‘Freak’ tries to fit in at Tonys

Leguizamo show subject of intense debate

NEW YORK — “Freak,” John Leguizamo’s one-man show, may be treated as such by the Tony Awards administration committee, some insiders say. With Tony competish heating up, a behind-the-scenes war is being waged over whether the Leguizamo show can be nominated for awards including best play and best actor.

“You’re going to see a war, an enormous amount of finagling to change the rules for what a play is,” said one Broadway insider, who declined to speak for attribution.

Several members of the nominating committee are producers of competing plays or executives of theaters housing those plays, and have decidedly strong interests in not having “Freak” admitted to an already crowded field.

Executives of the Jujamcyn Organization sit on the committee, and the soon-to-open “Beauty Queen of Leenane” at the Jujamcyn-owned Walter Kerr is considered a candidate for a best play nomination.

“There’s always lobbying for everything. Every producer makes requests. And I do expect lobbying. This year there are a lot of plays. It’s really incredible,” said one committee member who declined to speak for attribution.

The competition is particularly keen this year, with plays already on Broadway (“Art” and “The Old Neighborhood”) to be joined with ones that will open in April (“Beauty Queen,” “Honour” and “The Herbal Bed,” set for the Jujamcyn-owned Eugene O’Neill Theater).

The committee votes on April 9 to decide the fate of “Freak,” but “Freak” producer Gregory Mosher says it should not even be an issue.

” ‘Freak’ is clearly a play,” said Mosher. “It came from the computer, not from improvisation. Its characters are played by John, but they could be played by anyone.”

And though one committee source said that there are many examples of successful one-man shows being excluded from Tony consideration, Lily Tomlin’s “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life” (1986) was eligible. In fact, Tomlin won best actress that year. On the other hand, Jackie Mason’s “The World According to Me” and “Rob Becker’s Defending the Cave Man” were not deemed eligible.

“It’s going to be ugly,” said one source close to the committee, adding, “The winners are going to clean up, and the losers are probably going to close.”

If last year is any indication, that’s not an exaggeration: Before the Tony Awards, “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” was playing to only 53% capacity and taking in less than 50% of its potential gross. After winning the Tony for best play, it saw attendance jump over 30% and made nearly 80% of its potential gross. It is also the only play to open last year that’s still running on Broadway.

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