Nominations Bring Controversy (As Usual)

 I was very pleased this week to see Troy Dodds in his farewell column on this site make reference to the fact that the Helpmann Awards need a major overhaul. The trouble is, people have been saying this for years and nothing is ever done about it!!

I was very pleased this week to see Troy Dodds in his farewell column on this site make reference to the fact that the Helpmann Awards need a major overhaul. The trouble is, people have been saying this for years and nothing is ever done about it!! The Helpmann nominations always bring their fair share of questions, queries and confusion. This year is no exception. I don’t profess to have an expert eye into all aspects of the Opera and Ballet world and I dont profess to have seen all the non musical theatre productions, but it always seems to me that the music theatre awards are the ones that gather the most amount of criticism and confusion. It is also the music theatre awards which seems to mean the most to commercial producers as they can tout them to help sell their shows, many of which are still running (let’s face it, how many straight plays, operas and ballets are still running by the time they are honoured by the Helpmanns)
So, for sake of this argument, I will concentrate on the music theatre awards, but first must say genuine and heartfelt congratulations to all the nominees and the award winners that have already been announced.
Now, down to the questions. Firstly, let’s look at the way older shows that are still running keep getting nominations. Surely any award ceremony anywhere else in the world would only concentrate on the year in question (the ‘Helpmann 2010 Season’ ran from 1 March 2010 to 31 May 2011). Strangely enough, older shows that are still running on tour, seem to creep in as major contenders in the central awards. This is one of the biggest anomalies of the Helpmann process.
This year, the show which comes back with no real reason is Wicked. The much praised and awarded musical is certainly on it’s national (and soon international) tour. So why does this justify that it comes back as a contender into this year’s awards? This is, of course, not the first time shows from past years come back for awards. Priscilla and The Boy from Oz were always collecting nominations, long after their opening year was over and this is one of the many things the Helpmanns need to fix in their awards. Either create a “best replacement” award or a special award for shows on tour, but don’t lump awards from older shows into the current year, it makes a farce of the awards and does no justice to the shows and the actors.
Let me also say here, that Jemma Rix (nominated for her portrayal of Elphaba in Wicked) and David Harris (nominated for his portrayal of Fiyero in Wicked) are terrific actors and deserve recognition for their fine work. But surely, as I said earlier, in a special “replacement” category?  In saying that, however, Jemma Rix has very regularly been playing the role of Elphaba since the show first opened. She would be hard placed to even be considered a ‘replacement’, she was the alternate Elphaba from day one and I would be interested to know how many shows she played as opposed to the original Elphie (Amanda Harrison). It would have been very justified to have Ms Rix nominated in the same year as the other Wicked actors, so why nominate her now as some sort of after thought?
Similarly David Harris gives us the very best Fiyero I have seen. But there are two questions here, why this year? Why not give David recognition in a special ‘replacement’ category (something the Tonys mooted years ago but have never followed up).  Also, I have some issues with Fiyero nominated as a ‘best actor’ role. The line between “best’ and “best support” in all awards are always very grey, but Fiyero is a true support to both Glinda and Elphaba, and should surely be seen as a supporting role. Again, this is no reflection on David’s brilliant work and if it wasn’t for the fact that it reflects another anomaly, I would be delighted to see him getting a major male actor nomination. He is one of the country’s very best and deserves all the praise he receives. 
So onto the next and biggest anomaly and the one that shines the greatest light on the whole Helpmann nominating process. Where is Rock of Ages?? This fine production of a silly but likeable juxe box show certainly deserves attention. It received glowing reviews and, as many have said, is better in almost every way than the broadway original. Its absence seems very sad for such a show, but, hang on, don’t worry, we will see it nominated next year. “Huh?” you may well ask. Who knows!? It opened before the much nominated Love Never Dies…
Well, it seems in the crazy and cockeyed world of the Helpmanns, producers can decide which year their show will be nominated. So the producers of Rock of Ages elected to leave it to next year to have it nominated.. “Please explain” you may well say. Indeed!! Why do producers have this sort of power over a nominating committee?
Let me add, that if I was a producer of a commercial musical and the organisation of the awards was as foolish, loose and unpredictable as the Helpmann criteria, I too would take my little show away from a year that featured Mary Poppins, Hairspray and Love Never Dies. I dont blame the producers at all, but how crazy that they are allowed to elect which year their show will receive a nomination!!!
These are just a few examples of why the Helpmann system need an overhaul. Lets not even get started on why smaller companies and small productions of plays and musicals have such trouble getting a presence in the awards and then there is the question of the money that has to be paid by companies to be considered as part of the award ceremony in the first place. 
The Helpmanns are an important part of our industry, they should have the prestige of a Tony or an Olivier, but the foolish rules and questionable nominating process and the multitude of anomalies continue to plague the awards and will continue to do so, until someone comes along and shakes the whole system up. It can be done and must be done, before these awards ever get the true prestige they deserve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *