Friday, February 15, 2008

Revival Time: The Replacement Actor Tony

It’s time to re-open the discussion on the Replacement Tony category. It’s far too late to introduce the idea for this year’s Tonys, but it’s the right time to think about it to prepare producers for the next season.

If you’ll remember, several years ago there was the implementation of a Replacement Performer category, but it was fumbled by the American Theatre Wing and hastily patched up with the excuse of there being no note-worthy replacements that year, which rightfully left great talents like Jonathan Pryce (who was in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) very upset.

However, this is one of those baby/bathwater scenarios where the Wing should learn from mistakes and fix it, rather than tossing it out entirely. The potential for a positive impact on New York Theatre is too great to pass up.

First of all, when it comes to stunt casting for replacement casts, the focus could become about talent rather than name. If the producers could hope for a new Tony to add to advertising, it just might happen than instead of George Wendt as Edna, someone more substantial could take on the part, perhaps someone with more theatre background. This could discourage the casting of people like Sebastian Bach, Mickey Dolenz, or any number of other performers whose talents aren’t suited to a Broadway stage.

A Tony can also create a star by spotlighting a star performance (see: Heather Headley, Marissa Jaret Winokur). Imagine if Eden Espinoza, Stephanie J. Block, Jennifer Laura Thompson, or Kendra Kassebaum could have been eligible for a Tony for their runs in Wicked. The potential impact of the Tony could be television roles that help these actresses stay on Broadway by supplementing their income as they do workshops or audition. It could also provide an increased awareness of their talent that would help land them new roles or take on replacement roles that might otherwise go to an actor with monthly television residual checks. A Tony isn’t the end of an actor’s struggles—how many Tony-winning actors can’t even get seen for an audition today?—but it’s something to help a performer on his/her trek to getting roles.

Many more seasoned actresses might be willing to take on replacement roles if it means a Tony nomination. Imagine Kristin Chenoweth as the Lady of the Lake, for example. The more we can get Broadway talent performing in Broadway shows (instead of traditional stunt casting), the better it is for everyone in the audience.

Perhaps the biggest effect could be the injection of new life into the runs of shows that carry over from one season into the next. As Tony voters head to check out performances and critics re-visit the shows to scout out the odds of who’ll win, it’ll generate more energy and interest in those shows as they are getting written about and discussed. Not only might the long-running shows get fresh press, but perhaps it’ll help highlight some new talents—such as the replacement Penny people will see while they are evaluating the replacements for Edna and Tracy. This may also encourage producers to keep those shows running at tip-top shape and deter cost-cutting measures that often happen in long-runs (such as the bastardized hats during “My Strongest Suit” in Aida, Disney!).

The Tonys may not be the most popular televised award program, but they do make an impact on shows and talents, which is why the awards are so coveted by producers. Winning Tonys has done wonders for many Broadway talents—Denis O’Hare, Dan Fogler, Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, to name a few—and they were all recent winners who were been able to channel that acclaim into more roles, both on stage and off.

I’ve been so fortunate to see tons of replacement actors. There are many talented people out there who simply don’t have the name to open shows but are every bit as talented. It’s time they get the spotlight.

So it didn’t work the first time. The American Theatre Wing can now re-evaluate the process they had set-up, see where its failings are, and re-implement the Replacement Actor category. It’s the perfect time, as producers are auditioning and determining replacement actors in the next year. At least give it a fair shot.

the Broadway Mouth
February 15, 2008

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