Big stars and big shows didn't get much love from Broadway insiders
Correction appended, April 29 4:30pm
It’s a good bet that a lot of Broadway veterans, and a few celebrated outsiders, are having a rough Tuesday morning. The big news from the Tony nominations, announced this morning in advance of the June 8 awards ceremony, is the number of high-profile Broadway shows and stars who got shut out.
Denzel Washington, who gives a commanding performance in an American classic, A Raisin in the Sun (and is bringing in sellout crowds to the revival), was, surprisingly, left off the list of nominees for Best Actor in a Play. So was another well-known star giving a critically acclaimed performance — Daniel Radcliffe in the fine new revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. Two more big-name stars, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, were also ignored for their work in the revivals earlier this season of No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot.
Instead, for Best Actor, the Tony nominators gave a double shout-out to two less well-known British interlopers: Mark Rylance and Samuel Barnett, for their roles in two Globe Theater Shakespeare productions, Richard III and Twelfth Night. Bryan Cranston, the Breaking Bad star making his Broadway debut as Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way, also snagged a nomination, along with Chris O’Dowd, who plays the slow-witted Lennie in a revival of Of Mice and Men, and Tony Shalhoub, in the stage adaptation of Moss Hart’s autobiography, Act One.
Best Musical was another category where the no-shows were more startling than the nominees. In a season full of big-budget, brand-name musicals from widely admired Broadway hands, the snubs were many. Among the musicals denied nominations were Rocky, The Bridges of Madison County and Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, along with If/Then, a small-scale show that some thought might sneak in among the blockbusters.
The four shows that did get nominated constitute one of the weirdest Best Musical lists in years. The front-runner, by default, is A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the enjoyably frivolous musical about an heir who kills off all his relatives so he can inherit a family fortune, which leads the field with 10 nominations. Its competition includes one pastiche of jazz-era song-and-dance numbers, After Midnight; a routine songbook show, Beautiful: The Carol King Musical; and a Disney show, Aladdin, that seems a way for the Tony voters to make up to Disney for all its shows that have been snubbed since The Lion King.
For Best Play, by contrast, the Tony voters seemed more inclined to the big-tent philosophy. In an especially weak year for new plays, almost any plausible show seemed to get a nomination. Among them were two interesting but long-winded plays, Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, and James Lapine’s Act One; Harvey Fierstein’s dour look at cross-dressing in the Catskills, Casa Valentina; and two inferior works by major playwrights, Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons and John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar.
The odd play out was The Realistic Joneses, surely the strangest Broadway play of the season, but certainly deserving of more attention than it got. Not only was it denied a Best Play nomination, all four members of its excellent cast— Tracy Letts, Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall and Marisa Tomei — were surprisingly shut out as well.
The richest category, and the toughest race to handicap, is the one for Best Actress in a Musical. Each nominee has a plausible chance to win: Mary Bridget Davies (A Night With Janis Joplin), Sutton Foster (Violet), Idina Menzel (If/Then), Jessie Mueller (Beautiful: The Carol King Musical) and Kelli O’Hara (The Bridges of Madison County). The race for Best Actress in a Play is nearly as competitive, though packed with some dutiful and dubious nominees — notably Tyne Daly in Mothers and Sons and Estelle Parsons in The Velocity of Autumn. The race will more likely be between Cherry Jones in The Glass Menagerie, LaTanya Richardson Jackson in A Raisin in the Sun, and Audra McDonald, vying for a record sixth Tony, as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.
Amid all the snubs, it was gratifying to see Andy Karl get a nod for his excellent job in the Stallone role in Rocky, an underrated show that did manage to pick up four nominations. And though Michelle Williams was overlooked for her low-key turn as Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret, the show’s two standout supporting actors, Danny Burstein and Linda Emond, both got deserved nominations.
Meanwhile, one year after Kinky Boots took home the award for Best Musical, the Tonys proved once again that drag queens rule Broadway. No fewer than four actors from the Globe’s all-male cast of Twelfth Night were nominated; Reed Birney got a nod as one of the cross-dressing househusbands in Casa Valentina; and Neil Patrick Harris is the favorite to win Best Actor in a Musical for his flamboyant turn as the German transsexual star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the source material for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. It is the book Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, on which the Alec Guinness movie Kind Hearts and Coronets was based.