‘Great Comet’ leads Tony nominations with 12; strong showing for ‘Evan Hansen,’ ‘Doll’s House’
There are a lot more rooms where it’s happening.
Marking a dramatic shift from the dominance of “Hamilton” just a season ago, the Tony Awards on Tuesday nominated a highly eclectic range of shows, showing the theater business can carry on past its mega-hit and hinting at a bold future for Broadway.
Garnering slots in the top category of best musical were a story about social media in ahigh school (“Dear Evan Hansen”), a Newfoundland-set tale about the aftermath of Sept. 11 (“Come From Away”), an existential dark comedy that reinvented a Bill Murray film classic (“Groundhog Day the Musical”) and an experimentally flavored piece spotlighting 19th century Russia on the eve of Napoleon’s invasion (“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812”).
That last show — which just a few years ago was serving caviar and vodka in a makeshift Russian club downtown — led the field with 12 nominations, boosted by three acting and a host of technical nods, plus recognition for its director, Rachel Chavkin.
To theater insiders, the nominations for the June 11 awards ceremony offered proof that Broadway is thriving, with plays from original voices and musicals fueled by the same fresh sensibility that has powered song-based films such as “La La Land” and “Frozen” — shaking up what it means to mount a production in the country’s largest market.
“There is a glut of Broadway shows this year that all were trying to be themselves and not looking at, or to be, anyone else,” said Justin Paul, who with Benj Pasek was nominated for writing the score of “Dear Evan Hansen.” The pair also wrote the lyrics for “La La Land.”
Nor were the original voices limited to musicals. All four playwrights whose work grabbed best play slots — Paula Vogel for “Indecent,” Lynn Nottage for “Sweat,” J.T. Rogers for “Oslo” and Lucas Hnath for “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” the leader in play nominations with eight — were making their Broadway debuts, an almost unheard-of feat.
That the first two playwrights were women and a third, Hnath, dealt heavily with feminist issues underscored the diversity of nominees in another sense. During a season when the White House took aim at theater through proposed budget cuts to the NEA and President Trump’s “Hamilton” broadside on social media, the Tony Awards on Tuesday offered something of a riposte. Were she to take the prize, Nottage would become the first solo African American woman to win the Tony for best play.
Meanwhile, there was abundant attention for a female-driven musical revival in “Hello, Dolly!” and its star, Bette Midler, with the show’s ten nominations putting it at second-place overall Tuesday. A win for Midler as lead actress in a musical would give the female titan of the stage her first Tony. Before Tuesday, she’d never even been nominated.
“The house is on fire,” Chavkin said. “There is a substantial degree of institutional change at every level, whether it’s furthering people of color or women, or telling stories about different kinds of characters. I hope this is not just a moment but a hunger, a recognition the [presidential] times we live in are no joke.”
Chavkin’s piece, with a book and score by Dave Malloy (he received nominations for both), was at the forefront of the movement to honor a range of musicals.
Five such shows — “Come From Away,” “The Great Comet,” “Groundhog Day,” “Evan Hansen” and “Dolly” — received at least seven nominations on Tuesday. Last year, only three broke that barrier.
All told, 13 new musicals were eligible for Tonys this year, a very high number.
Some of the Broadway breadth is a function of productions waiting out the “Hamilton” juggernaut last year to open this season. But the diversity, many say, is also the result of audiences, producers and even nominators willing to take more risks after the mold-breaking success of “Hamilton,” which entered previews on Broadway nearly two years ago. Instead of a post-“Hamilton” letdown, there is a boom.
“From ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to ‘The Book of Mormon,’ the radicalization of musical theater isn’t new,” said “Groundhog” composer Tim Minchin, nominated for original score. “But quite quickly in the past few years the perceived boundaries of what a successful musical can look like or sound like or be about has been pushing outward. ‘Hamilton’ then smashed it all open, and now look what we have.”
The season had such an embarrassment of riches that, ironically, when the 850 Tony voters select best musical, they will not be offered a fifth choice.
That slot is triggered when a show trails the fourth-place finisher by a small margin. But this year’s also-rans — its own diverse crop that includes “Anastasia,” “Amélie,” “War Paint” and “Bandstand” — are thought to have sufficiently eaten into each other’s votes so that none could nip at fourth place. (Tony Awards nominators number in the dozens; a few votes can make all the difference.)
The perceived boundaries of what a successful musical can look like or sound like or be about has been pushing outward. ‘Hamilton’ then smashed it all open.
Tim Minchin, composer of “Groundhog Day”
Whether the moment of originality can continue remains a question. Star-driven revivals, after all, are a popular go-to for producers. And Hollywood studios are beefing up their theatrical departments, hoping to cash in on deep libraries.
Also, there’s the simple challenge of real estate: If these new musicals continue to do well at the box office, they will run a long time and potentially block future shows from finding a house.
“There’s a real fearlessness in the air that I credit to ‘Hamilton’ — it made a lot of people think, ‘If you can make a hip-hop musical into a global phenomenon, maybe my idea isn’t so crazy,’” said “Evan Hansen” writer Steven Levenson, a Broadway first-timer nominated for book of a musical. “Whether it can continue is hard to say. Musicals can take a long time to develop. Will there be audiences or theaters in four or five years? I don’t know. But I am optimistic.”
Freshness also accompanied some of the acting choices on Tuesday.
The long-shot Jennifer Ehle snagged a nomination for leading actress in a play for her turn as one half of a Norwegian diplomatic couple in “Oslo,” bumping out favorite Allison Janney, who played society woman Ouisa Kittredge in the “Six Degrees of Separation” revival. Broadway first-timer Danny DeVito landed a nomination for featured actor in a play for his turn as a slippery antiques dealer in “The Price.” after a combined dozen Emmy, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
Hollywood and the music business will in fact find their way often into the CBS telecast, to be hosted by Kevin Spacey. Josh Groban (“The Great Comet”) joined Christian Borle (“Falsettos”) and David Hyde Pierce (“Hello, Dolly!”) in the lead actor in a musical category, along with purer theater players Andy Karl (“Groundhog Day the Musical”) and newcomer Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”), both of whom are considered favorites.
Lead actress in a play is also a study in Hollywood crossover: Cate Blanchett (“The Present”), Sally Field (“The Glass Menagerie”), Laurie Metcalf (“A Doll’s House”) and Laura Linney (“Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes”) were all nominated.
But studios had a rougher time overall. A trio of film adaptations — “Anastasia,” “Amélie” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — were largely left out. Only “Anastasia” received nominations (featured actress and costume design). In the case of “Charlie,” that was a particular blow, as the production featured heavy input and investment from Warner Bros. (“Groundhog Day” did land seven noms, though that musical was largely developed outside of Sony, which came aboard later.)
Also omitted among Hollywood types was Mark Ruffalo, starring as a tortured police officer in the revival of Arthur Miller’s family-drama “The Price.”
Another snub: “Sunset Boulevard,” which failed to make the grade in the best revival of a musical category. Ditto for the new staging of the 1980s staple “Cats,” as the three nomination slots went to “Miss Saigon,” “Falsettos” and “Dolly.” “Dolly” director Jerry Zaks, incidentally, will be seeking his fifth Tony for directing. His nomination on Tuesday was his first in 25 years.
The revival of a play category pits giants “August Wilson’s Jitney” and “Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes” against each other as the favorites over fellow nominees “Present Laughter” and “Six Degrees.” Many of these shows traffic in themes of class and race.
Lest the Tonys’ concept of diversity be thought as leaving out certain groups, the frustrations of working-class white America are paid heed in “Sweat,” which concerns a fading Pennsylvania industrial town and the factory workers bearing the brunt. The show will go up against “Indecent” with its immigration ideas and “Doll’s House” and its notions of female empowerment for best play.
“We’re dealing with double standards in our culture that no one’s really talking about, and I think other nominees wanted to write a play about those subjects,” Hnath said. “It felt like time to give voice to things that were not being said.”
2:45 p.m. This article was recast throughout with additional perspective from nominees and details about key races.
9:45 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with comments from nominees and more details.
6:27 a.m. This article was updated throughout with details about key categories.
This article was originally published at 5:50 a.m.
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