Much chat and drama about what awards aren't given, but should be. This year it was particularly noticeable, as this past season was one that fairly screamed for an award that is no longer to be given - the Special Event Tony. Yes, other seasons might have been a stretch to even find nominees, but this year, there were enough to fill two ballots. I suspect that award will be revisited... (Vote in this weeks poll!)
One year, it was all about the "replacement actor" Tony. And the committee caved, agreed to giving it, but set up some pretty impossible guidelines - the show had to have been running x time, the replacement must have played x performances before consideration, etc. The idea was to keep shows from stunt casting to get awards - the "grab and go," if you will. In other words, Betty Buckley in Sunset Boulevard, yes, 10 weeks of Brooke Shields in Chicago, no. Still, the idea is a good one.
Over the years, there have been rallies for Best Original Song, Best Understudy (Male/Female/Play/Musical), and even Best Promotion (advertising). The one that seems to be most consistent (beyond replacement actor) is the call for a Best Ensemble. In fact, recently, Playbill Online ran a very good article on that very topic. According to it, everyone seems to think it is a good idea, but no one can figure out how to make it happen. Mainly, the reason is that, like "star quality," "ensemble" is something you know when you see it, but can't seem to define it. They quibble, too, that it might "dilute the Tony brand,' i.e. you give out too many, they become worth less (bah humbug), and that some actors might prefer to be considered separately rather than share the glory (ego maniacs to the front of the line).
Come Fly Away
I don't see any reason why a piece can't recognize the ensemble work of the cast as a whole while acknowledging that one or two roles might justifiably stick out some. Case in point, The History Boys, a fine example of ensemble work if ever there was one. They were, to a person, a solid unit, working as one to bring forth the fullest meaning of the text. Still, you can't say that Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour (the teachers) and Samuel Barnett and Dominic Cooper (two of the students) - the first three Tony nominees, the first two winners - didn't do individually magnificent work, deserving of accolades by themselves, when the script and the storytelling called for it. That year, I'd have awarded all 4 actors and the cast.
Lend Me a Tenor
Still, other plays have the whole cast at the same level throughout - witness God of Carnage. The entire cast was Tony nominated. Why couldn't/shouldn't they have been given an outstanding ensemble award, too? This year, two plays stick out to me as completely ensemble plays - Lend Me a Tenor, by the very virtue of the level of farce they are playing makes them an excellent ensemble, in spite of the billing, and despite whatever quibbles one may have with the script. And Next Fall, which is a brilliant piece, and brilliantly acted. But nary a nomination for any of the cast. Why? They have been universally lauded. But the play and the story it tells give equal weight to all of the characters, and the play would suffer if even one piece were missing. It would also suffer if one or two of the actors tried to make it a tour de force for themselves. I'd give the Best Ensemble in a Play to either cast, maybe both.
And what about musicals? They come - some of them - with an ensemble even labeled as such. Imagine if you will, the nomination of the Jets over the Sharks in West Side Story. But a case could be made for that show, that the cast, minus the lead roles is so integral to the story and the staging that they might just be a Best Ensemble candidate. (A funny one might pit The Jets against Les Cagelles!) The exact same scenario is occurring this season over at American Idiot, take away the seven principals, and that show would be dead without its ensemble, so crucial they are to supporting the meaning and the principal cast.
Sondheim on Sondheim
Then you have musicals that are structured like The History Boys. Next to Normal comes to mind. Sure the individual performances are/were amazing, but they work together with such a completeness and unity. Same with Hair, perhaps even more so. You need the whole tribe, not just Berger and Claude, Hud and Sheila. And this season, I think two musicals really fit the ensemble mode: Come Fly Away, and Sondheim on Sondheim, star billing not withstanding - and I think Barbara, Vanessa and Tom would agree that their "supporting cast" does as much for the evening as they do.
And so, my nominees for Best Ensemble in a Play are: Lend Me a Tenor and Next Fall.
And my nominees for Best Ensemble in a Musical are: American Idiot, Come Fly Away and Sondheim on Sondheim.
Come on, committee, what is two more awards, really? And you'd really help anyone of those shows at the box office with a win, right? And isn't that what it's all about? Oh... that's for another blog...
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