Mean Girls, SpongeBob soak up most Tony nominations

Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical scored the most 2018 Tony award nominations with 12 each, including for best musical.
Gavin Lee, who has received a Best Featured Actor Tony nomination, in SpongeBob SquarePants.
Gavin Lee, who has received a Best Featured Actor Tony nomination, in SpongeBob SquarePants.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Two musicals with enormous brand names, Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants, led the pack of Tony-nominated shows on Tuesday morning (May 1), garnering 12 nods each.

The nominators also showered affection on five critically acclaimed productions: Revivals of Angels In America and Carousel, as well as the new musical The Band’s Visit, got 11 nominations apiece, while the new play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child and a revival of My Fair Lady each got 10.

The best new musical race will now pit The Band’s Visit, a critical darling, against three shows with bigger fan bases but weaker reviews: Mean Girls, SpongeBob SquarePants and Frozen. Among the boldface names who scored nominations: Denzel Washington, Andrew Garfield, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Cera, Renee Fleming and Diana Rigg.

Thirty Broadway productions were eligible for prizes, the smallest number in more than a decade. This year’s Tony Awards will take place on June 10 at Radio City Music Hall and will be broadcast on CBS.

It’s been a blockbuster season on Broadway, and not just because of record-breaking box-office grosses.

Many of the season’s shows are based on widely recognised entertainment brands – Frozen, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, Mean Girls, Escape To Margaritaville and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.

There were solo shows by Bruce Springsteen, Michael Moore, John Lithgow and John Leguizamo, and star turns by Schumer, Washington, Chris Evans, Uma Thurman, Garfield and Clive Owen.

The nominators showered recognition on several of those shows, including Mean Girls and SpongeBob, but none on Margaritaville, which has been struggling at the box office. The Tony nominations, selected by a panel of 43 people knowledgeable about theater, have the potential to give a lift to the nominated shows, and to signify the beginning of the end for those that are struggling.

Musicals are the bread and butter of contemporary Broadway, and the race for best musical has now tightened.

The Band’s Visit, a delicate musical which has been doing solid but not sell-out business at the box office, will now face strengthened challenges from Mean Girls and SpongeBob, each of which will get a credibility boost from the high number of nominations.

Disney’s Frozen, on the other hand, is weakened by the nominations: The show, based on the enormously popular film, got no nominations for its performers or much of its creative team.

The Band’s Visit, which began its stage life at the nonprofit Atlantic Theatre Company off-Broadway, is adapted from a fictional 2007 Israeli film about what happens when an Egyptian police band gets stranded for a night in an Israeli desert town. Among the show’s strongest awards contenders are its composer, David Yazbek, who has been nominated for Tonys three times previously but has never won; its star, Katrina Lenk, who plays a fierce and sultry cafe owner named Dina; and its director, David Cromer, who is enjoying his first Broadway success with this show.

Mean Girls is an adaptation of the 2004 film and SpongeBob is a new story featuring the undersea creatures of the animated television series. Mean Girls represents the first Broadway venture for comedian Fey, who was nominated for the book of the musical (based on her screenplay for the film), and SpongeBob is the first Broadway venture led by Nickelodeon, the children’s cable network.

Among plays, watch for Cursed Child and Angels In America, both two-part productions which transferred to Broadway after wowing critics and audiences in London’s West End, to do especially well once voting begins. Cursed Child, with an enormous budget (its capitalisation was US$35.5 million (S$47.3 million) and cast (40 performers), is a sequel to the seven novels, while Angels, one of the 20th century’s great American plays, is also a large-scale production (its capitalisation was US$7.6 million) exploring the early years of the Aids crisis.

Springsteen can make room for a Tony on his awards shelf.

Awards administrators said on Tuesday that they had decided to give the 68-year-old rock idol a special Tony Award in recognition of his ongoing song-and-storytelling show, Springsteen On Broadway, which has been running at the Walter Kerr Theatre since October.

The award, calling Springsteen’s show “a once-in-a-lifetime theater going experience for the Broadway stage, allowing fans an intimate look at a music idol,” is noncompetitive. Springsteen opted not to contend for competitive awards, disqualifying his show from consideration by declining to invite Tony voters to see it. Previous recipients of special Tonys have included Bette Midler, Lena Horne, John Cameron Mitchell and Dame Edna.

The award makes it far more likely that Springsteen will perform on the Tony Awards and that could help the show’s ratings.

Springsteen On Broadway has been an enormous hit, critically and commercially. It won rave reviews, and it has been consistently sold out; it has already grossed $55 million, and the most recent average ticket price was US$508, which is quite high for Broadway. The last show is scheduled to be Dec 15.

Springsteen has no shortage of prizes. He won an Oscar in 1993 for best song Streets Of Philadelphia from Philadelphia and he has won 20 Grammy Awards.

The Tony administrators will also give a special Tony to John Leguizamo, citing “his body of work and for his commitment to the theater, bringing diverse stories and audiences to Broadway for three decades.” Leguizamo’s fourth one-man show on Broadway, Latin History For Morons, ran this season and was nominated on Tuesday for best play.

Women are dramatically underrepresented as decision-makers on Broadway – particularly as producers, directors and writers. But several powerful women scored nods this year.

JK Rowling and Sonia Friedman were nominated as two of the three lead producers of Cursed Child (the third is Colin Callender). Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter books, and Friedman is one of the most successful producers in London.

Two female directors were nominated and are now strong contenders for awards: Marianne Elliott, who directed the Angels In America revival, and Tina Landau, who directed SpongeBob SquarePants. 

Several female writers were also nominated for their work. The leading contender for best book of a musical is Fey, for Mean Girls. And playwrights Lucy Kirkwood and Claire van Kampen were nominated for The Children and Farinelli And The King. (Rowling is not credited as the writer of Cursed Child, although she collaborated with author Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany on creating the story.)

Now it’s up to the voters.

There are 841 Tony voters – investors and producers, as well as actors, directors, designers, journalists and others – who are eligible to cast ballots for most categories. (This year, for the first time, a few categories – sound design and orchestration – will be decided by a subset of about half of the voters.) The voters now have about five weeks to finish seeing all the nominated shows, or to revisit shows they saw in the fall and want to see again, and then they have until noon June 8 to submit ballots. This is the first year that the Tonys, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, are using all electronic voting – each voter is to be tracking his or her show attendance on a website, and then is to submit votes using that site.

In the coming weeks, the voters will get barraged with goodies from the nominated shows – cast recordings, souvenir books, trinkets – and the nominees will pop up at a ceaseless stream of nonprofit benefits, hoping to build goodwill and remain visible to industry insiders while voting is under way.

A few noncompetitive honors have already been announced. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and performer Chita Rivera will receive lifetime achievement awards at the ceremony, while Nick Scandalios, executive vic- president of the Nederlander Organisation, will get a volunteerism award for his work as an advocate for gay parents and their children. The annual prize for regional theater will go to La MaMa Etc, the New York-based experimental theatre company.

At a reception on June 4, Tony Honours for Excellence in the Theatre will be presented to Sara Krulwich, the longtime theatre photographer for The New York Times; Bessie Nelson, a longtime costume beader; and Ernest Winzer Cleaners, a 110-year-old business with a specialty in costume work.

FULL LIST OF NOMINEES

Best play:

“The Children,” Lucy Kirkwood

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two,” Jack Thorne

“Junk,” Ayad Akhtar

“Latin History for Morons,” John Leguizamo

Best musical:

“The Band’s Visit”

“Frozen”

“Mean Girls”

“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical”

Best revival of a play:

“Angels in America”

“Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women”

“Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh”

“Lobby Hero”

“Travesties”

Best revival of a musical:

“My Fair Lady”

“Once On This Island”

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel”

Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play:

Andrew Garfield, “Angels in America”

Tom Hollander, “Travesties”

Jamie Parker, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”

Mark Rylance, “Farinelli and The King”

Denzel Washington, “Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh”

Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play:

Glenda Jackson, “Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women”

Condola Rashad, “Saint Joan”

Lauren Ridloff, “Children of a Lesser God”

Amy Schumer, “Meteor Shower”

Best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical:

Harry Hadden-Paton, “My Fair Lady”

Joshua Henry, “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel”

Tony Shalhoub, “The Band’s Visit”

Ethan Slater, “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical”

Best performance by an actress in a leading role in a musical:

Lauren Ambrose, “My Fair Lady”

Hailey Kilgore, “Once On This Island”

LaChanze, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”

Katrina Lenk, “The Band’s Visit”

Taylor Louderman, “Mean Girls”

Jessie Mueller, “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel”

Best direction of a play:

Marianne Elliott, “Angels in America”

Joe Mantello, “Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women”

Patrick Marber, “Travesties”

John Tiffany, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two”

George C. Wolfe, “Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh”

Best direction of a musical:

Michael Arden, “Once On This Island”

David Cromer, “The Band’s Visit”

Tina Landau, “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical”

Casey Nicholaw, “Mean Girls”

Bartlett Sher, “My Fair Lady”

Best book of a musical:

“The Band’s Visit”

“Frozen”

“Mean Girls”

“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical”

Best original score (music and/or lyrics):

“Angels in America”

“The Band’s Visit”

“Frozen”

“Mean Girls”

“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical”