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‘Jagged Little Pill’ leads the race for best new musical, followed closely by ‘Moulin Rouge!’
“Jagged Little Pill,” a rousing, of-the-moment show about a suburban family grappling with addiction, sexual assault, transracial adoption and marital strife — among other issues — scored 15 Tony Award nominations Thursday, the most of any show from the truncated 2019-20 Broadway season.
“Jagged,” inspired by the blockbuster 1995 Alanis Morissette album, will be in a tight race with “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” a lush stage production about a louche nightclub in turn-of-the-century Paris, which received 14 nominations. “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical,” is the third contender in the best musical race.
This year’s much-delayed awards cycle comes at an enormously trying time for the theater industry, when professional productions around the country are almost entirely shut down, leaving most theater artists unemployed, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But industry leaders have decided to proceed with an awards ceremony, deciding that they wanted to honor the best of the 18 shows that opened between April 2019 and February this year.
“So many people didn’t get to open their shows, so many are struggling with the very real effects of the pandemic, and people are leaving the business who may never come back,” said Bess Wohl, nominated on Thursday for her first Broadway play, “Grand Horizons.” “It’s a very bittersweet day. In a way, the bitter makes the sweetness more sweet, because we know it can be taken away so quickly.”
Just four new musicals, 10 new plays and four play revivals were eligible for nominations. By contrast, last year there were 34 shows under consideration for the awards.
Only one new musical this season had an original score, “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.” It was panned by critics and snubbed by nominators, who excluded it even from the best score category — which, in a rare development, only included scores from plays.
This year’s nominations, like so much during this year of social distancing, were announced online. The host was James Monroe Iglehart, a 2014 Tony winner for “Aladdin.”
“History has shown us that every great society has had theater at its core,” Iglehart said during the livestream. “Theater has always and will always survive. Theater is constant.”
‘Slave Play’ makes history with the most nominations for a play.
“Slave Play,” an outlandish and uproarious drama that explores the legacy of slavery in America through an imaginary sex therapy retreat for interracial couples, scored 12 nominations, and emerged as a leading contender in the race for best new play.
The 12 nods make “Slave Play” the most-nominated play in the history of the Tonys, according to a spokeswoman for the awards.
The play, staged at New York Theater Workshop before arriving on Broadway last fall, was hailed by critics, and its young writer, Jeremy O. Harris, emerged as an important new cultural voice. Five members of its cast were nominated, as were its direction, set, lighting, costume, sound and score.
“It feels like a statement from the community saying we want to focus on Black lives,” Harris said in an interview. “It feels very invigorating that the community wants to have that conversation right now.”
“Slave Play” was closely followed in the nominations by “The Inheritance,” Matthew Lopez’s sprawling riff on the E.M. Forster novel “Howards End,” which ponders the lingering effects of the AIDS crisis on two generations of gay men in contemporary New York. “The Inheritance” received 11 nominations.
Those plays will face off against “The Sound Inside,” Adam Rapp’s gripping two-hander about the relationship between a university professor with cancer and her precocious writing student; “Grand Horizons,” Wohl’s comedy about a long-term marriage in crisis; and “Sea Wall/A Life,” a pair of heart-rending monologues by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne.
‘A Soldier’s Play’ receives nods for its belated Broadway debut.
“A Soldier’s Play,” Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1981 drama about racism in the American military, received seven Tony nominations, the most of any play revival.
The Broadway production, presented by the nonprofit Roundabout Theater Company and directed by Kenny Leon, was a long-awaited moment for the 81-year-old Fuller.
Among the play’s nominees were the actors Blair Underwood and David Alan Grier, as well as its set, costumes, lighting and direction.
“I’m just glad the powers that be decided to do what they can, because I really want everybody to be acknowledged for the season we had,” Underwood said in an interview. “We all need some kind of hope, and it’s nice to have something to get excited about in this crazy year.”
“A Soldier’s Play” will face off against starry revivals of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” and Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” Eight months after the run of “Frankie and Johnny” concluded, McNally died of complications from Covid-19 at 81.
There were no eligible musical revivals. A production of “West Side Story” was deemed ineligible to compete because it opened in late February, and not enough Tony voters managed to see it before the shutdown in March, so that category was eliminated.
Nominees include Tom Hiddleston, Mary-Louise Parker and Aaron Tveit (alone in his category).
Here’s a situation you don’t see very often: In the race for leading actor in a musical, Aaron Tveit, who plays a lovestruck writer in “Moulin Rouge!,” is competing against … no one.
But the award is not quite in the bag. He must get support from 60 percent of the ballots cast to take home the trophy. (Well, there’s a pandemic, so presumably the trophies will actually be delivered, not handed out.)
While best actor in a musical nominees were scant, the Tonys recognized a wealth of riches among actors in plays, listing six (not the usual four or five) nominees, including the film star Tom Hiddleston in “Betrayal,” and both Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge, who teamed up for the monologues “Sea Wall/A Life.”
Best actress in a play shapes up as a battle that includes three stage favorites: Audra McDonald, a record-holder with six Tonys; Laura Linney; and Mary-Louise Parker. Vying with them is Joaquina Kalukango, who joined the cast of “Slave Play” for its Broadway run in the grueling role of Kaneisha.
As always the Tonys took notice of beloved veterans, including the 80-year-old Jane Alexander (“Grand Horizons”), a former head of the National Endowment for the Arts; and 89-year-old Lois Smith, who appeared late in the two-part “The Inheritance.”
Breakout performers were recognized as well, including Adrienne Warren, a tour de force in the marathon title role in “Tina”; Lauren Patten, who thrilled audiences with her barn-burning rendition of “You Oughta Know” in “Jagged Little Pill”; and Andrew Burnap, as the ambitious writer Toby Darling in “The Inheritance.”
We still don’t know when the Tony Awards will be.
This year’s Tony Awards ceremony was originally slated for June 7 at Radio City Music Hall, and to be broadcast on CBS. None of that is happening anymore.
So what is the plan? We don’t know yet.
The awards administrators are hoping to hold the ceremony in December or January. They have indicated that the ceremony will be virtual, rather than in person. And they expect it to be streamed online, not broadcast on television.
There are about 800 Tony voters, most of whom work in the theater industry as producers, actors, designers and so on; only those who have seen each nominated show in a category can vote in that category. Tony officials say every nominated show was seen by several hundred voters, at a minimum, and that the number of qualified voters for each category is similar to that in other years. Awards administrators have not yet said when the voting will take place.
The Tonys, founded in 1947 and formally called the Antoinette Perry Awards, are presented by the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League. The awards honor plays and musicals that are staged in the 41 Broadway theaters, each of which has at least 500 seats, and most of which are around Times Square.
This could be the last Tony Awards for a while. It’s unlikely that there will be a 2020-21 Broadway season, given that the Broadway League has canceled performances at least through May 30, which is after the traditional season ends.
Sarah Bahr and Peter Libbey contributed reporting.
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