Second of a two-part look at Tony nominations.
With Broadway showing renewed energy this year, thanks to a surge of quality across the boards, upcoming nominations for the 60th Tony Awards figure to generate plenty of conversation — and not just among the theater elite.
This year's nominees, selected by a group of 27 theater professionals ranging from Sarah Jessica Parker to Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell ("Kiss Me Kate"), figure to have something for everybody.
The musical category, for instance, is fiercely competitive. That's a welcome change from recent years, when "The Producers" and "Hairspray" swept the board. And in the drama category, there was early speculation that all four nominees could be imports for the first time in 40 years, but domestic offerings have made some noise of late.
Here, in the second of a two-part look at Tony contenders ahead of the May 16 nominations, is an examination of leading candidates for the best play and best musical categories.
Best Musical: The Frontrunners
"Jersey Boys": This tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons garnered respectable reviews and is proving to be an audience favorite. It also has endless touring possibilities — those all important road producers form a powerful voting bloc for the Tonys, though few sit on the nominating committee. The sure direction of Tony winner Des McAnuff ("Tommy") and a solid book co-written by Oscar winning screenwriter Marshall Brickman ("Annie Hall") elevate this show above the standard issue jukebox musical (see last season's "All Shook Up" or "Good Vibrations," or, on second thought, don't!) Look for lead John Lloyd Young, making his Broadway debut, to be a strong contender for Best Actor.
"The Color Purple": Oprah Winfrey gave her imprimatur to this musical adaptation of the beloved novel by Alice Walker with music and lyrics by Broadway newcomers Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray and a book by Tony winner Marsha Norman ("Night Mother"). While the show and its star, Broadway vet LaChanze, got good reviews, Tony prognosticators should remember that the film version went 0 for 11 at the Oscars and the Drama Desk didn't even give this version a nomination.
"The Drowsy Chaperone": An original musical — an increasing rarity on the Rialto — "Chaperone" started off as a 20-minute wedding present to star Bob Martin, who then worked on the book with Don McKellar while pals Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison fashioned the words and music. Winner of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, this charming musical offers an old-fashioned '20s song-and-dance show within the context of a modern story. Opened May 1 to solid reviews, this tuner stars Tony winner Sutton Foster ("Thoroughly Modern Millie") along with Broadway vets Danny Burstein and Edward Hibbert as well as the delicious Georgia Engel ( "The Mary Tyler Moore Show").
"The Wedding Singer": This adaptation of the Adam Sandler movie opened April 27 to decent reviews and good notices for star Stephen Lynch in his Broadway debut. Lynch is ably supported by three Broadway lovelies — Laura Benanti ("Swing") in the Drew Barrymore role, Amy Spanger ("Kiss Me Kate") Spanger as the jilted fiancée and Rita Gardner, the original girl in "The Fantastiks," as the rapping granny. Broadway newcomers Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin have fashioned a score that recreates the best of '80s pop music (if there is such a thing). All this is under the direction of John Rando, a Tony winner for helming Urinetown.
Best Musical: The Longshots
"Tarzan": The latest show churned out by the Disney factory is an adaptation of the hit toon with music and lyrics by Phil Collins and a book by David Hwang ("M Butterfly"). While critics call it a case of style over substance, this $15 million spectacular under the direction of veteran set and costume designer Bob Crowley, already boasts a healthy $20 million advance.
"The Woman In White": The latest epic musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber suffered from mixed reviews, tepid sales, a rash of illnesses befalling the cast and closed after an unlucky 13 weeks.
Best Play: The Frontrunners
"Rabbit Hole": This searing drama from David Lindsay-Abaire is a wrenching account of parents dealing with the death of a child. The cast of this Manhattan Theatre Club production, including Emmy winners Cynthia Nixon and Tyne Daly, delivered stunning performances, and the play is already being touted as a contender for next year's Pulitzer Prize in drama. "Rabbit Hole" marks Lindsay-Abaire's Broadway debut, and its realistic structure is a marked departure from the playwright's absurdist roots. The playwright is also branching out, in partnership with Dreamworks, writing the screenplay for the animated film Robots and working on the book for the Broadway bound musical adaptation of Shrek.
"Shining City": The latest work from Irish playwright Conor McPherson, previously represented on Broadway by "The Weir," is also from Manhattan Theatre Club. A raw drama, it showcases Tony winner Brian O'Byrne ("Frozen") as a Dublin therapist treating a man (Emmy nominee Oliver Platt in his Broadway debut) after the tragic loss of his wife ( Martha Plimpton). McPherson, 35, is one of the leading voices of his generation and has found a home for his works with the prestigious Royal Court Theatre in London.
"The History Boys": Direct from the Royal National Theatre, the latest comedy-drama from Alan Bennett ("Talking Heads") swept London's three major theatrical awards — the Olivier, Evening Standard, and London Critics' Circle — for Best Play last year. The 20-week Broadway engagement, which opened April 23 to rapturous reviews, features the original London cast, including Richard Griffiths as an idealistic teacher, Frances De La Tour as his cynical colleague, dishy Stephen Campbell Moore as a young upstart, and a history classroom full of high school seniors. If you can't make it to New York, don't despair; they recreated their roles in a film version due out this fall. Bennett, winner of a Special Tony Award back in 1963 as part of the fab four who made up Beyond The Fringe (along with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller), has written more than two dozen plays but only one other, "Habeas Corpus," made it to Broadway.
"The Lieutenant of Inishmore": After a critically acclaimed run Off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre (home to David Mamet and William H. Macy), this dark comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh on Broadway. Only McDonagh, 36, could write this twisted tale of an IRA terrorist obsessed with his cat and the efforts of his cohorts to hide the kitty's death from him. McDonagh was a Tony nominee for "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (1998), "The Lonesome West" (1999), and "Pillowman" (2005) and an Oscar winner this year for his live action short "Six Shooter." "Inishmore" won the Olivier for Best New Comedy in 2003 and the Evening Standard Award for Best Play in 2002. Enamored by American playwrights like Mamet and Shepard, McDonagh wrote "Beauty Queen" in eight days.
Best Play: The Longshots
"A Naked Girl On The Appian Way": Last fall's Roundabout Theatre production from Tony winner Richard Greenberg ("Take Me Out") starred Jill Clayburgh and Richard Thomas in an offbeat comedy about, of all things, incest.
"Primo": This intense one-man show was adapted by star Antony Sher from Holocaust survivor Primo Levi's riveting memoirs. While critics lavished praised upon Sher's performance last summer, the play was found by most to be less than the sum of its parts.
"Well": Critic's darling Lisa Kron wrote and stars in this semi-autobiographical comedy drama about a daughter's struggles with her ailing mother. This production opened to some of the best reviews of the season, but its early closing all but eliminates it out of the race. However, look for a nomination for veteran actress Jayne Houdyshell — making her Broadway debut after three decades of stellar stage work — as the miserable mother.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times