So maybe the Oscars aren’t actually watched by a “billion” people each year. The audience is still ginormous compared to the Tonys. Even so, the Tonys are as big as it gets for American theater, and this morning the mostly predictable nominations were handed out at the Times Square Marriott Marquis. For play, you’ve got Democracy, Doubt, The Pillowman, and Gem of the Ocean. Musical: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Light in the Piazza, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Spamalot, in the first of its 14 nods. The same musicals are all nominated for best book and best music; best play revival and best musical revival have no surprises either, though Gothamist’s eyebrows were raised a bit at the inclusion of Sweet Charity, which barely opened May 4, which was the cutoff date for Tony nominations. Considering how touchy theater publicists are about having their shows watched and reviewed before official openings (though it did play in, um, Minneapolis before), this honor seems a little hasty, but maybe the Tony organizers just want to make sure Christina Applegate attends and brings some friends who might get a bigger TV audience.
More Hollywood names are on display in the acting categories: both Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Laura Linney (Sight Unseen), John Lithgow (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Mary-Louise Parker (Reckless), Tim Curry and Hank Azaria (Spamalot), James Earl Jones (On Golden Pond), Billy Crudup (The Pillowman), and, yes, Christina Applegate. The Times had a story recently about the recent glut of Hollywood actors on Broadway and how that would mean some would not get nominations (we see that Denzel Washington’s getting nothing for his role in Julius Caesar, and Jeff Goldblum isn’t up for The Pillowman), but the even tougher issue (in Gothamist’s eyes, at least) is that of dedicated theater actors who aren’t getting work, much less Tony noms, because of these guys. In any case, the big winners are Spamalot (whose 14 chances are one short of The Producers’ record 15), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (11), and The Light in the Piazza (11). It should never be a surprise that mostly the same plays are up in each category, but it’s always something of a disappointment, even when those plays are pretty worthy, as some of these are.
Early summer is where it’s at for theater awards. Just yesterday, the NY Outer Critics Circle awards (where journalists for non-NY publications have their say) were given to many of the same shows as the Tony nominees, with Doubt and Spamalot dominating. This group at least acknowledges off-Broadway work, and Altar Boyz got best musical, while Fat Pig and Going to St. Ives tied for best play.
The nominations for the Drama Desk awards were also announced recently; these awards also recognize off-Broadway productions, but pit small shows against large without distinguishing, which seems a little unfair but also makes for (a little) more heterogeneity. For example for Outstanding Actor, Bill Thompson of God Hates the Irish: The Ballad of Armless Johnny is vying with Hank Azaria and David Hyde Pierce from Spamalot. Gothamist was also glad to see Pentecost, an intriguing and well-executed show from the Barrow Group, make it into the Best Play list.
All in all, for what are supposed to be the most exciting ceremonies in theater, there isn’t much here to get excited about, but then Broadway hasn’t been a very daring place for some time. Stay tuned for the Village Voice Obies, which will also be announced soon and may shine light on some deserving lower-profile shows. Or ignore these silly awards altogether, as most people do, but go to the theater nonetheless: it’s what any of these nominees would (or should) want more than anything anyway.