Local 802 Challenge’s Contact’s Tony Nomination as Best Musical

Volume C, No. 6June, 2000

The credibility of the Tony Awards took a new hit this year, with the decision to declare a non-musical eligible for nomination in the Best Musical category. The Tony Awards Administrative Committee announced in early April that Contact, described as a “dance-play” by its producers and creators, was eligible for nomination as Best Musical.

Local 802 President Bill Moriarity condemned the decision in a letter he sent immediately after it was announced to Roy Somlyo, President of the American Theatre Wing, the organization that sponsors the Tony Awards. The union “protests this decision in the strongest possible terms,” Moriarity said, pointing out that the production meets none of the criteria for consideration as a musical.

“First, no music, vocal or instrumental, has been created for this production. To the best of my knowledge, no work has ever been considered for a Tony – an award ostensibly for creative merit – that contained no creative musical elements. Second, no newly created musical performance, whether instrumental or vocal, occurs in this production.” For consideration in the category of Best Musical, certainly “a musical must contain music as a creative element,” Moriarity said.

Contact opened last year at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. It consists of three vignettes with stories told through dance. There is practically no dialogue, and the music is made up entirely of selections played from commercial CDs. The show moved to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in March.

Moriarity’s letter was quickly followed by a letter to Somlyo from a group of Broadway orchestrators, who urged the Tony Administrative Committee “in the strongest terms,” to reconsider the decision “granting the dance-play Contact Tony eligibility in the Best Musical category.”

The orchestrators pointed out that “to allow a dance play utilizing recorded standards to be considered denigrates the live theatrical art form of the musical. Having participated as members of the creative team on numerous Broadway musicals, we are disturbed at the lack of recognition for musical creativity implicit in your decision.” The letter was signed by William D. Brohn, Bruce Coughlin, Michael Gibson, Luther Henderson, Steve Margoshes, Michael Starobin, Danny Troob and Jonathan Tunick.

A third letter objecting to the decision came from Tony nominator Jack Goldstein, who felt so strongly about the Administrative Committee’s decision that he resigned as a Tony nominator. Goldstein wrote, “I believe that all theatre is a live performing art. Musicals are characterized by the presence of a book, singing, an original score and an orchestra.” While all of these elements need not be present for a show to qualify, Goldstein said, “at least one or two of them should be.” Contact, he said, contains none of these elements.

In response to the numerous protests received on this issue, the Tony Administrative Committee revisited the issue in a meeting on May 4. But Somlyo told Allegro that, despite the objections that had been raised, “the committee decided not to reconsider the issue and to stick with its rules.” He added that, “while we can’t change this decision, I believe the committee may create a new category in the future for special productions like Contact, productions that don’t fall easily into the play or musical categories.”

Both Moriarity and the orchestrators had already suggested that just such a special category be created this year to recognize the critically acclaimed Contact. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Part of the reason, Moriarity told Allegro, is the absence of musician representation on the Tony committee. “I am going to be asking for such representation,” he said, “and this issue has clearly demonstrated just how badly it is needed.”