A musical about making art and a play about making money dominated the Tony Awards nominations on Monday, as Broadway looked to celebrate its best work and revive its fortunes after the prolonged and damaging coronavirus shutdown.
The race for the best musical – traditionally the most financially advantageous prize – turned into an unexpectedly wide six-way contest because the nominators were so narrowly divided that they had to increase the number of nominees.
Out of the gate is the frontrunner “A Strange Loop,” a meta-musical in which a composer who is black and gay battles demons and doubts as he tries to write a show. Even before arriving on Broadway, the show, written by Michael R. Jackson, had won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama after an Off Broadway production at Playwrights Horizons; it opened on Broadway late last month with some of the strongest reviews for any new musical this season, and on Monday it picked up 11 Tony nominations, the most for any show.
“I feel very grateful and I feel appreciated for putting all these years and all the hours into it,” Jackson said after hearing the news. “It feels great to know that better things are possible.”
Getting the most nominations isn’t always predictive of winning the award, and “A Strange Loop,” which is adventurous in form and content, will face stiff competition from “MJ,” a biographical jukebox musical about Michael Jackson. ; “Six”, a fan favorite of Henry VIII’s wives; “Girl From the North Country”, which combines Bob Dylan’s songs with a fictional story about a boarding house in the Minnesota town where Dylan was born; “Mr. Saturday Night,” about a washed-up comedian yearning for a comeback; and “Paradise Square,” about a turning point in race relations in 19th-century New York.
Both “Paradise Square,” which received 10 nominations, and “Girl From the North Country,” with seven, have struggled at the box office and are now hoping their multiple Tony nominations will help turn back their financial fortunes. For “MJ,” the 10 nods are a form of justification after several influential reviewers criticized the show for dodging allegations of sexual abuse against the pop star.
“The Lehman Trilogy”, which arrived on Broadway amid a massive – albeit delayed pandemic – on steam after critically acclaimed productions in London and Off Broadway, received eight nominations to dominate the Best Play category. The piece, which follows the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers, was written by Stefano Massini and Ben Power and featured a dazzling production centered around a rotating glass box designed by Es Devlin. All three lead roles – Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester – were nominated for Best Actor.
“The Lehman Trilogy” vies with four other dramas for the best game. Among them are two dark comedies – ‘Clyde’s’ by Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer winner who was also nominated for writing the book for ‘MJ’ and ‘Hangmen’ by Martin McDonagh, an acclaimed British-Irish playwright who is now nominated five times, but has yet to win. The other contenders are “Skeleton Crew,” Dominique Morisseau’s play about factory workers at a car factory that threatens to close, and “The Minutes,” Tracy Letts’s take on the disturbing secrets of a small-town governing body.
The Tony Awards, honoring plays and musicals performed on Broadway, are an annual celebration for American theater, but they are now especially important as a potential marketing tool for an industry that still makes less revenue and sells fewer tickets than before. pandemic forced theaters to close for a year and a half. The awards are presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing.
“These Tony Awards will mean so much more than honoring the performances and artistic work done this season – it’s also a celebration of the community’s resilience and so much work being done and seen,” said Rob McClure , an actor who scored a Tony nomination (his second) for his comedic and chameleonic performance in the title role of “Mrs. Doubt.”
Notable artists to score nominations included Uzo Aduba, Billy Crystal, Rachel Dratch, Hugh Jackman, Ruth Negga, Mary-Louise Parker, Patti LuPone, Phylicia Rashad, and Sam Rockwell. But several other big stars now working on Broadway were overlooked by the nominees, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Laurence Fishburne, and Daniel Craig, as well as Beanie Feldstein, who starred in “Funny Girl,” but not in able to escape the long shadow of Barbra Streisand.
This season saw an unusually large number of works by black writers, and that created more opportunities for black artists, directors and designers, some of whom were nominated for Tonys. Among them are two performers new to Broadway, Jaquel Spivey, the star of ‘A Strange Loop’, and Myles Frost, the star of ‘MJ’, who now face Crystal, Jackman and McClure in the lead role in a musical category.
“Black playwrights have had a great presence this season, and I hope they continue to be,” said Camille A. Brown, who garnered two nominations Monday, for directing and choreographing the revival of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf.” Reflecting on her own show, she said, “Having seven black women on a Broadway stage has a lot of meaning, talking about the importance of sisterhood and love and black women keeping space for each other.”
The seven Tony nominations for “For Colored Girls” are a bittersweet triumph for a production that languished at the box office and had already announced an early closing date. The revival received more nominations than any other show in the race for best play revival, a strong category in which many eligible shows won positive reviews.
It will now face four others: “American Buffalo,” David Mamet’s drama about a trio of cunning junk shop dwellers, and “Take Me Out,” Richard Greenberg’s take on homophobia in baseball, as well as two plays that had never been seen before. reached Broadway despite being considered important parts of the playwriting canon, “Trouble in Mind,” Alice Childress’s take on racism in the theater; and “How I Learned to Drive,” Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer-winning drama about child sexual abuse.
The competition for the best musical revival is small, but strong. There were four eligible shows and only three scored nods: “Company,” “Caroline of Change,” and “The Music Man.” Out of the question was the reprise of “Funny Girl,” which fared poorly with critics, but did just fine at the box office.
The nine nods to “Company” are particularly emotional as the composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, died shortly after attending the first preview after its closing. “The longer he’s not with us, the more I miss him,” said LuPone, who received her eighth Tony nomination — winning twice — for her work in the production.
The nominations were chosen by a group of 29 people, most of whom work in the theater industry but are not financially affiliated with any of the eligible productions, who saw and voted on all of the eligible shows last Friday. There were 34 eligible shows, 29 of which scored nominations; the five left out were all new plays.
Up next: A group of 650 voters, including producers and performers and many others interested in the nominated productions, have until June 10 to vote for their favorites, and the winners will be announced at a ceremony on June 12. The ceremony, at Radio City Music Hall, will be hosted by Ariana DeBose; the first hour will be streamed on Paramount+, followed by three hours of broadcast by CBS.
Broadway’s gross profit has fallen, in part because tourism in New York City remains low, and in part because of lingering concerns about the coronavirus. Many of the nominees interviewed Monday said they hoped the Tony Awards spotlight would draw more customers back to Broadway.
“Anyone who is currently making theater has been hit very hard by the pandemic,” said Marianne Elliott, a two-time Tony-winning director who was nominated again for “Company.” “It’s gratifying to see Broadway return. Having the Tony nominations for all these shows is just a celebration of what we do, and it’s a joy to be here.”