The Oscars never had to deal with this one. If a “black” film gets nominated for Best Picture, it’s an event. With the Tony Awards administration committee’s decision that “Shuffle Along” is a new musical (not a revival) it now competes with the hit “Hamilton” resulting in two “black” shows battling for best new musical of the season.
That’s my prediction, anyway: Hamilton,” which features an all-black cast save one character (a white King George III — the oppressive monarch) will be seeking votes again the all-black “Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,” which is its complete title.
And it may not end there if “Eclipsed,” Danai Gurira’s play about women forced to be sex slaves during the Liberian civil war earns a nomination and wins best play. Could it be that the best play and musical winners of the 2016 Tonys both will feature black actors and their stories? It got good reviews, but the box office has been sluggish. (To read NYTimes review of “Eclipsed,” click here.)
So do we have a #OscarsSoWhite vs. #TonysNotSoWhite? I guess it depends on the season. And I’m just looking at the actors and the stories for this year’s possible Tony nominees. I do not know the exact racial percentages when it comes to the producers, creative teams, backstage crews, etc. I would think improvements can be made across the board, tho, for both race and gender.
One thing not in doubt, the “Best Musical” award is the best branding a show can have for selling tickets on Broadway as well as on national and international tours. Being able to advertise that also helps encourage regional theaters, colleges and eventually high schools to stage the show using “Tony Award-winning Musical/Play” for marketing. It’s highly coveted but, so, too is a Tony for best revival for a show most theatergoers are unfamiliar with.
The theater community has been closely following how the administration committee handle the situation. The current production features most of the songs from the 1921 production of “Shuffle Along,” but the book is new. Instead of a story about mayoral race the show now is about how the original “Shuffle Along” came to be and the lives of its creative team and star.
Also, Scott Rudin, a very successful film and theater producer, is the lead producer of “Shuffle Along,” which stars Tony Award winners Audra McDonald (6), Brian Stokes Mitchell (1 award, 3 nominations) and Billy Porter (1). In 2012, Rudin became one of the few people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award, and the first producer to do so. The man has respect and power. I expect he eventually will make a movie from the stage show.
To read more about “Hamilton,” click here.
The Tony nominations will be announced 8:30 a.m. on May 3 and awarded Sunday July 12, telecast beginning at 8 p.m. on CBS.