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Da'Vine Joy Randolph
Photograph: Joan Marcus

Five theater clichés the Tony Awards just can't resist

These overworked stage conventions should be retired, but it'll never happen: The Tony Awards folks reward them year after year.


The familiar is always comforting—especially, it seems, to the members of the Tony nominating committee. There are certain hoary theater conventions they love to reward, if not with actual statuettes then at least with nominations. Here are five of the most egregious.

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The big black girl with a big voice who belts out a big number
Tony doesn’t reward all of these characters—there are just too darn many of them! This season alone, there were four new ones: Capathia Jenkins in Newsies, Kecia Lewis-Evans in Leap of Faith, Liz Mikel in Lysistrata Jones and Da'Vine Joy Randolph in Ghost, who snagged a Tony nod for being the only bright spot in a deadly show. It’s true that some excellent character actors working on Broadway today fit this archetype (see Tony Award winner Lillias White), but just once we’d like to see a thin Asian girl get a chance to bring down the house. 

Actors who provide their own accompaniment
Perhaps this is less a cliché than a trend that started when director John Doyle earned accolades and Tony Awards for his mountings of Sweeney Todd and Company (and next, possibly, Merrily We Roll Along). True, the cast of Once pulls impressive quadruple duty acting, singing, dancing and playing various instruments. But while leads Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti deserved recognition, we had to consult our Playbills to remember Best Featured Actress nominee Elizabeth A. Davis. And even then, we’re not sure what’s so great about her beyond the fact that she really knows how to multitask.

God stuff is good
New Yorkers may get stereotyped as heathen elitists, but the Tony nominating committee seems to put a lot of faith into musicals with religious overtones. This year saw revivals of two big Jesus tuners, Godspell (which struck out) and Jesus Christ Superstar (which got two nods), and despite hellish reviews, the recently shuttered Leap of Faith scored a Best Musical nomination. Last year, it was all about Sister Act and The Book of Mormon. Clearly they like their show tunes and irreverence served with a side of spiritual uplift.

The Jewish mother as the root of all evil 

Yes, Linda Lavin is brilliant as the hilariously cold matriarch of The Lyons, and Stockard Channing is none too shabby (if none too Jewish) as a Nancy Reagan type in Other Desert Cities, which is why they both earned nominations. But with all the buzz surrounding Tiger Mom, Tanning Mom and other extreme mamas, you’d think dramatists would go after other dysfunctional tribes, like Buddhists, Protestants and even atheist mothers. What are they, chopped liver?

Last-chance nominations
We already complained about James Earl Jones’s nod as Best Actor in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man. He’s good but hardly the highlight and most definitely not the lead in this ensemble show. But at 81, he falls into that category of living legends who may be treading the boards for the last time, so he gets a nod. Frankly we’re shocked that his 86-year-old costar, Angela Lansbury—who got nominations for her last three Broadway shows—didn’t earn one for this too.

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