Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro needn’t make room on their mantles for a Tony Award. These four talented tykes — who each play the title role in the tuner “Matilda” twice a week — were the frontrunners to win Best Actress (Musical) at this year’s Tonys.
However, on Friday the committee that decides on category placement disqualifed them, announcing that instead they would receive the Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater. Those prizes will be given out in a private ceremony the night before the Tonys are telecast on CBS on June 9.
This decision flies in the face of Tonys history and gives a boost to the bid by Broadway darling Carolee Carmello who headlined the short-lived tuner “Scandalous” by Kathie Lee Gifford last fall. As you can see from the chart above, she is sitting in sixth place in our predictions. (Update your predictions before nominations are announced on April 30.)
Last year, the quartet who played the part in the original London version of “Matilda” won the Olivier Award. Aged between 10 and 12, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Sophia Kiely and Eleanor Worthington Cox became the youngest-ever Oliver winners, eclipsing the trio of boys aged 13 to 15 who won for playing “Billy Elliot” in 2006.
And when “Billy Elliot” came to Broadway in 2009, the three lads who shared the title role — David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish — won the Best Actor in a Musical Tony award despite each appearing in only one-third of the performances. At the time, Kowalik was 14 while Alvarez and Kulish were both 15.
While the “Matilda” girls are a few years younger than that (Gennusa is 9, the others are 10), the Tonys have recognized other pre-teens before. Frankie Michaels was six weeks shy of turning 11 in 1966 when he won featured actor in a musical for playing young Patrick in “Mame.” And Daisy Eagan was 11 years, 7 months when she won the featured actress in a musical prize for “The Secret Garden” in 1991.
While the three “Billys” were the first winners of a shared nomination, the Tonys had spread the wealth on four other occasions.
In 1960, Lauri Peters — playing Liesl in “The Sound of Music” — shared her supporting actress nod with the other six Von Trapp children, including the two boys! This singing septet lost to costar Patricia Neway, who played the Reverend Mother and trilled the show-stopping “Climb Every Mountain.” (By the way, that role was played in the 1965 Oscar-winning best picture by Peggy Wood, who lost her supporting actress bid to Shelley Winters for “A Patch of Blue.”)
The other three times a Tony nod was shared were just between a pair of performers.
In 1966, Donal Donnelly and Patrick Bedford — who played the private and public Gar in “Philadelphia Here I Come” — lost their joint best actor in a play bid to Hal Holbrook for his one-man show “Mark Twain Tonight.”
In 1975, John Kani and Winston Ntshona won best actor in a play for “Sizwe Banzi Is Dead” and “The Island,” two one-acts in which they appeared together.
And in 1998, Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley earned a best actress in a musical nod for playing real-life Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton in “Side Show” but lost to Natasha Richardson for the revival of “Cabaret.”