It was going to be the new musical category that would be widened to five this year. Or maybe the play revival race. But five for new play? That wouldn’t happen.
That was the thinking, anyway, going into the 2013-14 Tony nominations. This year was the first since the Tony Awards instituted a new regulation that allowed for the expansion of one or more of the four major show categories — musical, play, musical revival and play revival — from four to five slots, if nine or more productions that season are eligible in the category.
The supersizing seemed most likely to happen for new musical. The 2013-14 season yielded a whopping dozen new tuners, but no one or two of them has united critics, audiences and industry types alike in a swell of enthusiasm. With plenty to admire in the field but little to love, a wide-ranging scope of recognition seemed poised to be reflected in a broadened new musical category.
Or the expansion could have happened for play revival. That too was a crowded slate, especially once it was decided that the season’s two productions of plays in rep, “Twelfth Night/Richard III” and “Waiting for Godot/No Man’s Land,” would be eligible as two separate plays each. Besides, a number of these starry offerings earned critical raves, especially “The Glass Menagerie,” “Twelfth Night/Richard III” and “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Neither category got the boost. The musical race was pared down to two critically admired fall openers, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and “After Midnight,” plus a pair of well-received, crowdpleasing titles with healthy sales momentum, “Aladdin” and “Beautiful.” The leaves out a string of notable titles that could arguably have claimed a spot, including “If/Then,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Rocky.” Play revival was also stripped down to four: “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “Glass Menagerie,” “Raisin” and “Twelfth Night.”
Instead, while the industry was looking the other way, it was the new play race that got upped to five. With legiters’ attention directed toward the rainmaking new musical race and the star-laden, critically lauded play revival contest, the possible expansion of the play category — which encompassed ten titles this year — slipped right by most observers.
According to the new regulations, the expansion of the category isn’t left in the hands of nominators but is instead reliant on how the nomination voting shakes out, with a fifth production only added if its nomination tally falls within three votes of the fourth most popular title.
That, it turns out, is how the cookie crumbled this season, when the mix of new plays — at least according to some critics — was relatively plentiful but generally uneven. With few titles igniting passionate enthusiasm, quintet “Act One,” “All the Way” (starring Bryan Cranston, pictured above), “Casa Valentina,” “Mothers and Sons” and “Outside Mullingar” drew support over the season’s other new plays — perhaps most notably “The Realistic Joneses,” the Will Eno play with a starry cast that was shut out entirely of the Tony nominations list.
The new category expansion rule is balanced by the possibility of category shrinkage, should five or fewer shows be eligible in a particular race. That was the case with musical revival, with four candidates yielding only three nominees — “Hedwig and the Angry Inch, “Les Miserables” and “Violet,” leaving out “Cabaret.”