Now that we’ve just despatched our own Olivier Awards for the year, it’s time to turn our attentions across the Atlantic and the Tony Awards, the nominations for which were announced on Tuesday.
And unlike the Olivier Awards, the Tonys have real commercial and marketing clout – particularly for musicals. It is also necessary to receive a best musical nomination to be guaranteed a performance slot on the all-important (and live!) CBS national Tony telecast. (Whereas here, of course, despite the fact that Loserville got a best nomination award its composer James Bourne was sent to the outdoor piazza stage, and then not shown on the telecast at all).
So speculation is always rife about which four shows will make the cut. And this year, it appears that the nominators were so determined to shut out Motown – a commercial juggernaut but a show that belongs on a posh ocean liner, not a luxury Broadway house – that they unusually favoured two long-shut shows over it for two of the slots: last year’s Bring It On and seasonal Christmas filler A Christmas Story (though I gather that the latter is planning an annual comeback – plans that will surely be carried through now).
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, meanwhile, though new to Broadway, is based on an old TV musical (broadcast live in 1957) so was folded into the revivals category – an interesting distinction which, if it had been applied here, would have rendered Top Hat ineligible at Sunday’s Olivier Awards. (Cinderella has, of course, been seen on the West End stage before now – when Tommy Steele did a panto adaptation at the London Coliseum in 1958, that also incorporated songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet; and New York City Opera have also done versions.)
But the contest in the musicals category is really between Broadway’s own Kinky Boots (by way of Northampton, where the 2005 film was set, so we can claim a bit of credit, too!) and RSC import Matilda, winner of the most Olivier Awards last year in London. Intriguingly, Kinky Boots is slightly ahead of the game already, with 13 nominations to Matilda’s 12.
Matilda, of course, leads the British charge on the Tony Awards, with star Bertie Carvel (reprising his London role as Miss Trunchbull, for which he has already won the Olivier), director Matthew Warchus, book writer Dennis Kelly, designer Rob Howell (double nominated for his sets and costumes), lighting designer Hugh Vanstone (up against Kenneth Posner, Kenneth Posner and Kenneth Posner, for Kinky Boots, Pippin and Cinderella respectively; it’ll be tough luck for Posner to lose out to Vanstone, but he is inevitably going to split his own vote this way) and orchestrator Chris Nightingale all nominated, plus Australian Tim Minchin (now resident in London) for his Best Original Score, and American performers Gabriel Ebert and Lauren Ward (who originated the role of Miss Honey in Stratford-upon-Avon, and is coincidentally married to the director so now usually resident in England).
Playbill.com (for which I also write) does a brilliant feature every year where they speak to those nominated for their instant reactions, and there’s a delightfully British one from Dennis Kelly:
I was in a local café having a coffee and a very sort of fatty sandwich, and Jackie from the press office called up and told us. I was pleased. I mean, I was quietly pleased because it was a very small café, and it doesn’t do to go around shouting, “Oh my God, I’ve been nominated for a Tony.”
Matilda, however, or rather the four Matildas currently sharing the title role, have already got one Tony in the bag: they’ve been awarded a Tony Honor for Excellence in the theatre. That’s a neat way around the inevitability of the Billy Elliot equivalent in 2009, where the three boys who shared the title role were put up jointly for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, and of course won it – thus wiping out the competition unfairly, especially as all the Tony voters wouldn’t have necessarily seen all three, so voted for something they hadn’t seen!
There are, by the way, some 868 people that qualify as Tony voters this year – so that’s an awful lot of free tickets that are going to be given out (not to mention goodie bags of CDs and souvenir brochures) in the coming weeks to ensure that they’ve all seen everything, as they’re supposed to, before they cast their votes. There is, as I have noted in a feature in today’s print edition of The Stage, no equivalent mechanism in place with the reworked Olivier Awards, that are now judged by the former panel of nine, plus all 153 SOLT members, so it’s a lot more hit and miss as to what our judges will actually have seen.
If Matilda is Britain’s main contender, we also have couple of nominations scattered around elsewhere, though not as many as usual as we’ve not had a major play transferring from the National (like One Man Two Guvnors last year or War Horse the year before) or Donmar (like Red in 2010) or elsewhere. But its nice to see Tom Sturridge up for Best Actor in a Play for his role in Orphans (the only one of the three actors in the play to be nominated), in a category that also includes Tom Hanks, Nathan Lane, Tracy Letts and David Hyde Pierce, and Soutra Gilmour nominated for her costumes for Jamie Lloyd’s revival of Cyrano de Bergerac.
But if a lot of the spotlight inevitably falls now on those in contention for the awards, there’s also an even bigger category of people who’ve been snubbed. And this year, they’re in good company: amongst those who won’t be collecting awards on June 10 are Bette Midler, as well as our own Alan Cumming and Fiona Shaw, all of them for the one-person shows they’re currently appearing in on Broadway (though in Shaw’s case, not for much longer: in the wake of her failure to be nominated, though the play was, it is closing this weekend on May 5). Nor have Alec Baldwin, Jessica Chastain, Scarlett Johansson and Katie Holmes been nominated for their star turns in respectively the still-running Orphans, and the shuttered The Heirress, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Dead Accounts.
The New York Times also noted another exclusion:
Bombshell, Julia Houston and Tom Levitt’s new musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, was entirely shut out, perhaps because it is completely fictitious and exists only on the NBC series “Smash,” and hence not eligible for real Tony Awards.