As with all awards programs, but probably more so with Broadway’s Tony Awards, the announcement of nominations says more about who was snubbed than who got the nod.
In a so-so season on Broadway — particularly for new musicals — the good news is that there were enough productions to fill the categories and still leave enough major names off the nominations lists to get tongues wagging.
Among those who came up short when the Tony Award noms were read off Tuesday morning were Ricky Martin (Evita), Matthew Broderick (Nice Work If You Can Get It), Bernadette Peters (Follies), Stacy Keach (Other Desert Cities), Raul Esparza (Leap of Faith) and Tyne Daly (Master Class). Maybe they can all get together at a bar across from the Beacon Theatre on June 10, when the Tonys will be given out, and have an alternative party.
Somewhat surprising — at least to me — was the strong showing of the musical Once, which leads the field with 11 nominations. It will be competing for best musical, book, direction, choreography, orchestrations, three design categories and its stars (Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti). Its score, which chiefly comes from the 2006 movie, was previously ruled ineligible for a Tony.
“Arthouse musical” Once will be going head-to-head against the purely commercial Newsies, also based on a movie, which still looks to be the front-runner for best musical despite pulling in only eight nominations. For starters, it has the marketing muscle of the Disney organization behind it and probably the sizeable voting bloc of national presenters, who want a mainstream hit for their theaters for the future.
Filling out the category is the “new” Gershwin jukebox musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It, which was generally well received when it opened last week, and Leap of Faith, which was not. In fact, it was the most poorly reviewed musical in memory to still cop a best musical nomination. Presumably the nominating committee figured it needed to shut out such even worse — though popular — fare as Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark and Ghost: The Musical.
Spider Man did fly off with mentions for scenic and costume design, while Ghost will be in the running for featured actress (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and scenic and lighting design.
As further proof that it was a bum year for new musicals, the best score category was filled with the incidental songs from two plays — Peter and the Starcatcher and One Man, Two Guvnors — along with Newsies and Once.
Since the Tonys are largely a sales tool for Broadway, nominators are discouraged from recognizing shows that have already closed. Nevertheless, last fall’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies has a strong showing on Tuesday with eight nominations. It leads the field for best revival and was named for cast members Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines and Jayne Houdyshell, but not for its director, Eric Schaeffer.
Its main competition in the revival category would seem to be the controversial remounting of Porgy and Bess (10 nominations). Also in the race are two wanly received revivals, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar.
It was a far better Broadway season for plays than it was for musicals and the field for best play looks to be a tight one. The clever prequel to Peter Pan, Peter and the Starcatcher, has the numerical edge with nine nominations. It got nods for best play, score, featured performers (Christian Borle, Celia Keenan-Bolger), direction and design (scenery, costumes, lighting, sound).
Its prime competition is expected to be Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities (five nominations), including leading actress (Stockard Channing), featured actress (Judith Light), scenic and lighting design, but, surprisingly, not for director Joe Mantello. Also vying for the best play Tony are two other strong works, Clybourne Park and Venus in Fur, both probable also-rans. The very funny British import, One Man, Two Guvnors, petitioned to be considered a revival — of the 18th-century farce, Servant of Two Masters. It was turned down and then failed to make the cut for best play.
The prohibitive favorite for best revival is the much admired Mike Nichols production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The play won the Tony when it premiered in 1949, and again for revivals in 1984 and 1999. A fourth win for the classic drama would set a Tony Award record.
Trying to stop that from happening is the still running political play The Best Man and two that have closed, Master Class and Wit. Philip Seymour Hoffman is certainly the front-runner for best actor in a play for his take on Salesman’s Willy Loman, unless James Corden’s knockabout performance in One Man, Two Guvnors can overtake him.
The Tony Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, June 10, on the CBS network.