Legit lightning strikes twice

Tonys take a second look at actors who re-create a role on B'way

Sometime in the future everyone on Broadway will receive a Tony.

Back at its birth, the Tony Awards boasted a mere 10 categories. This year, which marks the awards’ 60th anniversary, the legit org has added another one, re-creation of a leading role, which brings the grand tally to a whopping 26 categories. Back in March, the Oscars offered a meager 24 despite many more challengers.

Wags on Shubert Alley have already dubbed the re-creation award the “replacement” Tony. It pretty much sums up the honor.

The American Theater Wing’s exec director, Howard Sherman, explains, “From time to time, performers join a show and give a performance that can be revelatory or that are transformative of the show,” and therefore deserve recognition. Reba McEntire, who took over for Bernadette Peters in the 1999 revival of “Annie Get Your Gun,” is a notable example. Richard Thomas, who replaced Christopher Reeve in the 1980 production of “Fifth of July,” is another. Neither performer received an award come Tony time.

But go figure: Replacement stars Richard Burton, for “Equus” in 1975, and Mary Tyler Moore, for “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” in 1980, were honored with a so-called “special Tony.” Back then, everyone from Diana Ross to Barry Manilow got one for essentially bringing their Vegas act to Gotham and boosting the telecast’s ratings with their pop presence. Sometimes they were even enticed to sing a song for the TV masses. (Barry did, Diana did not.)

Nowadays, these acts would be nommed in the special theatrical event category, which was initiated in 2001 after the Tony-winning “Contact” took knocks for not being a real musical, with its taped score of jukebox standards. Such an artful hybrid has thus far never rematerialized, and hence the special theatrical event category has become the refuge of concerts and one-person shows.

As for the new re-creation category, it will not be voted on by the nominating committee, which would otherwise necessitate a lot of extra theatergoing, not to mention a huge expenditure from producers of all those freebie tix.

Sherman explains how it will work: “A three-person group will be drawn at random from the administration committee and charged with seeing each performance that has been recommended for this award.” Based on their recommendation, the full committee will go to see that perf. “It requires 16 affirmative votes in the administration committee.” There will be no runoff with nominees. Like the Nobel Prize, you either win it or you don’t.

This Broadway season, Joanthan Pryce in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and possibly Eileen Atkins in “Doubt” are the most likely recipients of the new award.

“There is no expectation that there has to be one or two awards,” says Sherman. “There may be no award.”

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