are, it was only one part of a process that began in the fall and continued throughout the winter. Back in January, for example, the committee declared "Movin' Out" eligible for Best Musical but "Imaginary Friends," the now-closed hybrid musical play by Nora Ephron, eligible for Best Play. Still, they classified the songs from "Imaginary Friends," by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia, eligible for Best Score, along with the production's orchestrations and choreography.
The committee also said at the time that the revival of "Flower Drum Song" (now closed) could be a musical revival nominee; the group acquiesced on the question of whether David Henry Hwang's all-new script could be nominated for Best Book, giving that notion a green light.
And looking back to the season's start, the committee acknowledged in September that "Fortune's Fool," the 1848 Ivan Turgenev play, had been, at best, a strange nominee for a Best Play Tony last season. As a result, they effectively redefined what's considered a new work for Broadway and what's a "classic"—thus a more appropriate candidate for the revival category.
The 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 the appropriate Best Revival category."
Even at this late date, it's unclear how the ruling will affect the Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune." The play successfully ran Off-Broadway in the early 1980s and lasted through much of the current season, first starring Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci, and later, Rosie Perez and Joe Pantoliano. While the play had never been on Broadway, if it chooses, the nominating committee could deem "Frankie and Johnny" a "classic," thereby rendering McNally ineligible for a Best Play Tony, although the actors could still be recognized in acting categories.
The Tony nominations will be announced Mon., May 12 at Sardi's; Melanie Griffith and two-time Tony winner John Lithgow will read off the list. The awards themselves will be presented Sun., June 8 and televised live on CBS.