NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A musical about making art and a play about making money dominated the Tony Awards nominations on May 9, as Broadway sought to celebrate its best work and revive its fortunes after the lengthy and damaging coronavirus shutdown.
The race for best musical turned into an unexpectedly broad six-way contest because the nominators were so closely divided they had to expand the number of nominees.
Out of the gate, the front-runner is A Strange Loop, a metamusical in which a composer who is black and gay battles demons and doubts while trying to write a show. Even before arriving on Broadway, the show, written by Michael R. Jackson, had won the Pulitzer Prize in drama.
It picked up 11 Tony nominations, the most for any show.
"I feel really grateful, and I feel validated for putting in all the years and all the hours," Jackson said after learning the news. "It feels amazing to know better things are possible."
A Strange Loop, which is adventurous in form and content, will face tough competition from MJ, a biographical jukebox musical about Michael Jackson; Six, a fan favourite about the wives of Henry VIII; Girl From The North Country, which combines the songs of Bob Dylan with a fictional story about a boardinghouse in the Minnesota city where Dylan was born; Mr. Saturday Night, about a washed-up comedian hungering for a comeback; and Paradise Square, about a turning point in race relations in 19th century New York.
For MJ, its 10 nods are a form of vindication after several influential reviewers criticised the show for sidestepping sexual abuse allegations against the pop star.
The Lehman Trilogy picked up eight nominations to dominate the best play category. The play, which follows the rise and fall of financial services firm Lehman Bros.,had all three of its leads - Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester - nominated for best actor.
The Lehman Trilogy vies with four other dramas for best play. Among them are two dark comedies - Clyde's, by Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer winner who was also nominated for writing the book for MJ, and Hangmen, by acclaimed British-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. The other contenders are Skeleton Crew, Dominique Morisseau's play about factory workers at an automotive plant facing shutdown, and The Minutes, Tracy Letts' look at the unsettling secrets of a small-town governing body.
The Tony Awards, which honour plays and musicals staged on Broadway, are particularly important now as a potential marketing tool for an industry that is still grossing less, and selling fewer tickets, than it was before the pandemic forced theatres to close for a year and a half.
The seven Tony nominations for For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf are a bittersweet triumph for a production that has been languishing at the box office and had already announced an early closing date. The revival picked up more nominations than any other show in the race for best play revival.
It will now face off against four others: American Buffalo, David Mamet's drama about a trio of scheming junk-shop denizens and Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's look at homophobia in baseball, as well as two plays that had never previously made it to Broadway despite being considered important parts of the playwriting canon, Trouble In Mind, Alice Childress' look at racism in theatre; and How I Learned To Drive, Paula Vogel's Pulitzer-winning drama about child sexual abuse.
The competition for best musical revival is small, but strong. There were four eligible shows, and only three scored nods: Company, Caroline, Or Change, and The Music Man. Excluded was the revival of Funny Girl which fared poorly with critics, but has been doing fine at the box office.
The nine nods for Company pack an especially emotional punch because its composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, died soon after attending the first post-shutdown preview. "The longer he's not with us, the more I miss him," said Patti LuPone, who picked up her eighth Tony nomination - she has won twice - for her work in the production.