Here's a new problem - or, for the more upbeat among us, a new challenge - for the Tony Awards.
When the nominations are announced Tuesday morning, history may be written in the category of musical score. That is, there may not be a category.
Broadway is facing what's likely to be an unprecedented situation. There are eight eligible new musicals for the season that officially ended Thursday. This is a generous number, especially in recent years and especially because many received enthusiastic reviews and - hardly irrelevant to Tony voters - many are doing good business.
Others may be pushing musicals in interesting new directions, but they're doing it with pre-existing songs. "American Idiot" is a rock opera built around the Green Day album. "Million Dollar Quartet" is a jukebox musical that attempts to re-create a 1956 recording session with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
"Fela!" is the biography / concert about African activist and Afrobeat composer Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who died in 1997. "Everyday Rapture," Sherie Rene Scott's semi-autobiographical musical about choosing between her Mennonite upbringing and show biz, has dozens of pre-existing songs - including several by Fred Rogers (yes, of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood").
There are slots for four nominees in the score category. According to Tony rules, there may be fewer than four, but there must be more than one. This rule came into being after the depressing 1994-95 season, when there were only two new musicals - "Sunset Boulevard" and "Smoky Joe's Cafe," a jukebox revue. "Sunset Boulevard," for all its many flaws, did have a new Andrew Lloyd Webber score, which means it was the only one nominated. And the winner was . . . ?
So the wise elders of the Tony administration committee (actually, two dozen theater managers and producers) decided that never again could there be a solitary nominee.
Theoretically, then, this should not now be a problem. They have two new scores and two slots. Perfect? Not exactly. A number of us admire the retro-soul music that David Bryan, a founding member of Bon Jovi, wrote for "Memphis." But it has been generally agreed that Andrew Lippa's generic songs for "The Addams Family" are, to put it kindly, not good.
Will the committee (which meets several times during the year and may meet after this column goes to press) lower standards enough to give Lippa a nomination - just to keep the category open? Or will the rules about "pre-existing music" be fudged to let in the jukebox shows? Perhaps, though I think a more likely scenario has "American Idiot" declared new enough, just as "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Evita" and "The Who's Tommy" were declared eligible, despite having first been albums.
Yes, these things are flexible. But here is the rule, at least as it stood at this writing, according to the rules and regulations of the American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards:
"To be eligible, a score must be written specifically for the theater and must be original; compilations of nontheatrical music or compilations of earlier theatrical music are not eligible for consideration."
Ah, but there is another way to save face. According to a Tony spokeswoman, the committee is not constrained to nominating scores exclusively attached to, you know, musicals.
Every so often, the incidental music for plays has been considered eligible. This happened most recently in 1999, when Jeanine Tesori's scoring for the Lincoln Center Theater's "Twelfth Night" was nominated.
I'm told now that at least six plays are being considered for their music "written specifically for the theater." These are "Enron," which really is a play with music, "Time Stands Still," "The Miracle Worker," "Hamlet," "The Royal Family" and "After Miss Julie." Anyone remember music in most of these?
This decision is either very clever or very desperate. I'm glad composers are commissioned to contribute to the sound of a new production. But I wish they would all write new shows.