Broadway tuner “Spring Awakening” roused the New York legit community Tuesday, racking up 11 Tony Award nominations for Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s rock musical about troubled youth. The show has blossomed into an industry fave since it bowed on the Rialto in fall.
Top-nommed play, to nobody’s surprise, was “The Coast of Utopia,” the Lincoln Center Theater production of Tom Stoppard’s three-part historical tapestry about the 19th century Russian intelligentsia. It drew10 mentions.
“Spring” and “Utopia” have dominated the legit awards season to date, racking up honors from the New York Drama Critics Circle, the Drama League and Outer Critics Circle, as well as harvesting 10 nominations each for the Drama Desk awards, to be presented Sunday.
The strong Tony tally for “Spring” and “Grey Gardens,” which garnered 10 noms, reflects the continuing success of smaller-scale, artistically ambitious tuners in carving out a spot for themselves on a Broadway scene often crowded with splashy crowd-pleasers. Roots of the trend were seen most notably in “Avenue Q’s” 2004 upset over commercial behemoth “Wicked” for the top award. Like “Avenue Q,” both “Spring” and “Gardens” originated with Off Broadway nonprofits.
Candidates for the tuner trophy — the one award, most legiters agree, that will usually translate into a significant box office boost — are “Spring Awakening,” “Grey Gardens,” “Curtains” and “Mary Poppins.”
Of that quartet, the musical that most stands to benefit from its robust showing is “Gardens,” which has begun to struggle at the box office after a steady start propelled by stellar reviews. Attendance slipped to 56% capacity last week. Its haul includes noms for score, book, direction, lead actress (Christine Ebersole) and featured actress (Mary Louise Wilson).
In addition to the nom for the top prize, the “Spring” bounty also included mentions for score, book, direction, choreography, lead actor (Jonathan Groff) and featured actor (John Gallagher Jr.).
As one of the final musicals from legendary composer-lyricist duo John Kander and the late Fred Ebb (who died in 2004), “Curtains” has sentimental resonance for Broadway denizens. Show scored a total of eight noms, including book, direction, score, choreography, lead actor (David Hyde Pierce) and actress (Debra Monk).
“Poppins,” meanwhile, is the top seller of the bunch, thanks in part to a valuable property with built-in recognition and the marketing muscle of producers Disney Theatrical Prods. and Cameron Mackintosh. The show failed to bag noms for book or score but still tallied seven, including lead actor (Gavin Lee), choreography and design categories, providing redemption for Disney after the critical dismissal and Tony snub of “Tarzan” last year.
Left out of the tuner race were “Legally Blonde,” which nonetheless counts book, score, choreography, actress in a musical (Laura Bell Bundy) and featured actress (Orfeh) among its seven noms; and the Kurt Weill-Lotte Lenya biotuner “LoveMusik,” which landed four, including those for lead thesps Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy and featured actor David Pittu.
Noms for “Utopia” include lead actor (Brian F. O’Byrne), featured performers (Billy Crudup, Ethan Hawke, Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton), director and design categories. Initially planned as a limited engagement through March, Jack O’Brien’s production of the trilogy closed Sunday after a popular extended run that included several full-day marathon stagings. Further extensions were made impossible by the contractual logistics of keeping its 45-member cast together.
Other nominees for top play are Peter Morgan’s “Frost/Nixon,” also in the running for lead actor (Frank Langella) and director; “The Little Dog Laughed,” which closed earlier in the season and scored another nom for Julie White’s much-ballyhooed lead perf; and final August Wilson outing “Radio Golf,” which drew four mentions, including two for featured actor (John Earl Jelks, Anthony Chisholm). With the exception of “Jitney,” which played Off Broadway and was ineligible, each of the plays in the late Wilson’s 10-part cycle on the African American experience in the 20th century scored a Tony nom for best play, with a win in 1987 for “Fences.”
Love-it-or-hate-it Brit transfer “Coram Boy,” which drew a tepid response from Gotham critics after a hit run and a return engagement at London’s National Theater, was cold-shouldered in the play stakes but scored six noms, including direction and two for featured actress (Xanthe Elbrick, Jan Maxwell). Joan Didion’s adaptation of her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking” also was squeezed out but landed a single mention for Vanessa Redgrave’s performance.
Redgrave and White go up against Broadway newcomer Eve Best (“A Moon for the Misbegotten”) and vets Swoozie Kurtz (“Heartbreak House”) and Angela Lansbury (“Deuce”) for lead actress in a play.
As for revivals, plays tapped were “Inherit the Wind,” “Journey’s End,” “Talk Radio” and “Translations.” Despite arguably the best reviews of the season, R.C. Sherriff’s WWI drama “Journey’s End” has had the toughest time staying afloat at the box office, with lead producers Boyett Ostar clearly committing to keep the play running for awards consideration. It’s hoped that the production’s six noms, including direction, lead actor (Boyd Gaines) and featured actor (Stark Sands), will prompt an uptick from last week’s alarming 21% capacity.
Musical revival noms went to “The Apple Tree,” “A Chorus Line,” “Company” and “110 in the Shade,” leaving “Les Miserables” as the year’s only shutout in that category.
For this edition of the Tonys, the most competitive races are lead actor in a play, in which Gaines, Langella and O’Byrne face off against Christopher Plummer (“Inherit the Wind”) and Liev Schreiber (“Talk Radio”); and lead actress in a tuner, in which the formidable competitors are longtime sure bet Ebersole, Monk, Bundy and Murphy, duking it out with four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald (“110 in the Shade”). Inched out of those races were several high-wattage contenders, including actors Brian Dennehy in “Inherit the Wind,” Kevin Spacey in “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Michael Sheen in “Frost/Nixon” and Nathan Lane in “Butley”; and musical lead Kristin Chenoweth in “The Apple Tree.”
Double honorees for two different shows this year include designer Bob Crowley, nominated for his sets for “Poppins” and “Utopia” (the latter co-designed with Scott Pask); veteran orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, competing against himself for “LoveMusik” and “110 in the Shade”; and lighting designer Brian MacDevitt, nommed for “Inherit the Wind” and “Utopia” (co-designed with Kenneth Posner and Natasha Katz).
In addition to the season’s 25 competitive categories, the Tony org will hand out its annual regional theater kudos to the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. In recent years the Alliance hosted out-of-town tryouts for Broadway entries “The Color Purple” and “Aida” and, more recently, the Rialto-targeted “Sister Act.”
Voted on by 785 producers, presenters, creatives and other legiters who cast ballots, the Tony Awards will be presented June 10 at Radio City. Host for the ceremony, which airs live on CBS, has yet to be announced.