Tonys: 'Shuffle Along' to Compete as New Musical

Julieta Cervantes
Brandon Victor Dixon and Audra McDonald in 'Shuffle Along'

Producer Scott Rudin had lobbied for the behind-the-scenes reimagining of the 1921 jazz show to be considered as a revival, thus taking it out of direct competition with 'Hamilton.'

In a few days the nominations will be announced for the 70th Annual Tony Awards, revealing the final candidates for top honors of the 2015-16 Broadway season. But one question tossed back and forth by theater pundits in recent weeks has already been answered.

The Scott Rudin production Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, which opened Thursday night to strong reviews at the Music Box Theatre, will be considered in the field of new musicals, going up against presumptive frontrunner Hamilton.

The decision was announced Friday following the final meeting of this year's Tony Awards Administration Committee to discuss eligibility.

Word leaked out in recent weeks that the producing team, led by Rudin, was lobbying for the show to be classified as a revival. That was despite extensive new writing from director George C. Wolfe to contextualize the largely forgotten 1921 jazz musical comedy, recounting its backstage story and reclaiming its place in history as the first Broadway musical with an all-black cast and creative team.

The advantage of competing as a revival at the Tonys can be summed up in a single word: Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop historical juggernaut about the founding fathers has been considered a sure thing to take the top musical awards since even before its Broadway transfer was confirmed.

In a statement given to The New York Times, Rudin said: "George and I are grateful to the committee for their careful consideration. The process is and always has been a fair one, and we're flattered to be considered a new musical. You'd be hard pressed to find two people who love new musicals more than George and me."

While the four male leads of Shuffle Along — Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Joshua Henry and Brandon Victor Dixon — were placed in the featured actor category, the sole female above-the-title star, Audra McDonald, will compete as lead actress.

McDonald is a one-woman Tony arsenal with six wins to her credit, more than any other performer in history. Her presence in the race promises to heat up one of the more competitive categories in this year’s Tonys, and the one performance slot where a Hamilton win appears most uncertain.

Phillipa Soo is a strong contender for her role as Eliza Hamilton, but she faces stiff competition from a raft of women who have drawn superlative reviews for their work this season. In addition to McDonald, that includes The Color Purple's Cynthia Erivo, She Loves Me's Laura Benanti, Waitress' Jessie Mueller, On Your Feet's Ana Villafane and Bright Star's Carmen Cusack.

In other Tony Committee decisions announced Friday, Saoirse Ronan and Ciaran Hinds will be eligible as featured actors for their work in the revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, another Rudin production. Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo, starring in the same drama, will be classed as leads.

In the starry Roundabout revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night that just opened, Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne will be in the running as lead actors while Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr. will be considered in the featured actor category.

The 2016 Tony nominations will be announced Tuesday. The awards ceremony is set to take place June 12, hosted by James Corden and broadcast live ET/delayed PT on CBS from New York's Beacon Theatre.