“SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Mean Girls” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
“Angels in America,” “Carousel” and “My Fair Lady.”
When the Tony Award nominations were announced Tuesday, leading the pack were titles that reflected Broadway’s penchant for the familiar this season, the kind of franchise-mining that the TV and film world has perfected through spinoffs, sequels and reboots.
“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical,” inspired by the Nickelodeon series, and “Mean Girls,” adapted from the 2004 movie, led the Tony nominations with 12 apiece. Revivals of “Angels in America” and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel” each received 11 nods, while the two-part “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “My Fair Lady” each received 10.
The art-house exception to this year’s rule: “The Band’s Visit,” based on a 2007 Israeli film, scored 11 nominations for its tale of a group of Egyptian musicians who get stranded in a sleepy Israeli town. With Tony-nominated stars Tony Shaloub and Katrina Lenk and music by David Yazbek, “The Band’s Visit” will be the front-runner for best musical — a category that also includes “Mean Girls,” “SpongeBob” and Disney’s adaptation of “Frozen,” which received a meager three nominations.
“We are just happy to be at the table,” “Band’s Visit” director David Cromer said of his larger-than-life competition. “I’ve been doing theater a long time, and any season is made of so many different things — grand things and small things and delicate things, and giant themes like ‘Angels in America,’ and little quiet themes like ours.”
The show to beat in the best play category is “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” whose nominations included direction (John Tiffany), leading actor (Jamie Parker), featured actor and actress (Anthony Boyle and Noma Dumezweni), plus scenic design, lighting design, sound design, costume design and choreography.
The production, written by Jack Thorne and based on the characters of J.K. Rowling, will face off for best play against “The Children” (two nominations) by Lucy Kirkwood, “Farinelli and the King” (five nominations) by Claire van Kampen, “Junk” (two nominations) by Ayad Akhtar and “Latin History for Morons” (one nomination) by John Leguizamo.
Hailed for bringing a fresh kind of magic to the theater, “Harry Potter” transferred from London’s West End to Broadway, where it has been a critical and commercial success — and just one example of the kind of pop-culture franchise that can reduce producers’ financial risk.
“Commercial theater, and musical theater, is a really risky venture. It’s very expensive. It’s possible to have a great success, but it’s really unlikely,” said playwright Itamar Moses, who was nominated for writing the book for “The Band’s Visit.” He said he didn’t think the intimate show would make it to Broadway, let alone find itself near the top on nominations day.
“I don’t blame anyone for trying to hedge against that risk by adapting a really well known property, and it’s not always cynical. …The art form continues to have room for different kinds of shows.”
Others have noted that some of this season’s spinoffs have tried to be standalone works of art, not re-creations of what has already been seen on-screen. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is an original story, introducing audiences to a completely grown-up title character. “SpongeBob” tried a similar approach.
“I sometimes forget that our source material is this beloved cartoon, because we were given such freedom from Nickelodeon — not only to not copy, but they encouraged us to really find something new,” said Tina Landau, the show’s director. “Our story is completely original. Our score is completely original.”
Revivals also rose to the top of this year’s nominations. The 11 for “Carousel” included ones for lead actor (Joshua Henry), lead actress (Jessie Mueller), featured actress (Renee Fleming and Lindsay Mendez) and choreography (Justin Peck). The 10 for “My Fair Lady” included lead actress (Lauren Ambrose), lead actor (Harry Hadden-Paton) and featured actor and actress (Norbert Leo Butz and Diana Rigg). Those two productions will compete for best musical revival against “Once on This Island,” which has eight nominations.
The 11 nominations for Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” included best direction (Marianne Elliott). It will compete for best revival of a play against Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” (six nominations), Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” (eight nominations), Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero” (three nominations) and Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties” (four nominations).
“Angels” actors Andrew Garfield (lead) and Nathan Lane (featured) weren’t the only familiar names among this year’s nominees. Amy Schumer got a nod for lead actress for the play “Meteor Shower,” and Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf were nominated for lead and featured actress, respectively, in “Three Tall Women.” Michael Cera and “Atlanta” star Brian Tyree Henry both were recognized for their featured performances in “Lobby Hero.”
Denzel Washington has been amassing rave reviews for his lead role in “The Iceman Cometh,” for which he received his second Tony nomination, following a 2010 nod for “Fences.”
“Coming back to Broadway is like coming home again,” the actor said in a statement. “ ‘The Iceman Cometh’ experience has been especially gratifying, working with our sensational director George C. Wolfe and my 18 wonderful castmates.”
Tina Fey was nominated for her book for “Mean Girls.” Her husband, Jeff Richmond, was nominated with lyricist Nell Benjamin for their “Mean Girls” original score. Its stiffest competition might be “The Band’s Visit” and “SpongeBob,” whose score features music by David Bowie, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper and Alex Ebert, among others.
When Katharine McPhee and Leslie Odom Jr. read the nominations on behalf of the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, they also announced that Bruce Springsteen and Leguizamo would each receive special Tony Awards. Springsteen will be honored for “Springsteen on Broadway,” Leguizamo for his body of work over three decades and his dedication to telling diverse stories.
The 72nd Tony Awards ceremony will be held at Radio City Music Hall on June 10, hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban.