Given that just 39 shows opened on Broadway in the 2010/11 eligibility season for this year’s Tony Awards (that ran from April 30, 2010 to April 28, 2011), the Tony nominating committee spread the wealth a bit, acknowledging excellence in some 26 of those productions.
Even Baby It’s You and The People in the Picture managed to summons a single Tony nomination each for their stars Beth Leavel and Donna Murphy respectively; though Leavel is unlikely to hear the words, ‘baby, it’s you!’ on Tony night itself, where she faces stiff competition from local darling Sutton Foster (now finally grown up from ingenue to leading lady in Anything Goes) and Sister Act’s newly buxom Patina Miller, who has more front, in every sense, than she did when she originated the role of Dolores in London.
But then competition is the name of the game here, and the Tony’s bring out the competitive streak as nothing else on Broadway. Of the 39 Tony eligible shows that opened across the season, some 20 of them opened in just the last two months of March and April alone, all doing so as they chase after Tony recognition. In a crowded field, it helps a production to stand out; but actually the emphasis on the Tony Awards has created a climate on Broadway which is ultimately highly destructive. Not only does it concentrate the bulk of the season into two short months so that 20 shows are chasing the same publicity cycle to get attention as they are opening, but it also means that the shows get polarised into hits and misses immediately afterwards, depending on how they fare in the nominations process (let alone the final awards themselves).
It also means that, by and large, productions that opened before the last two months of the season are usually forgotten in the Tony nominations round, especially if they have closed. But the exception that proves the rule this year is that the second most nominated show, after the inevitable The Book of Mormon (which has received 14 nominations), is the long-shuttered The Scottsboro Boys, Kander and Ebb’s last show, which received critical plaudits when it opened last autumn but couldn’t last into the winter, but has now received 12 nominations.
That’s an artistic vindication of sorts for lead producer Barry Weissler, who transferred it from off-Broadway’s Vineyard to Broadway, but was probably the least he could do by way of payback to Kander and Ebb, whose Chicago has made him a vast fortune, so what’s a few million between friends? Otherwise, of the 26 shows that received nominations this year, some 19 are for productions that are still running; so most of the shows that have gone have already been forgotten, including the Broadway import of Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters with its entire UK cast intact, which was applauded at the time it transferred last autumn but has now been entirely ignored.
Some shows, of course, cling on for dear life in the hope of Tony recognition, and when they fail to get it, are destined to soon be forgotten, too. After receiving just a single nomination yesterday for actress Judith Light, Lombardi, for instance, immediately announced it would end its Broadway run on May 22.
That’s a familiar enough trend; so is the strong showing of Brits on Broadway, particularly in the plays stakes, where two British originated plays, Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and Nick Stafford’s War Horse go head-to-head for Best Play with two American plays, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People and Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfucker with the Hat. War Horse is already a Tony winner, though: yesterday it was announced that a special Tony would be given to its South African based puppet masters the Handspring Puppet Company for creating the lifelike horse puppets in the show, thus bolting the stable door before the horses try to escape, though in one of this show’s New York interventions, one does actually exit and entrance through the stalls itself).
There was also, alongside the expected Tony nomination for Mark Rylance for the Leading Actor in a Play award, an unexpected failure for Daniel Radcliffe to get recognised for the Leading Musical Actor award for his performance in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. It is, indeed, often a bigger story who gets left out than who makes it onto the final list; other major omissions this year included Robin Williams (appearing on Broadway in the title role of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), veteran actor James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy (though his co-star Vanessa Redgrave was recognised) and relative newcomer Aaron Tveit (who has graduated from his supporting role in Next to Normal to fully-fledged leading man in Catch Me if You Can).
On the other hand, there were also some nice British surprises, including a Tony nomination to Hannah Yelland for Leading Actress in a Play for Brief Encounter, Joanna Lumley for Featured Actress in a Play for La Bete and Adam Godley for Featured Actor in a Musical for Anything Goes.
But Broadway loves a hit more than anything else, and already the biggest hit in town is The Book of Mormon; now that it has been anointed by no less than 14 nominations (one less than the records previously set by The Producers and Billy Elliot), it’s the show to beat, and barring a last minute upset by The Scottsboro Boys, is likely to triumph when the Awards themselves are presented on June 12.
In which case, step forward lead producer Scott Rudin, who — as well as being a now seemingly permanent fixture on the Oscar podium — can also count 27 Tony Award nominations for Broadway shows his name is attached to this season: in addition to Book of Mormon, there are also six each for Jerusalem and The Motherfucker with the Hat, and one more for The House of Blue Leaves.