Jeers and cheers for Tonys’ controversial category decisions

The Tony Awards’ latest decree about actors’ category placement has whipped up real drama among our expert prognosticators.

“Making the girls from ‘Matilda’ ineligible for a competitive Tony is a cop-out,” roars Andy Humm (Gay USA). “They would have been the prohibitive favorites for it — just as they won top honors at the Olivier Awards in London. ‘Matilda’ is a play about injustice to children and the Tony nomination committee is perpetrating an injustice here.”

Indeed, prior to this decision, the four “Matilda” stars had been the favorites to win Best Actress in a Musical, according to the predictions at Gold Derby.

Michael Musto (Village Voice) believes they were booted from competition because the awards’ chiefs “still feel bad that they gave all three actors who played Billy Elliot the Tony. There was probably a backlash. Let’s face it. All Tony voters didn’t see all three performances. Some voters didn’t see any of them.”

“What’s the difference here? It is because there are four as opposed to three?” asks David Sheward (The David Desk 2). “Or perhaps the Matilda producers did not want to have to give Tony voters free tickets on four separate occasions and lose all that income? This happens with the Tonys all the time. Unlike the Supreme Court, they do not abide by previous cases.”

“Now this decision frees up a slot in the race for Best Actress in a Musical that may go to Valisia LeKae, who does a very good Diana Ross in ‘Motown,'” Musto says. “But it looks like the lead actress race is between Patina Miller in ‘Pippin,’ which I loved, and Laura Osnes in ‘Cinderella.'”

RELATED: Tonys shockeroo: ‘Matilda’ quartet bounced from Best Actress in a Musical race

Thom Geier (Entertainment Weekly) likes the “Matilda” decision and believes it throws the lead actress contest to only one rival. “Giving special Tony honors to the ‘Matilda’ girls makes a lot of sense, and it means that Patina Miller is pretty much a lock to win for ‘Pippin.'”

Doug Strassler (New York Press) adds, “I am glad they eliminated the block nomination for the four ‘Matilda’ actresses. That’s a marketing move, and it damages the integrity of the race. But I’m not sure the four need a special Tonys citation either. Just because they’re not up to regular competition doesn’t mean they should automatically be handed a coveted industry award.”

“And while it’s not unexpected that the ‘Matilda’ crew would petition for Bertie Carvel to be considered a lead actor, especially since he won in that category for the Oliviers, it’s arguably not a leading role,” says Geier. “And he faces stiff competition from Billy Porter, playing a flamboyant drag queen in ‘Kinky Boots.’ It’s a battle of the cross-dressers! Very Broadway.”

Sheward agrees: “Ithink Carvel should be a featured actor …. If he wins, he’ll be only the third performer to win a Tony for playing a character of the opposite sex. The other two are Mary Martin as the every-youthful boy ‘Peter Pan’ and Harvey Fierstein as the harried housewife-turned-glamourpuss Edna Turnblad in ‘Hairspray.'”

RELATED: What will win Best Play at the Tony Awards?

Kristine Nielsen might very well have won a Tony as featured actress for ‘Vanya and Sonia’ etc. (especially for her telephone speech),” he adds. “Now she’ll even get shut out of a nomination in the super-competitive lead actress category. That’s the biggest head-scratcher.”

Musto: “Kristine Nielsen is great in the greatest Broadway play of the year, ‘Vanya.’ She had been considered the lead to win featured actress. They just decided that she’s lead, which is news to Sigourney Weaver who thought she was lead.”

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Strassler: “I had assumed Kristine Nielsen would run in the featured actress category, where the award was hers to lose. Categorizing her as a lead isn’t a mistake — she’s onstage as much as her co-stars, and does play one of the title roles — but I’m afraid now she won’t be nominated against actresses in showier roles that stand out from their respective ensembles or solo parts. Now the featured actress race is wide open. Ditto for Valisia Lekae, who is strong as Diana Ross in ‘Motown.’ I still think that’s a featured role, and was hoping to see her nominated in that category. Perhaps she now has a chance to break through the leading category now that the ‘Matilda’ girls are out. There hasn’t been a truly standout performer in a truly great role in this category, so anything is possible.”

Geier: ” Oh, and one more thing: All three of the stars of ‘Orphans‘ are above the title and therefore eligible for lead actor in a play. They have pretty equal stage time, so that’s fair, though I thought they might have moved Tom Sturridge to supporting — and he’d have had a shot at an award in that category.”

RELATED: Tom Hanks tipped to add Tony to awards collection

BELOW: Listen to my podcast chat with Michael Musto about the controversial Tonys decisions and how they probably impact who is ahead to win.




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