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Tony Timing Is Everything By Peter Filichia

In the last week, you’ve probably heard two words over and over.

“Robbed” and “snubbed.”

Yes, it happens every spring once fans hear the nominations for New York theater awards. The Tonys, Drama Desks, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards all get many stage enthusiasts outraged when their favorites get few if any nominations.

What they’ve also been known to say is, “In another season.” True enough: if a show had opened either a year or two earlier or later, different titles and names would have entered the winner’s circle.

Take CHICAGO, which lost nine out of nine 1975-76 Tony nominations, mostly to A CHORUS LINE. It would have done much better in the previous 1974-75 season.

The sad irony is that that’s when it had been scheduled to debut. Bob Fosse’s heart attack caused a year’s postponement. True, Gwen Verdon might well again have lost a Tony to Angela Lansbury’s Rose in GYPSY; she did in 1965-66, when her Sweet Charity succumbed to Lansbury’s Mame. For that matter, Jerry Orbach may not have bested John Cullum in SHENANDOAH.

But is there any doubt that director-choreographer Fosse and the musical itself would have emerged victorious over THE WIZ?

Lansbury’s triumph in MAME also prevented Barbara Harris from winning in ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER. Had the show opened the previous season – which could have happened if Alan Jay Lerner and Richard Rodgers had completed the show for Harris (which they were calling I PICKED A DAISY), Harris might well have won over Liza Minnelli in FLORA THE RED MENACE.

Granted, the Rodgers-Lerner score would have been very different from the one that Lerner would complete with Burton Lane. We can only wonder if Rodgers could have possibly written better music for “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!” and “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” than Lane did. Hearing those two songs and the rest of the CLEAR DAY score would suggest not.

Ray Walston’s devilish turn in DAMN YANKEES won him a 1955-56 Best Actor in a Musical Tony. But as strong as he was in “Those Were the Good Old Days” – a terrific eleven o’clocker – we must concede that one song does not a leading performance make.

Robert Weede sure had the lead as the title character in THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. He had to sing in 15 songs – and a Finale. But the 1956-57 Best Actor in a Musical Tony went to Rex Harrison in MY FAIR LADY.

Composer-lyricist Frank Loesser took six years to write FELLA, his “musical with a lotta music” that was recorded almost in its entirety on three long-playing records. Had he only taken five years, Weede would have won. So would have Loesser, who also lost to MY FAIR LADY’s score.

Ethel Merman in GYPSY would have seemed to have the edge over Mary Martin in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but the latter won the 1959-60 Best Actress in a Musical Tony. And yet, had GYPSY been tardy by a year – which could have happened, for we’ve always heard how slow Sondheim was in writing – Merman surely would have taken the medallion that went to Elizabeth Seal in 1960-61.

Yes, a listen to the IRMA LA DOUCE cast album shows Seal had a powerful presence and a strong voice, be it in a barnburner (“Dis Donc”) or tender ballad (“Our Language of Love”). But we’re talking Rose in GYPSY here.

By 2000, Audra McDonald had been in three Tony races and had won them all. That year, she was nominated for MARIE CHRISTINE. I still remember that spring day in 2000 when I asked her if she thought she’d win. She half-closed her eyes in world-weariness and said, “Peter, I don’t think anyone thinks I need another Tony.”

Well, obviously plenty of people did, for McDonald has since won three more. None, however, was for MARIE CHRISTINE. Still, had the ambitious Michael John LaChiusa musical been postponed by a year, chances are McDonald would have had her fourth Tony then, for she would have been in competition with ultimate winner Christine Ebersole for 42ND STREET as the 1999-2000 Best Actress in a Musical Tony.

Yes, Ebersole was marvelous as usual, but Dorothy Brock is really a supporting role. Once she has her accident at the end of Act One, she returns for merely one sedentary number in the second act.

McDonald? Of the first dozen cuts on the MARIE CHRISTINE album, guess how many she has to sing?


Case closed.

Tommy Steele’s percentage is even higher in HALF A SIXPENCE. Aside from one song sung by the leading lady, he appears in all nine others on the original cast album. Not only that but he plays the banjo in one number, to boot.

SIXPENCE opened in London in 1963 and because of a 677-performance run, it didn’t arrive on Broadway until the 1964-65 season. No one was going to beat out Zero Mostel for the Tony that year, but if HALF A SIXPENCE had opened a year earlier, would Steele have won instead of Bert Lahr in FOXY?

Sure, the man noted for his Cowardly Lion was said to be terrific as a latter-day Volpone, but many of us will never know, for the score went unrecorded (at least officially; a bootleg exists). Happily, Steele got to record his hit not only in England, but here, too, in a career-launching performance that is still talked about all these decades later.

Brandon Uranowitz was nominated for AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, playing Adam Hochberg, a character not in the film. He’d lose the 2014-2015 Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony to Christian Borle in SOMETHING ROTTEN!

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS had a l-o-n-g development process. So, if it had opened two seasons earlier, here’s betting Uranowitz would have won in a landslide over Gabriel Ebert in MATILDA.

(Seriously, cane you even remember what role Ebert played in MATILDA?)

Similarly speaking, THE CHER SHOW expected to open a year before it did. Had it come to Broadway in the 2017-18 semester and not 2018-19, two terrific performers in THE PROM might well have duked it out for the Best Actress in a Musical prize.

Would it have been Beth Leavel, playing the Broadway actress with an ego the size of Rhode Island?

Granted, it’s a small state, but it’s still pretty big for an ego. And if you doubt that that’s what Leavel had to play, give a listen to her deliver a most disingenuous, inaccurate and hilarious “It’s Not about Me.”

Castmate Caitlin Kinnunen played Emma, a teenage lesbian, who got the show’s most gorgeous ballad: “I Only Want to Dance with You.” The “you” in question was Alyssa Green (whose name also happened to be the title of another potent Matthew Sklar-Chad Beguelin song).

But Stephanie J. Block’s Cher blocked them from winning.

Ah, well, while some insist that “timing is everything,” that’s not quite true. But it is a strong factor, as all these would-be winners would be the first to attest.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.