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Tony Nominations Spread Across a Wide Stage
The major races for Broadway’s Tony Awards will be unusually wide-open this spring, with the nominations, announced on Tuesday, showing more love for Shakespeare than for Hollywood and for popular songs by Carole King and Duke Ellington than for original musicals. Ambitiously conceived productions like “Rocky” and “If/Then” fared poorly, and some of the season’s most praised performers — including the boldface names Daniel Radcliffe and Denzel Washington — were edged out.
The 33 Tony nominators spread the recognition around: Sixteen shows received at least four nominations, compared with 12 shows in 2013 and 10 in 2012. That lack of consensus, and the notable lack of front-runners, were more signs (in addition to critics’ reviews and audience buzz) that this was a season of letdowns on Broadway — a season that started with high hopes for its 12 new musicals but ended with more misses than hits.
Only one new show — “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” — received nominations for best musical, book, score and director, suggesting that Tony nominators saw flaws in many of the others.
Unlike most years, when a couple of musicals dominate both the Tonys and ticket sales (think of “Kinky Boots” and “The Book of Mormon”), this spring has no show that’s a powerhouse: “Gentleman’s Guide” earned the most Tony nominations, 10, but is one of the weakest-selling of the season. Most nominees for best play also have modest ticket sales, like “Casa Valentina” and “Mothers and Sons,” while a stronger box office draw — the play “The Realistic Joneses” — received no nominations.
So, did the nominators embrace critically acclaimed small fries over commercial hits? Not necessarily. Two of the best musical nominees, “Aladdin” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” are selling briskly. But those two shows, and others favored by the nominators, were well-executed productions of familiar material.
Still, one of the boldest surprises was also one of the most successful: “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare’s dark comedy about desire and identity, received seven nominations, tying the revival of “The Glass Menagerie” for the most of any play. “Twelfth Night,” on a double bill with “Richard III” and featuring the same all-male ensemble from Britain, was not only critically acclaimed but also a box office hit; the two productions grossed a total of $14 million over 18 weeks. “Twelfth Night” received nominations for best play revival; Samuel Barnett for best actor (as Viola); and three of the five featured actor nominations (for Paul Chahidi, Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry).
“We benefited from being a group of actors who have worked together many times before, played many roles together, so we took risks with each other every night and responded with playfulness to what was happening in the audience,” Mr. Rylance said on Tuesday.
Mr. Rylance, already a double Tony winner, was also nominated for best actor in a play for “Richard III,” becoming the first man to earn two acting nominations in the same year. (Several actresses have achieved that status.) With all of the British actors nominated for Shakespeare, there was little room left for several stars like Mr. Radcliffe, as well as James Franco (“Of Mice and Men”), Michael C. Hall (“Joneses”), Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (“No Man’s Land” and “Waiting for Godot”), and Zachary Quinto (“The Glass Menagerie”).
Mr. Quinto aside, “Menagerie” did snap one of the longest streaks in theater history: the lack of any Tony nominations for Broadway productions of this Tennessee Williams play. “Menagerie” will compete with “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Twelfth Night” in the category for best play revival; its other actors — Cherry Jones, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Brian J. Smith — were all nominated.
Ms. Jones, a two-time Tony winner, is in another tough, unpredictable category, facing, among others, Audra McDonald, a five-time Tony winner who is nominated for playing Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” Ms. McDonald, 43, could become the first performer to win six Tonys for acting, as well as the first to win a Tony in each of the four acting categories. (Julie Harris is the only performer with six Tonys, though one is a special lifetime achievement award.) Also nominated are Tyne Daly (“Mothers and Sons”), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (“Raisin”) and Estelle Parsons (“The Velocity of Autumn”). Ms. Parsons’s play will close on Sunday, the producers announced after the nominations, because of weak ticket sales.
For best play, in addition to “Casa Valentina” and “Mothers and Sons,” the nominees are “Outside Mullingar” and two bio-plays: “Act One,” about the playwright Moss Hart, and “All the Way,” about President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Tony nominators may have been lacking in enthusiasm, however: None of those new plays were represented in the best director category. Those four directors were all in charge of play revivals: John Tiffany (“Menagerie”); Kenny Leon (“Raisin”); Tim Carroll (“Twelfth Night”); and Michael Grandage (“Inishmaan”). James Lapine (“Act One”) and Bill Rauch (“All The Way”), who each kept many characters in motion in large-cast productions, went unnoticed, though their stars — Tony Shalhoub and Bryan Cranston — received nominations.
One year after women won the Tonys for best direction of a play and a musical, the only female director nominated on Tuesday was Leigh Silverman for the musical “Violet.” Women were absent in several other categories, including best play, best score and best book.
The two front-runners for musical revival are “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Violet,” thanks to excellent reviews and Tony-nominated performances by their stars, Neil Patrick Harris (“Hedwig”) and Sutton Foster (“Violet”). (The revival “Cabaret” and its star, Michelle Williams, were passed over.) Ms. Foster, a two-time Tony winner, is in an especially tough category, facing, among others, Kelli O’Hara (now a five-time nominee with “The Bridges of Madison County”) and Idina Menzel (“If/Then”).
As for musicals, “Gentleman’s Guide,” a sly operetta about an Englishman who bumps off relatives to get their fortunes, will try to turn its momentum into a campaign to persuade Tony voters (and ultimately audiences) that it is the best new show out there. Another nominee, “Aladdin,” based on the 1992 film, is a box office hit and the first Disney animated-movie-turned-musical to score a best musical nod since “The Lion King,” which won the award in 1998.
The other two best musical nominees, “After Midnight” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” also have pluses and minuses. “After Midnight,” which recreates numbers from the Cotton Club era, earned great reviews, yet it is a revue, not a book musical. And “Beautiful” is popular mostly for the jukebox score by Ms. King (which was not eligible for a Tony) and the performance of Jessie Mueller, a best actress nominee as the singer.
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With no front-runner, the shows are likely to mount publicity blitzes aimed at Tony voters, hoping to create the sort of feel-good buzz and seeming momentum that helped the crowd-pleaser “Kinky Boots” topple the onetime front-runner “Matilda the Musical” in the race for best musical last year. Ms. King, for one, said she would do anything she could to help win Tony victories for “Beautiful,” which is being produced by her daughter Sherry Goffin Kondor, among others. She said she planned to attend and perform at the Tony Awards ceremony on June 8, which will be televised on CBS, though she does not know which song she might sing.
“Once I got over my fear of how the show would affect me emotionally — seeing my life onstage — I decided I was all in on helping the show,” Ms. King said on Tuesday from her home in Idaho.
Joey Parnes, one of the lead producers of “Gentleman’s Guide,” said on Tuesday that the nominations were in part a testament to perseverance: Not only did its creators spend a decade developing and fine-tuning the musical before Broadway, but the show also continued to run through the brutal winter months when other shows closed because people were staying home.
“Now, with the nominations, we’re already doing 10 times better at the box office today than we were doing last Tuesday,” Mr. Parnes said.
The Tonys are the theater industry’s highest honor, as well as a major marketing tool for shows in New York and on national tour. The awards in top categories, especially for best musical, can also help improve ticket sales. The winners will be chosen by 806 eligible voters; they include theater producers, directors, designers, actors and tour presenters, many of whom have business or personal interests at stake.