‘Hairspray’s full-figured Tony tally

Show's 13 noms leads pack; 'Movin' Out' nabs 10

In most years, the big Tony contenders open in the spring, in the hope that big wins at the awards will drive audiences into the theater and get the all-important word of mouth bubbling in time for the lean summer months.

But this year, the top contender — “Hairspray,” which led the nominations list with 13 citations — did things backward.

“We’ve been open almost a year,” says the show’s lead producer, Margo Lion. “And what could have been a disadvantage has proved to be an advantage for us. Usually awards help drive word of mouth, but for us word of mouth has served the purpose of awards.”

For “Hairspray,” the early arrival, combined with exposure on the June 8 Tony telecast, also has another not-so-incidental benefit.

“We’re about to start our road tour, and the number on the telecast will serve as a great introduction to the rest of America,” Lion says. “One thing you learn when you do research is that nobody outside our little world really knows about our shows. This will give them a preview.”

“Hairspray,” which opened way back in August, isn’t the only top Tony contender from the fall season.

“Movin’ Out,” its chief competish for the big prize and runner-up in the nominations tallies with 10, opened in October, while Baz Luhrmann’s “La Boheme,” which took home six noms, was a December entry.

The revival of “Nine” secured eight noms, making it a front-runner for the musical revival prize. The spring’s other big musical revival, “Gypsy,” received just four nominations. Its prominent director, Sam Mendes, was overlooked, although its illness-plagued star, Bernadette Peters, was nominated. (Peters was back doing a full sked of perfs last week.)

The battle between “Nine” and “Gypsy” is shaping up as one of the most talked-about contests, although it’s really the media attention that was generating buzz at the annual Tony nominees breakfast May 14.

The contest isn’t so much “Gypsy” vs. “Nine” as the New York Post (pro-“Nine,” anti-“Gypsy”) vs. the New York Times (pro-“Gypsy”).

The day after opening, there seemed to be a backlash against the Post’s preview coverage of “Gypsy.” “Then the Times went overboard praising ‘Gypsy,’ so there is now a backlash against the show,” said one attendee.

But with the Post’s Michael Riedel continuing to whomp both the show and the Times, the backlash may switch directions.

Referring to Peters’ much-remarked absences, one legit macher advised Marissa Jaret Winokur, her chief rival for the leading-actress-in-a-musical Tony, “Just show up at every performance.” The implication: That could be enough to give her the Tony.

The acclaimed revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” nabbed seven noms, more than any other play. Its four stars — Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Dennehy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Sean Leonard — all were nominated. In a season of strong play revivals — so strong that Deborah Warner’s celebrated “Medea” was left off the list — it is the clear favorite.

It’s also doing boffo numbers at the box office. Producer David Richenthal says the advance hit $4.3 million as of May 14. Ticket sales since opening have been averaging $200,000 a day.

“For a straight play, these are the kinds of numbers you only get when people take their clothes off,” he jokes. “And Brian offered to take his off, but we declined.”

Richenthal says despite this year’s large crop of well-received revivals, there was never any question of holding off.

“The cast determined the timing,” he says. “And to be honest, I was always prepared for the play not to do all that well at the B.O. and just be a critical success. The prior productions of ‘Long Day’s Journey’ on Broadway have all lost money.

“And this is the only virtually uncut version,” he adds. “There was pressure to try to cut it, but (director) Bob (Falls) and I said let’s do it right, since it’s not going to make a lot of money anyway.”

Elsewhere, the nominations reflected the weakness of this season’s crop of new plays. “Take Me Out,” Richard Greenberg’s comedy about a gay major-league baseball player, received four noms, the most of any new play. It competes against “Enchanted April” (two noms), “Say Goodnight, Gracie” and “Vincent in Brixton” (two noms).

Notably left out was Yasmina Reza’s “Life (x) 3,” a strong B.O. draw that was cited only for Linda Emond’s featured performance.

All told, new plays accounted for just 11 of the 96 nominations.

The cast of “Movin’ Out” made a strong showing that took some by surprise. All four of the lead dancers in Twyla Tharp’s show about the Vietnam era received nominations, as did the vocalist who sings the Billy Joel songs while they dance.

The year’s most competitive categories led to some notable omissions. The Tony nominators left out Mendes, but all four of the director-of-a-musical nominees — David Leveaux (“Nine”), Luhrmann, Jack O’Brien (“Hairspray”) and Tharp — have received wide acclaim for their work.

Also strong is the field of contenders for leading actress in a play, where a lone American (albeit one born in Britain), Jayne Atkinson (“Enchanted April”), competes against a quartet from across the Pond: Victoria Hamilton (“A Day in the Death of Joe Egg”), Clare Higgins (“Vincent in Brixton”), Vanessa Redgrave (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”) and Fiona Shaw (“Medea”). Left out was Edie Falco, who generally received better notices than her Tony-nommed co-star, Stanley Tucci, for “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.”

Three from ‘Nine’

The featured actress in a musical field was tough, too. Three nominees from “Nine” — Jane Krakowski, Mary Stuart Masterson and Chita Rivera — compete against Tammy Blanchard, “Gypsy’s” Gypsy Rose Lee, and Ashley Tuttle from “Movin’ Out.”

That left no room for any of the featured actresses from “Hairspray”: Kerry Butler, Mary Bond Davis, Jackie Hoffman and Linda Hart.

The snubbing of “Urban Cowboy,” which received just two nominations, for score and Melinda Roy’s choreography, took an instant toll. The show, which had initially planned to close after savage reviews but decided to stick it out, closed May 18.

The Tony nominating committee had much better recall this season than last year, when they bestowed only three nominations on shows that had closed.

This time around, 19 nominees came from shows that are no longer on the boards. In the category of featured actress in a play, for instance, only Emond in “Life (x) 3” can still be seen on Broadway.

The Tony Award for regional theater will go to the Children’s Theater Co. of Minneapolis, where musical nominee “A Year With Frog and Toad” originated.

Career honored

A Tony for lifetime achievement will be given to producer Cy Feuer, chairman of the League of American Theaters & Producers. He has won three Tonys, two musical Tonys for his productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and a producer Tony for “How to Succeed” (that category no longer exists).

Tony “Honors for Excellence in the Theater” will be given to the principal performers of “La Boheme”; hair and wig designer Paul Huntley; Johnson-Liff Casting Associates; and the Acting Co., founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley and now in its 30th season as a touring theater company.

These awards will be given out not at the Tonys ceremony, but at a “midseason Tony Awards Community Celebration,” the details of which are yet to be set.

The 2003 Tony Award nominating committee consists of thesps Maureen Anderman and David Marshall Grant; publisher Price Berkley; general managers Ira Bernstein and Robert Kamlot; administrator Robert Callely; managing directors Veronica Claypool and Edgar Dobie; archivist Betty Corwin; composer Gretchen Cryer; press reps Merle Debuskey and Bill Schelble; composer-lyricist Micki Grant; casting directors Julie Hughes, Shirley Rich, Meg Simon and Rosemarie Tischler; script consultant Betty Jacobs; playwright David Lindsay-Abaire; producer-director Theodore Mann; agent Gilbert Parker; journalist David Richards; photog Aubrey Reuben; producers Arthur Rubin and Jon Wilner; arts educator Sister Francesca Thompson and execs Judith Rubin and Schuyler G. Chapin.

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