Hey, Tony Awards! It’s time to resurrect the Best Special Theatrical Event category

I recently made my Broadway debut. No, I wasn’t offered to replace Reeve Carney in “Hadestown” (but thanks for asking). I was instead pulled on stage at the Cort Theatre by Derren Brown, the thrilling mentalist currently mystifying audiences in his solo show “Derren Brown: Secret.” I would divulge every wacky thing Brown made me do in front of a thousand strangers, but he asks everyone in the audience not to spill the beans on his titular secret. I’ll oblige him. What did cross my mind however, is that a production like “Derren Brown: Secret” has no proper place to compete at the Tony Awards. With a season full of unique offerings, it’s time to bring the Special Theatrical Event category back to Broadway’s biggest night.

The Tony Awards included a category for Best Special Theatrical Event from 2001 to 2009. It was a race for shows that did not neatly fit the descriptions of either plays or musicals. The award was created following the backlash over the Best Musical win for “Contact” in 2000. That Susan Stroman-helmed dance piece claimed the top award of the night despite using pre-recorded music tracks. So with this category, dance productions like “Contact” had a more appropriate place to compete, along with variety acts, magic shows, concerts, stand-up comedy, and more. This yielded Tony wins for legendary performances like “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays,” and Liza Minnelli’s “Liza’s at the Palace…!”

After the category was retired in 2009, hard-to-categorize Broadway events had to either enter the race as a play or musical, or hope to be bestowed with a Special Tony Award. The special citation is the option most frequently used. Bruce Springsteen picked up this honor just last season for “Springsteen on Broadway.” Vying for Best Play or Musical is generally a losing strategy for unique events. Just ask Mike Birbiglia, who’s autobiographical stand-up routine “The New One” was eligible for the play categories last year. It failed to earn a single nomination.

As theater owners look for profitable ways to fill gaps in their schedules, limited runs of these unique events have returned to Broadway in full force. “Derren Brown: Secret” will have some magical competition this fall with “The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays.” Russian clown extravaganza “Slava’s Snow Show” (which was nominated for Special Theatrical Event in 2009) is returning to Broadway. Kristin Chenoweth is bringing her solo show “For the Girls” to the Nederlander Theatre. And the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is host to an entire “In Residency” program, which has hosted acts including Mel Brooks, Dave Chappelle, Barry Manilow, Regina Spektor, and Yanni.

There are also productions that blur the line between musical and concert. Take, for instance, David Byrne‘s (of the Talking Heads) highly theatrical “American Utopia.” Press releases refer to “American Utopia” as a “concert experience” because of its narrative arc and storytelling elements. Lin-Manuel Miranda also returns to Broadway this season with his improvisational hip-hop show “Freestyle Love Supreme.” Though it has music throughout, it’s difficult to categorize this performance as a traditional musical since the score changes every night. Isn’t the existence of unique offerings such as these the very reason the Special Event category was created?

As of now, the Tony Awards Administration has not announced any plans to reinstate the Tony for Best Special Theatrical Event. So we’ll just have to hope that Derren Brown can hypnotize the powers-that-be into resurrecting this discarded category. After easily making me look foolish on stage, it should be an easy trick to deliver.

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