So here’s something worth thinking about with regards to this year’s Tony Award nominations, which were announced on Tuesday morning. The quartet of young actors who play the title role in Matilda were deemed ineligible for the award – for reasons not forthcoming, but easily guessable – and, to make up for their ineligibility, were given special honorary awards to recognize their work. Fair enough. I had problems with the trio from Billy Elliott being nominated/winning together last year, as did many others, questioning whether the award was being given for the acting work (really, are all three identically, uniformly, worthy?) or for the role as written. Not all nominators/voters could see all three young performers, and the same problem would have occurred had the Matildas been eligible. This was a slightly awkward, but probably least awkward, way of handling the issue for 2013.
But the young actress playing the title role in the 2012 revival of Annie, Lilla Crawford, performs the role by herself, unlike either the Billys or Matildas (nothing against them — it’s simply a different casting/directorial decision, and no reflection on the individual performers, all of whom must be highly talented as well as fortunate to be acting on Broadway at such a young age). The controversy over last year’s decision to award the Tony to three performers for a single role didn’t affect Crawford’s initial eligibility. She was deemed eligible for the Leading Actress in a Musical category, and there is certainly precedent for a child actor to take home the Tony — see Daisy Eagan, who won the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical when she was 11 (The Secret Garden; 1991) and Frankie Michaels, who was only 10 when he received his Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Mame; 1966). (The fact that Eagan was put in the ‘featured’ category, rather than lead, is a different issue. The trio from Billy Elliott won in 2012 in the leading performance category, as Crawford might have had she been nominated; this is the category sought by the producers of Matilda for their four stars.)
The Tonys aren’t the only theater awards in town, of course, and Crawford has been recognized by a nomination for the Distinguished Performance Award in the 2013 Drama League Awards, for one. (The eponymous stars of Matilda were not, it may be worth noting. Perhaps for the same problem of multi-casting — can you call it an award for a distinguished performance if all four share it? Yet how do you single out one of the four and say “Yeah, you, Matilda #3, you were better than the others”?) Still, the Tony Awards are the best known and most mainstream theater awards. It’s worth thinking about the fact that, likely to avoid a repeat of last year’s controversy, the Tony eligibility committee gave one set of young performers a special award to avoid even nominating or not nominating them… Then gave nothing – not even the nomination – to the hard-working young star of Annie.
I haven’t seen any of these actresses in their snubbed performances, myself, so for all I know, maybe Lilla Crawford is terrible as the famous little orphan, and the quartet of Matildas thoroughly deserving of every Tony or not-quite-Tony award offered them. Either way, though — it’s worth thinking about.