With the announcement of the 2015 Tony Awards nominations this morning, a busy and better-than-average Broadway season begins its crescendo toward Sunday, June 7, when the winners will be announced, in a ceremony broadcast on CBS and cohosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, from Radio City Music Hall. (IMHO, the Tonys, not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, should be known as nerd prom.)
The headline news from the nominations is the head-to-head battle for Best Musical between Fun Home, the heart-rending family drama in song based on the cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name, and An American in Paris, the airborne stage adaptation of the beloved MGM musical that brings ballet to Broadway, both of which received twelve nominations. Both are critical darlings and audience pleasers, but I’d put my money on An American in Paris simply because a buoyant love story between an American ex-GI and a French gamine set in post-World War II Paris probably has more commercial appeal than a bleakly comic account of a lesbian cartoonist’s coming to terms with her closeted gay father’s suicide in Reagan-era Pennsylvania, and Tony voters (unlike Oscar voters) tend to vote for the box office. That said, watch for Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron to win for Fun Home’s knockout score.
I wouldn’t put much hope in the chances of the other nominees in the category, the bawdy Shakespeare musical Something Rotten! (ten nominations) and the dark Kander and Ebb adaptation of Dürrenmatt’s The Visit (five nominations). Other new musicals this season didn’t fare as well, nomination-wise, with Gigi receiving just one and It Shoulda Been You, Doctor Zhivago, Living on Love, and the critical flop-commercial blockbuster Finding Neverland earning a combined total of zero.
But forgive me if I doff my stone-hearted critic’s hat for a moment and put on my beaming sonny boy’s knee pants to report that the numeral that means the most to me is nine. That’s the number of combined nominations earned between the critically heralded revivals of On the Town and On the Twentieth Century, both of whose books and lyrics were written by my father Adolph Green and his partner Betty Comden, and boy do I wish that my dad were here to see two of his shows a) running on Broadway right next door to each other, and b) competing for Best Revival of a Musical. The third contender in the category is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious The King and I, which earned an impressive nine nominations, and though a case could be made for any of the three to deserve to win, I can’t help but root for the family honor. If I had my druthers, the award would go to On the Town, the first musical by my father and Comden, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Robbins, which exudes youthful bravado and élan and features rapturous music by Bernstein that is as gorgeous as anything ever written for the stage. (Joshua Bergasse’s exuberant dances pay homage to Robbins, and the race for Best Choreography will be between him and An American in Paris’s Christopher Wheeldon.)
Despite a number of very fine plays on the boards, this wasn’t a season for bold, groundbreaking new dramas. Nick Payne’s brainy and heartfelt Constellations, which I loved, failed to get nominated for Best Play, though Robert Askins’s hilarious and profane Hand to God, which originated off-Broadway to become a sleeper hit, did. (Peter Morgan’s The Audience also got snubbed.) Among the other nominees, I wasn’t as big a fan of Disgraced as everyone else was, and though I devoured Wolf Hall Parts One & Two as if I were binge-watching them on Netflix, for me the production carried the day more than the plays themselves. My pick is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which though it also relies heavily on superb (and in this case eye-popping) stagecraft, is a beautiful and expert adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel by the prolific Simon Stephens.
Similarly, I expect the recent Juilliard grad Alex Sharp to win Best Leading Actor in a Play for his fierce, moving performance of a boy who appears to have Asperger’s navigating a strange world, beating out a very strong field that includes Steven Boyer (Hand to God), Bradley Cooper (The Elephant Man), and Ben Miles (Wolf Hall Parts One & Two). And though the great Bill Nighy, who is nominated in the category for his crackling performance as an entrepreneur done in by love in Skylight, probably won’t win, Stephen Daldry’s superlative staging of David Hare’s politically tinged romance probably will (for Best Revival of a Play). And Skylight’s luminous Carey Mulligan, who is staking a claim as the finest stage actress of her generation, will battle it out for Best Leading Actress in a Play with the estimable Helen Mirren who, if she wins, will join the short list of actors to take home both an Oscar and a Tony for the same role (that would be Queen Elizabeth II).
My family loyalty comes out once again when it comes to Best Leading Actor in a Musical: I’d love to see the award go to Tony Yazbeck, who brings an effortless, large-hearted masculinity (and balletic athleticism) to his turn as the lovelorn sailor Gabey in On the Town. But the race will probably be a toss-up between Michael Cerveris, as a suburban dad with a dark secret in Fun Home, and Robert Fairchild, as the Yankee who’s gotta dance in An American in Paris. The most hotly contested category—and the hardest call—is Best Leading Actress in a Musical. It’s anyone’s guess whether the award will go to Kelli O’Hara, proving once again that she is our era’s most enchanting interpreter of Rodgers and Hammerstein in The King and I (it’s her sixth nomination), Kristin Chenoweth, who is giving the madcap performance of her career as a narcissistic 1930s movie star (is there any other kind?) in On the Twentieth Century, or Chita Rivera, who is showing, eight times a week, that she’s still got the stuff at age 82 in The Visit. Like all awards shows, the Tonys are too long and can often be dopey, but that’s the kind of drama that keeps theater nerds tuning in.