In a gesture worthy of an old-style Broadway melodrama, Julie Andrews, the star of “Victor/Victoria,” announced yesterday that she was withdrawing from consideration for the best-actress Tony Award, in protest of what she viewed as the humiliating snub the musical had received in earning just a single Tony nomination.
“I have searched my conscience and my heart and find that I cannot accept this nomination,” Ms. Andrews said, in a brief curtain speech at yesterday’s matinee. As the audience gasped in astonishment, the actress declared that she would “stand instead with the egregiously overlooked” cast and creative team for the $8.5 million musical.
Officials of the Tony Awards decided their only recourse was to hold their ground, declaring that Ms. Andrews could not take herself out of competition, and that she would remain on the Tony ballot.
Ms. Andrews’s decision to snub the snubbers enveloped the Tony Awards in one of the most perplexing crises in its 50-year history: What was the theater establishment to do when the biggest star on Broadway, playing in one of its biggest-grossing hits, refused to participate in its most important ceremony? And what happens now to the Tony Awards television show, on which Ms. Andrews was expected to be one of the chief attractions?
“It certainly is unprecedented for a star of this magnitude to decline a nomination,” said Keith Sherman, a spokesman for the Tony Awards, which are to be handed out in a live national broadcast on CBS on June 2. “But the nominating committee nominated her as one of the four actresses for the best-actress-in-a-musical award. She will remain on the ballot and possibly could win.”
Ms. Andrews had been upset since the announcement on Monday that “Victor/Victoria,” which was directed by her husband, Blake Edwards, had received just one nomination, for her performance as a woman pretending to be a man who is a female impersonator. In a decision that stunned many on Broadway, the 14-member nominating committee ignored the show in every other category, including that of best musical. Instead, the committee nominated two shows that were hits with the critics, “Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk” and “Rent,” and two shows that were not, “Swinging on a Star” and “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” Both were short-lived shows that closed months ago.
The Tony committee also declined to nominate “Big,” the other big-budget musical that opened on Broadway this season. Since those decisions, Broadway has been obsessed with the meaning of it all: Were the Tony nominators, most of them Broadway veterans, signaling their impatience with the kind of old-fashioned musicals represented by “Victor/Victoria” and “Big”? Or were the nominators simply unimpressed with the quality of these two shows?
Whatever their reasoning, their decision and Ms. Andrews’s response to it have done what Broadway publicity agents thought was the impossible. They turned the Tony Awards into a tabloid story. This week, The New York Post has played the controversy on its cover, and the number of camera crews that showed up yesterday to cover Ms. Andrews’s curtain speech made the back of the Marquis Theater look more like the White House briefing room.
That, in turn, did not displease some involved with the promotion of the Tonys, which are run by the League of American Theaters and Producers, which functions as Broadway’s chamber of commerce, and the American Theater Wing, a theater education and support group. “If this would just rage on for two more weeks,” said one theater official who insisted on anonymity. “Will she come to the Tonys? Will she be allowed on the air? Fabulous!”
But John Scher and Tony Adams, the lead producers of “Victor/Victoria,” said Ms. Andrews’s protest had come from the heart, after hours of talks with them and her husband. “Certainly, this wasn’t staged to help a show,” Mr. Scher said. “It was a very personal statement by Julie.”
The 60-year-old Ms. Andrews, who starred in the movie version of “Victor/Victoria” 14 years ago and is a major investor in the musical, appeared nervous as she read her statement, surrounded by the cast.
” ‘Victor/Victoria’ is a collaboration between designers, choreographer, director, cast and crew — an extremely happy and successful collaboration,” she said. “Which makes it especially sad that so many of my colleagues have been ignored by this year’s nominating process.”
Twice before, actors have tried to take themselves out of the Tony contest, with varying results, Tony officials said. In 1969, William Daniels, one of the stars of the musical “1776,” asked to have his name withdrawn after he was nominated in the supporting-actor category, rather than as lead actor. His name was, in fact, removed from the ballot, Mr. Sherman said. Five years later, the circumstances were repeated when Douglas Turner Ward was nominated as featured actor for “The River Niger.” That time, however, Mr. Ward’s name remained on the ballot, although he did not win.
Mr. Sherman and other Tony officials could not immediately explain the differing outcomes.
The motives of the Tony nominators — who included Ming Cho Lee, the set designer; Barnard Hughes, the actor, and Jon Robin Baitz, the playwright — have become the subject of intense debate on Broadway. Mr. Adams said he thought the nominating process, long criticized as being stained by politics, should be revamped.
But yesterday, one of the nominating panel members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the debate over the best-musical category had been intense on Sunday, when the 14 nominators met to make their choices. The panelist said that there was very little support on the committee for “Victor/Victoria,” less, in fact, than for “Big,” a musical based on the 1988 hit movie, which received five nominations.
Even after her withdrawal, Ms. Andrews’s status as a Tony contender remained unclear. What she precisely meant by not “accepting” the nomination was left open to interpretation. Mr. Adams, the producer, said she was adamant. “She wants no part of this process,” he said. But he added that under the proper circumstances, “Victor/Victoria” might allow a number from the show to be broadcast on the Tony Awards.
The number, however, would have to be on tape, he explained. For though she has never won a Tony Award and would have dearly loved one, Mr. Adams said, Ms. Andrews will not be playing this year to the Tony crowd.