Matilda the Musical, based on the dark Roald Dahl children’s book, received 12 Tony Award nominations this year. If it wins all 12, it will match the record 12 Tonys set by The Producers in 2000. A critical component of the show’s record-busting success is its cast, of course. But when Matilda Director Matthew Warchus asked that all four ten-year-old girls who alternate in the lead role (Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro) be nominated together as one, the Tony Committee said they weren’t eligible. The committee gave no reason for the ruling, instead saying it will recognize the girls’ performances with a special award: the Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre. (The award isn’t usually awarded to actors: past recipients include press agent Shirley Herz, wardrobe supervisor Alyce Gilbert, and wig and hair stylist Paul Huntley, among others.)
It’s strange, because in 2009, all three boys who performed as the lead role in Billy Elliot the Musical – David Alvarez (15), Trent Kowalik (14) and Kiril Kulish (15) – were nominated and won the Tony Award for “Actor in a Musical.” Is three somehow the unstated limit for sharing a role? Do you have to be at least age 14 and nobody’s saying? Are boys treated differently than girls? (Even on Broadway?) All of which makes one wonder whether a soft version of the Kanye West/Taylor Swift Grammy Award kind of disruption will blow up during the televised ceremony on June 9 (CBS)? Will host (and fairness advocate) Neil Patrick Harris interrupt the acceptance speech of current favorite, “Kinky Boots” Annaleigh Ashford, to give kudos to the young girls? If so, Ashford, who is worthy of the award, will likely be empathetic: she was cast as the lead in Ruthless! the Musical when she was only nine years old.