NEW YORK -- As the deadline for Tony Awards eligibility approached and the date of next Tuesday's nominations announcement loomed, the big question on theater pundits' lips, in chat rooms and all over stage-obsessed social media has been, "What are they going to do with the Matildas?"
Four years ago the trio of leads who shared the role of the preteen fledgling ballet dancer in Billy Elliot: The Musical pirouetted away from Broadway's big night with a three-way win for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. But how to deal with the four tween girls rotating as the title character in Matilda, the rapturously received musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's novel?
In their final huddle before they meet to lock in the nominations, the Tony Awards Administration Committee has decided to bestow special Tony Honors for Excellence upon Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro, "to recognize their outstanding performances this season."
That means that while the baby divas, all of whom are making their Broadway debuts and range in age from 9 to 10, are out of the running for lead actress, they each get to go home on awards night with a prize.
Matilda won a record seven Olivier Awards (Britain's equivalent of the Tonys) in London, including a shared Best Actress prize for the four girls playing the role in the West End cast.
While the Tony committee's approach to the challenging situation has been kept private, the word in the theater community was that its members had made an effort to see all four girls perform the demanding lead role. The musical opened April 11 at the Shubert Theatre in New York to near-unanimous rave reviews.
Directed by Matthew Warchus, the show was adapted from Dahl's 1988 novel by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. It tells the story of a bookish five-year-old genius with special powers, forced to contend with crass, uncaring parents and an ogress of a school principal.
Tony nominations will be announced by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sutton Foster April 30 at 8:30 a.m. EST from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The event will air live on CBS This Morning, on local cable news network NY1, and in its entirety on TonyAwards.com.
While no host has yet been confirmed for the June 9 awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall, Neil Patrick Harris has frequently been spotted around town catching Broadway shows in recent weeks, leading to speculation that he may return for a fourth stint as emcee. The Tonys will be broadcast live starting at 8:00 p.m. EST on CBS.