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Richard Jordan: Tony nominations intensify the addictive highs and depressing lows of producing

Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus is nominated in the best play category. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
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“There’s a moment you know you’re fucked,” runs the lyric in Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s 2006 Tony-winning best musical Spring Awakening. And it’s a line that would be appropriate for the annual Tony nominations announcement.

The 2019 nominees were announced in New York last week. And within about 30 minutes, many fates were decided. If you are ‘in the room where it happens’ as indeed Hamilton was in 2016 when it became the most-nominated Tony production in Broadway history, then you will experience both jubilation and disappointment standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

For a production, nominations offer a boost at the box office, sometimes a much-needed one. But missing out makes such occasions feel very depressing and the job of producing a lonely occupation. There is considerable relief for those who get the nominations they had hoped for and elation for those surprised by nods they were not expecting.

Nominations reflect the addictive highs and depressing lows of producing and how such fortunes alarmingly and at almost any stage in a career can change on a dime. In 2013, I co-produced the play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang  on Broadway, which was nominated (and eventually won) in the category of best play. My friend and mentor, producer Michael Codron, gave me a great bit of advice, which was to “enjoy every second of it but don’t let it go to your head”.

In 2019, there is no Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen chewing up all the column inches. This has, arguably, afforded a wider mix of nominees, and highlighted that in theatre everything is unpredictable.

This is a year when many pundits got their predictions wrong. There was no nomination for To Kill a Mockingbird in the best play category despite the production only announcing the week before it had broken box office records at the Shubert Theatre. There were no best musical nods for Be More Chill as some had predicted, no best revival for True West, and no best actress nomination for Glenda Jackson in King Lear. However, 87-year-old Elaine May did see her performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s play The Waverley Gallery make it on to the ballot sheet.

Then there were the surprises. From its mixed reaction, Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus did not look a likely best play nominee but made it onto the list. It’s also a reason not to feel sorry for To Kill a Mockingbird missing out. Scott Rudin – currently the biggest producer on Broadway – produced both shows and while To Kill a Mockingbird does not need the help, Gary certainly does.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s lack of inclusion in the best play category may even be a political one by an industry making a point. The press has run stories in past months both in the US and UK of Rudin’s decision to block professional productions of the play by other adaptors including a high-profile tour in the UK. This may be industry voters saying they will not be bullied.

While The Cher Show was not nominated for best musical, the Bryan Adams-composed Pretty Woman failed to gain a single nomination in any category, although I did feel its lead Samantha Barks worthy of a nod. This may well mean that neither Cher nor Adams will bother attending or performing at at the awards.

However, it would be a nice gesture of support if they did still turn up and a great boost for the Tonys TV ratings. Despite no chance of a statuette, both shows could be big winners on the night should they perform, with a viewing public of potential bookers.

Hadestown received 14 nominations – a stark difference from the Oliviers where it failed to score a single one. I was pleased to see André De Shields’ performance in the production recognised with a nomination that I felt had been overlooked in London.

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Maybe The Prom will steal the award from under the other best musical nominees’ noses. A little like 2014 winner A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love And Murder, there is a lot of love in this comedy musical about a putting on a musical – and Broadway loves a show about its own. With its nomination, there are enough commercial chops for a decent national tour and winning the big award would be seen by out-of-town voters as helpful with their marketing.

For some shows, which arrive at the nominations a bit battered and bruised, much hope is pinned on getting an all-important Tony nomination. It can even feel like a last roll of the dice.

New musical Be More Chill was maybe this year’s big loser. The general view had been expectations of a best musical nomination and maybe a sprinkling of other categories. However, it garnered just one – best score – for its composer Joe Iconis. The show is not without a young fan-base, which is good news for college licensing, but unfortunately, it needs to sell more than just discounted tickets to keep it afloat on Broadway. It’s also a hard blow for a show that has been on a long journey via the regions and Off-Broadway before finally reaching the Great White Way.

For the nominations, does fortune favour the brave? And what about the risks involved in being brave with a show? Experience, belief, and a strong understanding of the craft – marrying creativity and business acumen with pragmatism – should mean that those with no nominations have the ability and desire to try again next year.

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