The Tony Awards proved to be a big fan of the underworld, vaulting “Hadestown” and its folk-operatic reimagining of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth into front-runner status Tuesday with 14 nominations.
“Ain't Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations,” the hit-packed bio-musical that had an earlier run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, followed with 12 nominations. "Tootsie," the musical comedy based on the 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie, had 11 nominations including one for lead actor Santino Fontana, a front-runner in that category.
Those three productions will face off in the marquee best musical race against “Beetlejuice,” an adaptation of the 1988 supernatural movie starring Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder, which finished with eight nominations; and “The Prom,” a heartwarming show about a high school student banned from bringing her girlfriend to their small-town dance, with seven nominations.
“Hadestown,” with book, music and lyrics by Anais Mitchell and direction by Rachel Chavkin, has drawn acclaim since its origin as a 2010 concept album from a regional theater production. It was staged in Canada and London before Broadway. Featured actress Amber Gray, who nabbed a nomination alongside castmates Eva Noblezada, André De Shields and Patrick Page, said the musical’s appeal stemmed from the contrast between its romantic story lines and its anti-capitalist allegory.
“I think Americans in particular are really craving this sort of story right now, something that acknowledges the current political situation onstage but also has these two love stories that just crack people open,” Gray said by phone Tuesday. “That simple idea of hope is so needed right now.”
The shows in contention for best play are “The Ferryman,” Jez Butterworth's ensemble piece set during the Troubles of Northern Ireland in 1981, which has nine nominations; “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Heidi Schreck’s autobiographical and political commentary piece, two nominations; “Ink,” the hit London transfer that recounts how Rupert Murdoch transformed the British tabloid the Sun, six nominations; “Choir Boy,” Tarell Alvin McCraney's drama about a prestigious prep school for African American boys (staged at the Geffen Playhouse in 2014), four nominations; and “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” Taylor Mac's response to Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy starring Nathan Lane, which overcame decidedly mixed reviews to score seven nominations.
Notably absent from the best play contenders: Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Lee Hall’s adaptation of the Oscar-winning 1976 film “Network” — although “Mockingbird” did score nine nominations and “Network” five.
“The Ferryman” follows members of an Irish clan who, during the autumn harvest, are unexpectedly disturbed by a visitor at their farmhouse. With nominations for director Sam Mendes and three actors of the show’s ensemble — and a running time of more than three hours — it has emerged as the play to beat.
“I think audiences, be it theater or TV or novels, etc., are totally happy to spend hours on something they connect with,” Butterworth said Tuesday via email. “But I also get that it’s entirely reasonable to want to eat dinner before midnight! I’ll try to make the next one shorter.”
With so many new musicals debuting this season, only two revivals were eligible for nominations. An edgy production of “Oklahoma!,” which earned eight nominations, will go head to head with “Kiss Me, Kate,” which collected four. It is the first time in eight years that only two shows will compete for best musical revival.
Kelli O’Hara, star of “Kiss Me, Kate,” called it “a home run of a season” for new work. Although she leads a revival, she added, “This is exactly where we want to be — moving forward, hearing from new voices, attacking new subjects in our art. The seasons where we don’t have enough new stuff going on, I think those are the ones to worry about.”
On collecting her seventh Tony nomination, O’Hara said by phone: “It never gets old. I’m incredibly grateful and excited. It’s satisfying to work hard and have such a thing happen.”
The nominees for best revival of a play are “All My Sons,” the Arthur Miller classic with three nominations; “Burn This,” the revival of Lanford Wilson’s intimate drama, three nominations; “The Waverly Gallery,” Kenneth Lonergan’s memory play about a woman battling Alzheimer’s, two nominations; “The Boys in the Band,” Mart Crowley’s 1968 dramedy about pre-Stonewall gay men in New York, two nominations; and “Torch Song,” Harvey Fierstein’s historic work about a gay drag performer, two nominations.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Tonys without a bit of star power. Jeff Daniels got a nod for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as did Bryan Cranston for “Network.” Annette Bening was nominated for “All My Sons,” a revival of the Arthur Miller classic that got three nominations. Adam Driver got the nod for “Burn This,” the revival of Lanford Wilson’s intimate drama, also with three nominations. Laurie Metcalf was the sole nominee for “Hillary and Clinton,” Lucas Hnath’s imagining of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, as was Ruth Wilson for the gender-swapped staging of “King Lear.”
“It’s hard to stay ‘mad as hell’ when you’re nominated for a Tony!” Cranston said Tuesday morning in a statement that quoted the famous line of his “Network” character. As a 2014 Tony winner for “All the Way” and an Olivier Award (London’s equivalent of the Tony) winner for “Network,” Cranston is the frontrunner for lead actor, with his biggest challenge likely to come from Daniels.
Familiar names not embraced by the Tonys this year included Glenda Jackson, the snubbed star of “King Lear,” as well as Keri Russell in “Burn This,” Tracy Letts for “All My Sons” and John Lithgow for “Hillary and Clinton.” Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano of “True West” and Lucas Hedges and Michael Cera for “The Waverly Gallery” also went overlooked. Armie Hammer missed out for “Straight White Men.” And though “The Boys in the Band” featured Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells in its ensemble, its only acting nomination went to Robin De Jesús for his standout featured performance.
Another surprise was the lack of love for “Be More Chill,” which centers on a teenage outcast whose popularity soars upon ingesting a pill-size supercomputer. The show, which evolved from a 2015 regional production cast recording that went viral, got only one nomination — for Joe Iconis’ score.
“The Cher Show,” the musical tracing the performer’s 50-plus years in showbiz, earned only three nominations (including nods for Stephanie J. Block’s lead performance and Bob Mackie’s costumes) but was left out of the best musical race. The ambitious “King Kong” spectacle, reimagining the 1932 tale of the giant ape tragically enchanted by an actress, was recognized in only three craft categories (scenic design, lighting design and sound design).