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Broadway Loves Big Names, But Does Tony?

Great White Way loves high-profile thesps. Do the Tony nominators?

If Hollywood pundits think the producers of the Academy Awards have a tough job putting on a good TV show, consider the plight of those in charge of the Tony telecast. They have to deal with the Tony nominating committee, a group of legit professionals who have a habit of not always citing those star thesps well-known to a TV audience.

And this Broadway season there are a lot of thesps with TV and film pedigree for the committee to snub. Let’s start with the Broadway debs: Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron’s “Lucky Guy,” Cuba Gooding Jr. in Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful” and Jessica Chastain in “Ruth” and Augustus Goetz’s “The Heiress.” There also are the Broadway returns of Alec Baldwin in Lyle Kessler’s “Orphans“; Bette Midler in John Logan’s “I’ll Eat You Last“; Scarlett Johansson and Ciaran Hinds in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof“; Paul Rudd and Ed Asner in Craig Wright’s “Grace”; Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike“;, Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams in “The Trip to Bountiful“; Laurie Metcalf in Sharr White’s “The Other Place“; Al Pacino and Bobby Cannavale in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross“; and Cannavale again in Clifford Odets’ “The Big Knife“. Not to be forgotten is Nathan Lane, who having won a Tony a dozen years ago for his legendary turn in “The Producers,” has been ignored by the nominating committee for his past seven — count ’em, seven — perfs on Broadway. Will Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Nance” bring him back to Tony glory?

Yes, the Tony nominating committee isn’t always helpful to producers trying to put on a star-packed TV show. For example, last year they chose not to nom Ricky Martin, Daniel Radcliffe or Matthew Broderick for their respective turns in “Evita,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It.” The difference with Martin, Radcliffe and Broderick not being nommed is that the Tonys ingeniously worked them into the telecast by having them perform songs. This season, the stars listed above all perform in non-tuners. If not nommed, will Hanks, Midler, Chastain, Baldwin, Rudd et al actually grace the Radio City Music Hall stage on June 9 to read a few lines from their respective plays? Or just present somebody else a trophy? Or will they stay home?

The top original musicals in 2012-13 — those few that are still running — have eschewed stars onstage. Not that there isn’t high-profile talent involved. Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein wrote “Kinky Boots,” “Matilda” is adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel and “Motown” is all about Berry Gordy, who wrote the book and co-produces.

If the Tony nominating committee does bless a few star performers, those actors, ironically, often have the best shot at winning. Tony voters, unlike the committee, are a decidedly starstruck group of professional creatives, producers, presenters and journos. Only three years ago they gave legit’s top prize to seven stars, four of whom happened to be Broadway debs: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (“Fences”), Catherine Zeta-Jones (“A Little Night Music”), Eddie Redmayne (“Red”), Ellen Barkin (“The Normal Heart”) and Johansson (“A View From the Bridge”).

It could happen again. But maybe not.

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