How Much Singing Should there be for an Acting Tony in a Musical?


(Warning, this article contains a very small spoiler about The Band's Visit)

Years ago, Dame Judi Dench won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. If you've seen the movie, her role is one of the most memorable. However, there was some debate over the merit of her award. After all, she was only in the movie for 8 minutes. Interestingly enough, acting Oscars have been awarded for less screen time. Beatrice Straight won hers for Network for only 6 minutes of work. 

A similar debate has arisen over Sunday night's win for Tony Shalhoub for his performance in The Band's Visit. While other nominees such as Ethan Slater sung and danced through Spongebob Squarepants and Joshua Henry had to take on the musical theatre doctorate known as "Soliloquoy", Mr. Shalhoub hardly sings at all. While I don't have the sheet music in front of me, having seen the show, I would guess that he sings roughly 32-64 bars in the entire show.

Because of this, there has been a debate on social media whether or not the other nominees were cheated out of the award by someone who hardly sings at all, but who just happens to be in a musical. Included in that debate is also whether or not the amount of time he spent in the role should merit the win. Mr. Shalhoub took a two-month hiatus to film the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Dariush Kashani took over the role during that time. But there's a thing called contractual obligations and it's understandable that those must be met. So let's leave that debate to others. 


To those who feel that Mr. Shalhoub's win feels somewhat undeserving considering the amount of song and no dance he does in the show, let me remind you that the name of the award is "Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical". Mr. Shalhoub's role and performance is the very definition of the award. It's not "Best Singing and Dancing in a Musical". While Mr. Shalhoub isn't singing soaring ballads or tap dancing, he is giving a fantastic performance which is, in my opinion, worthy of the award. But I understand the debate. 

Many feel that awards like these should take everything into account. Just as figure skating, elements of a performance should be graded before Tony votes are made. In a musical, those would include singing and possibly dancing. But Tony voters don't judge performances like that and likely haven't for a number of years. How else could you explain John Lithgow's win for Sweet Smell of Success over Gavin Creel or Patrick Wilson in 2002?

So before people start decrying over the fact that an actor who barely sings in a musical won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, remember the name of the award. Also, go see The Band's Visit if you haven't yet, it's hand's down one of the best musical theatre experiences I've had, even without all the singing and dancing.