Monday, April 17, 2006

Tonys Part 3: The Battle of Lead v. Featured

How people are determined to be lead or featured is one of the few Tony things I get, mostly because it makes no sense in any award show, so I just accept the randomness of it all. I mean there is never anyone sitting there with a stop watch abiding by rigidly defined time regulations regarding what qualifies someone to be a lead actor or actress. Remember the whole George Clooney Syriana flip-flop? He was featured, then his people wanted him in lead and started campaigning, then they changed their minds (wisely) and he won the Oscar for Supporting... This is the kind of thing that happens--it's all sort of based on what category people want to be considered in. In Tony world it actually makes more sense, in my mind at least. Nevertheless a lot of people don't get it and I receive many questions about it.

Basically if one is billed above-the-title s/he is lead unless a petition is placed and if one is below-the-title s/he is supporting unless a petition is placed. (Now the Tony Awards Administration Committee can go out on its own and move a person based on its exciting sole discretion, but that basically never happens, so let us discount it.) This doesn't always result in placement I understand--for instance, this season Lynn Redgrave will be considered for Lead Actress for her performance in The Constant Wife. Now she was billed above-the-title (and gave a stand-out performance I must promote), but she was undoubtedly a featured performer. On the flip side, I often for some reason think of Randy Graff in A Class Act, which isn't even a glaring example, but it is one I remember. She had the biggest role of any female in that show, yet it was not really a leading performance. She was billed below-the-title, the production petitioned and she bumped up and nominated for a 2001 Tony Award Best Actress in a Musical. I would have been more in favor of her getting a Best Featured Actress nod. These things happen though--Oscar-time too.

I really believe producers look at where their people have a better shot, factoring in the possibly splitting of votes if actors from the same show are nominated in the same category. (Of course actors I'm sure also often make their feelings clear on the matter.) That is them being smart. Do I wish there was a system that would really police it somehow? Sure--I just know it's not happening. And what would it be anyway? Would it be based on time? There are cases where people are always onstage without much to say, surely we would not want them to be considered leading players. Who could actually officially be in charge of deciding the guidelines? The Tony Awards Administration Committee clearly has enough on its plate. Let us, for now, just say it cannot be done. However feel free to submit suggestions!

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