'South Pacific' nabs 11 nods; 'Park' scores 9

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Latino tuner “In the Heights” and Rodgers & Hammerstein revival “South Pacific” led the nominations for the 62nd Tony Awards, bagging 13 and 11 mentions, respectively, while the seven noms garnered by “August: Osage County” make Tracy Letts’ dysfunctional family saga the play to beat.

Announced Tuesday morning by David Hyde Pierce and Sara Ramirez at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the nominations field highlights the increasing diversification of the Rialto, often favoring unconventional, small-scale fare over old-school spectacle.

Broadway behemoths in the traditional mold, notably Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” were cold-shouldered in top categories, and the nominating committee remained largely impervious to star power, shutting out such names as Kevin Kline, Jennifer Garner, Terrence Howard, James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand and Nathan Lane.

An Off Broadway transfer about a close-knit Hispanic community in a gentrifying Upper Manhattan neighborhood, “In the Heights” set the bar high with a baker’s dozen mentions, including musical. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda landed two nominations, for score and lead actor, while the show also drew mentions for Quiara Alegria Hudes’ book, Thomas Kail’s direction and Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, along with nods for featured thesps Olga Merediz and Robin De Jesus, orchestrations, sets, costumes, lighting and sound.

Underscoring that this season was an uncommonly strong one for tuner revivals, Thomas Kail was the sole helmer of a new show to make the cut for direction of a musical. He goes up against Bartlett Sher for “South Pacific,” Sam Buntrock for “Sunday in the Park With George” and Arthur Laurents for “Gypsy,” each of which earned a string of nominations in key categories. That trio also squares off in the race for musical revival, with the critically panned “Grease” squeaking into the fourth slot.

Among the seven nominations for the Pulitzer Prize-winning “August: Osage County” were play, director (Anna D. Shapiro), two for leading actress (Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton) and another for featured actress (Rondi Reed). A transfer from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company that came to Broadway with its original cast largely intact, Letts’ award front-runner stands to put an American drama back in the spotlight after two consecutive years of top prizes going to Brit imports (Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys” in 2006, Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia” in 2007).

Plays from across the Pond make up the full contingent of Letts’ competition, however, with Stoppard’s exploration of the intersection between Central European politics and 1960s music, “Rock ‘n’ Roll”; Conor McPherson’s booze-soaked dance with the devil, “The Seafarer”; and Patrick Barlow’s comic Hitchcock riff “The 39 Steps” each racking up a handful of noms, including for the top prize.

Among contenders for play revival, Brit productions “Boeing-Boeing” and “Macbeth” go up against homegrown stagings of “The Homecoming” and “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.”

In a year when quirky underdog musicals dominated the season’s focus, big-budget Broadway spectacles received little love.

In stark contrast to the record-breaking 2001 Tony sweep of “The Producers,” Brooks’ follow-up outing, “Young Frankenstein,” took just three nominations, for featured thesps and Robin Wagner’s set. “The Little Mermaid,” the latest from Disney Theatrical Prods., hooked two, one for score and one for lighting.

As expected, downtown rock tuner “Passing Strange” and spoofy comedy “Xanadu” also made the cut for top tuner, the one award that legiters agree can have a noticeable impact on box office. The fourth slot in the category — the subject of much speculation in the industry — went to surprise contender “Cry-Baby,” shutting out potential candidates including “A Catered Affair” from the race.

“Cry-Baby,” which earned middling reviews and has been a slow starter at the B.O., snagged a total of four noms, including book, score and choreography. The subdued Harvey Fierstein-John Bucchino musical “A Catered Affair” took three.

Of the seven noms for “Strange,” four were earned by creator-star Stew, giving him the most personal mentions of any single nominee, with spots in the races for book, lead actor, original score (with co-composer Heidi Rodewald), and orchestrations (also with Rodewald).

Among Tony contenders, “Passing Strange” could potentially benefit most from awards attention. A transfer from Off Broadway’s Public Theater, the coming-of-age tale about a middle-class black Angeleno’s journey of self-discovery through countercultural Europe won raves after its February Rialto opening but has consistently struggled to attract auds. Last week, the show grossed a little more than $200,000, playing to an audience capacity of 45%.

Tony spotlight could also oil the roller-skates for “Xanadu,” which has been a box office underperformer since it opened early in the season despite glowing reviews.

Lead actress in a tuner looks to be one of the toughest contests, with the three shoo-in nominees — Patti LuPone (“Gypsy”), Kelli O’Hara (“South Pacific”) and Faith Prince (“A Catered Affair”) — joined by Kerry Butler (“Xanadu”) and Jenna Russell (“Sunday in the Park With George”).

As was the case with past Rialto stints by the likes of Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, legit appearances by big-name stars failed to win over the Tony nominating committee despite the commercial heft of several shows in which they appeared. Notably absent in all fields was Mike Nichols’ revival of Clifford Odets’ “The Country Girl,” with Freeman, McDormand and Peter Gallagher. Also MIA were Claire Danes in “Pygmalion,” Kline and Garner in “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Lane in David Mamet comedy “November,” which landed co-star Laurie Metcalf a mention for featured actress.

A number of film and TV crossover talents were acknowledged, however, including Laurence Fishburne for “Thurgood,” Rufus Sewell for “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Patrick Stewart for “Macbeth,” S. Epatha Merkerson for “Come Back, Little Sheba” and Bobby Cannavale for “Mauritius.”

Demonstrating that commercial success is not always an indication of Tony traction, “Cyrano” was overlooked in the revival race (it scored a single nom for costumes), as was current hit “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the all-black staging of Tennessee Williams’ melodrama, whose cast of stars left off the Tony roster includes Jones, Howard and Phylicia Rashad.

As always, the nominations provided significant endorsement of the work of New York’s nonprofit theaters. Roundabout Theater Company scored a total of 20 noms for “Sunday in the Park With George,” “The 39 Steps” and “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”; Lincoln Center Theater took 11 for “South Pacific”; Manhattan Theater Club landed one each for “Top Girls,” “Come Back, Little Sheba” and “Mauritius”; and the Public earned seven for “Passing Strange.”

Lifetime achievement honor will go to seven-time Tony winner Stephen Sondheim, the composer whose tuners “Sweeney Todd” and “Company” have received well-received revivals in recent seasons.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater took the annual Tony for a regional theater. The late orchestrator and arranger Robert Russell Bennett, whose original orchestrations are heard in the current revival of “South Pacific,” will receive a special posthumous award for his work.

Nearly 800 legit pros will vote on the Tony Awards, due to be handed out in a June 15 ceremony at Radio City Music Hall hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. Telecast will air live on CBS.

Click here for the full list of nominees.

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