ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

For Tony Award nominations 2014, tried-and-true triumphs — mostly

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NEW YORK — With Broadway increasingly relying on stars, glitz and noise — often timed to hit just weeks before the Tony Awards deadline — the nominations for this year's prizes took a different path.

The most-nominated show when the 40-member committee announced its choices Tuesday was a less star-driven production, a musical  that relied on traditional Broadway genre elements and opened back in November--"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." which received 10 nominations, including best musical. The most-nominated revival of a play, meanwhile, was the durable mainstay "The Glass Menagerie" with seven nominations, including best revival of a play--and which began its run all the way back in September and closed in February.

Splashy shows that opened in the pre-deadline stretch run, including "Cabaret," "Bullets Over Broadway" and "Rocky"? They were shut out of nearly every major category.

The selections point to a subtle truth: Even though productions have gotten bigger, stars brighter and marketing campaigns louder, the Tonys are just as likely to prefer the tried-and true. The main challenger to "Gentleman's Guide" — and only other show to land both best musical and lead-acting nominations — is the Carole King biography "Beautiful," a sweet, traditional musical starring the young Broadway workhorse Jessie Mueller

"This is not a big, glitzy show. This is a traditional and warm show," said "Beautiful" producer Paul Blake. "There is a positivity and humor to it that just makes people happy."

He added that he deliberately chose to open in January so "Beautiful" could build word-of-mouth "before all the spring juggernauts came in."

PHOTOS: Tony Awards 2014 - Top nominees

"Beautiful" also will compete against the Cotton Club-era revue "After Midnight" — each received seven nominations amid this year's love-for-many vibe — as well as Disney's "Aladdin" for best musical, the Tonys' top prize. (Nominators pointedly did not make use of an optional fifth slot despite a rule change meant to allow for an expansion.)

The Tonys, presented by the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing, are voted on by about 870 theater professionals. The 2014 prizes will be handed out at Radio City Music Hall on June 8 in a ceremony hosted by Hugh Jackman and broadcast on CBS.

An off-Broadway hit making its Broadway debut — but a revival in the Tonys' eyes — "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's rock musical about a transgender East German singer, was probably the highest-profile production to land a cache of nominations. It picked up eight, including best revival of a musical and lead actor in a musical for Neil Patrick Harris.

But Harris was one of the exceptions among the glitterati.

Hollywood megastar Denzel Washington, tipped as a near-certain nominee for his well reviewed turn as Walter Lee Younger in Kenny Leon's "A Raisin in the Sun" revival," was shut out of the lead actor in a play category. (Acting spots instead went to longer shots Samuel Barnett of "Twelfth Night" and Chris O'Dowd of "Of Mice and Men," who joined pre-announcement favorites Mark Rylance of "Richard III," Bryan Cranston of "All the Way" and Tony Shalhoub of "Act One.")

Washington's lesser-known costars, on the other hand, picked up three nominations. LaTanya Richardson Jackson was shortlisted for lead actress in a play while Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose were nominated in the featured actress category, serving as a kind of metaphor for the Tonys' preference, at least in many instances this year, for blue-collar actors over Hollywood émigrés.

Play nominees were similarly low key. There were no surprises in the four revival nominees, as Martin McDonagh's "The Cripple of Inishmaan" joined "Raisin," "Menagerie" and "Twelfth Night."

And the four new play nominees — James Lapine's adaptation of Moss Hart's "Act One," Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way," Harvey Fierstein's" Casa Valentina" and Terrence McNally's "Mothers and Sons" — were joined not by downtown upstart Will Eno for his edgy, starry Broadway debut, "The Realistic Joneses," but the more traditional "Outside Mullingar," a quaint Irish countryside romance by John Patrick Shanley.

The Tonys of course don't always mind the big spectacle — last year's dominant force was "Kinky Boots" — but this year is hardly an anomaly, either. The big winner in 2012, for instance, was the intimate, out-of-nowhere "Once."

"Gentleman's Guide" is a similarly unexpected contender, having begun on the Hartford Stage and continued to the Old Globe in San Diego last season, in so doing missing the kind of pre-opening heat accompanying many of the larger-scale productions. The tale of murder and inheritance, which will look to capitalize on the Tonys attention at the box office, now has a good shot in many categories (they include direction of a musical for Darko Tresnjak and lead actor in a musical for both Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham). But it will have its work cut out for it in the best musical category as it competes against shows that may be more front-of-mind for voters.

On Tuesday, Tresnjak noted "Gentleman's" modest roots with writers Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak.

"It's our first Broadway show, so we're a pretty humble bunch," said Tresnjak, the Southland theater veteran and former artistic director of the Old Globe's Shakespeare Festival, of the trio. "Part of [the] success of the show was that we had a three-stage process," he said, nodding to the earlier runs, adding that Freedman and Lutvak have been toiling on the show for 10 years.

Perhaps the most intriguing acting race, meanwhile, comes in lead actress in a musical, where Broadway's full range of talent is on display.

The slight favorite might be "Beautiful's" strongly reviewed Mueller — who has appeared in four shows since coming to Broadway just a little more than three years ago — but she will compete against a number of stage giants. There's the six-time nominee Sutton Foster ("Violet"), three-time nominee Idina Menzel ("If/Then") and five-time nominee Kelli O'Hara ("The Bridges of Madison County"), along with upstart Mary Bridget Davies from "A Night With Janis Joplin," who has notched a leading actress Tony nomination in her first Broadway appearance.

Things are equally imposing on the leading actress in a play side, as Audra McDonald goes for a record sixth Tony win for her turn as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." Standing in her way will be veterans Tyne Daly ("Mothers and Sons"), Estelle Parsons ("The Velocity of Autumn") and Cherry Jones ("The Glass Menagerie) along with Richardson Jackson.

But for all these Broadway names, Tuesday's announcements were sometimes as notable for the names they left out. "Cabaret" landed just two nominations, as voters displayed resistance to the revival of a show with many of the same elements as one that opened in 1998.

Meanwhile, the pre-opening contenders "Bullets and "Rocky" — derived from the hit Woody Allen and John Avildsen movies — landed six and four nominations, respectively, but most were in smaller categories. (Allen received a book nomination for his adaptation, and Andy Karl landed a lead actor in a musical spot for his title role in the boxing drama.) That could put "Rocky" and "Bullets" in dire commercial straits.

They wouldn't be alone. The little-seen elder drama "Velocity of Autumn," with weak reviews and even weaker sales, announced Tuesday it would close Sunday — despite, in this year's spreading-it-around spirit, a Tony nomination for Parsons.

Times staff writer David Ng contributed to this report.

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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