Not everyone toiling Off-Broadway sees things Routh's way, however. Ben Sprecher, vice president of the Lucille Lortel, the Promenade, the Variety Arts, and the new 499-seat Shubert-owned house coming to Theater Row next year, says of opening the Tonys to Off-Broadway, "I have been in favor of it since I started working Off-Broadway." Sprecher also pooh-poohs the argument about having enough voter tickets to go around. "We'd have no problem taking care of them," he says. And as for Off-Broadway factions turning up their noses at that outreach from the Broadway world, Sprecher insists the overture itself had limited appeal. "The specificity of the [League and/or Wing's] offer has been lost," he says, calling the suggestion of only a few awards "substandard." He explains, "We rejected [their offer] because we wouldn't be treated like a stepchild."
Susan Gallin, who currently has Fully Committed safely lodged in Off-Broadway's Cherry Lane Theatre, also refuses to accept the Tony committee's position. She says of any move to extend boundaries, "I think it would be the best thing that can happen, and it never will. The Broadway theater owners will never allow it to happen. It's to their best interests not to have it happen." On the accommodating-voters subject, Gallin says, "I would be thrilled to make those seats available. Financially, it would be great. It couldn't be better." In fact, she'd be glad, she emphasizes, to hold aside Fully Committed seats, even though she's got sold-out signs up. "Turning people away is good," she says about the potential effects of Tony publicity. "It's better for people to have a hard time getting a ticket." The way she sees it, television exposure can only enhance the play's in-theater life as well as possibly clinch a film or video deal.
"I've thought about it a lot--ever since the days of Three Tall Women," comments Daryl Roth, who has arguably turned herself into Off-Broadway's premier producer--a woman who some say is the natural successor to Lortel as the "Queen of Off-Broadway." "I think there should be a way [to include Off-Broadway]," Roth says, but she adds "granted, it's a complex issue. I think what would happen is that maybe there's a committee that's appointed to cover just Off-Broadway--maybe just 300, not all the Tony voters. I don't know if it's feasible, but some recognition is better than no recognition. The first thing that would be helpful is if people just sat down and talked about it--a first meeting with the Off-Broadway league and the Tony committee. Talk in a casual, friendly way. I don't think it's been explored."
Roth's guarded hope isn't reflected by the thoughts of playwright A. R. Gurney, who quit this year's Tony nominating committee because of what he felt was an impenetrable opposition to change. Mentioning that he tried to discuss improvements when he first joined up a year ago, he was told "we'll meet in the fall," which was followed by "let's meet in January" which was followed by "no, it would be better if we meet in May." Gurney further describes his futile battle: "I met with [Tony administrators] two or three times and couldn't get them to admit we needed a change. That meeting I asked for a year ago finally occurred last week. It was like a ritual dance. The representatives just smiled benignly and said, 'We'll think about your suggestions.'"
Susan Lee, senior vice president of Broadway Television Network, scrutinizes the dilemma from an altogether different angle. "I think the Tony Awards have always been--and should continue to be--about Broadway, because that's the criteria by which that award has been established. It's excellence on Broadway--as narrowly defined as that might be." Lee goes on to say that she'd prefer to examine "the whole idea of Broadway in a bigger context. By 'bigger'--how do we define the words? Is it the Tony's responsibility to do that? I'd like to see an institutional effort. How do we promote that New York is the best place to see theater in the country?"
So Tony or not to Tony--that remains, for now, the question.