the occasional thoughts of a theater fan
The 2013-14 Broadway season officially ended on April 24, 2014, and nominations for this season’s Tony Awards were announced April 29, 2014 (shows with official Opening Nights on Broadway by April 24 were eligible for the 2014 awards). This year there were 40 productions eligible, including musicals and plays, new works and revivals. The earliest eligible production, the new musical, First Date, opened in July ’13, and the last show to open this season was the revival of Cabaret, which squeaked in on April 24 ’14.
But of those forty eligible shows, nearly half opened in the last eight weeks of the season. As with the Academy Awards, Broadway shows that open early in the season (in this case, the fall time frame), are always at risk of being off the radar by the time nominations are announced. This is particularly true for shows that don’t turn out to be commercial successes, and close before the awards season ramps up.
Take for example, this season’s stage musical adaptation of the 2003 film, Big Fish. The cast and creative team associated with the show included some big names in the Broadway world, and it seemed as if it would have wide appeal. But when Big Fish opened in early October, it was not well received by the critics, and closed before the end of December. Personally, I loved this show. It was a family show that had whimsy, fantasy, grand production numbers, and a clever scenic design, along with some memorable songs. I have friends that are passionate in their love for the show. And in my book, if you can elicit big laughs and open weeping in equal measure, from all manner of audience member, you’ve done something right. In the end though, the show received not a single nomination. Big Fish wasn’t alone; twelve other shows went similarly unrecognized in any category; including the production of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom, the revival of Betrayal starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz and the pairing of the "Sirs," Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot and No Man's Land.
One of the hot button issues this season is the slate of nominees for the Best Musical category. The committee can nominate between three and five shows for the award, and this year four were chosen: After Midnight, Beautiful The Carole King Musical, Aladdin and The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. I saw all four of these shows, and enjoyed each of them.
Gentleman’s Guide received the most nominations of any show this season (10), and all four received multiple nominations. But I’m particularly thrilled that Gentleman’s Guide and Beautiful are on the list. Gentleman’s Guide was truly one of my very favorite shows over the past few years, and I think it richly deserves all its accolades. It’s funny, charming, has remarkable performances (one of the leads plays 8 different characters!), a great set and a great score. I’ve been recommending Gentleman’s Guide to anyone who’ll listen since I first saw it in October, because it has broad appeal, and is suitable for most ages (10+).
Beautiful, on the other hand, is a show with the great Carole King’s unforgettable music, and the fascinating story of her life and history in the music industry. Beautiful’s ace in the hole is Jessie Mueller, who is near flawless in her role as Carole, spanning three decades (Jessie was justly nominated as Best Actress in a Musical). I know people of varying ages who have loved this show, my fifteen year old niece among them; and it’s great to be able to share such amazing music across generations in this setting.
So here’s the issue: of the four nominees for Best Musical, only one has a completely original score, and that’s Gentleman’s Guide. The other three rely almost exclusively on music not written for the Broadway stage. However, there were several other musicals eligible, all with original musical scores, that were not nominated in the Best Musical category; most notably, If/Then, The Bridges of Madison County and Rocky.
Unlike for films, there is no DVD market for stage shows after they close, so the lack of the big nominations at Tony time can spell doom for a show, as the financial commitment required to keep it running is huge. Based on today’s announcement, if you are hoping to see The Bridges of Madison County, for example, I’d suggest you make the effort to see it sooner rather than later, as the scarce nominations it received (and generally low ticket sales) may make it a candidate for an earlier closing date.
In fact, the 2014 nominations announcement claimed its first victim the same day: The Velocity of Autumn, a new play starring Estelle Parsons, which just opened April 21, 2014, received just one nomination (for Ms. Parsons in the acting category), and announced it will close May 4. Even if a show that has already closed does receive nominations at Tony time, it doesn’t much help those involved financially, as there’s no real chance for a reinvigorated audience appeal, as there would be for a film.
And it’s not just original music that we want to encourage, it is good for Broadway, and good for audiences to encourage the development of new, original theater that strives for innovation, if we are not to be destined for endless revivals of previous favorites. Of course, revivals are to be celebrated as well (hence the separate categories for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Revival of a Play), but musicals are massive financial undertakings and can have very long development periods, so without the potential for business success and recognition, we’ll see fewer risks being taken.
If/Then and Rocky are each shows that have tried to forge new ground with how we can tell stories on stage. If/Then has its lead character following two different story arcs throughout the show, and Rocky is a veritable thrill-ride of a show, with remarkable sets, and an ending like no other. From my anecdotal experience, Rocky is also one of those rare shows that is attracting a much more diverse audience, including people that I suspect wouldn’t identify as “theater lovers.” The audience who saw it with me was younger, skewed more male and seemed to reflect a choice for “date night,” that I found encouraging. Each of these shows is approaching storytelling without the limitations we might expect the stage to present, and I believe each of them deserved a nomination in the Best Musical category.
There were some surprises (to me, anyway) in the acting categories as well. The most striking omissions, based on my personal experiences, were two well-known names starring in plays: Daniel Radcliffe was not nominated for The Cripple of Inishmaan (the play was nominated for Best Play), and Zachary Quinto was the only member of the four-person cast of The Glass Menagerie (nominated for Best Revival of a Play) not nominated for his role. I can say, without reservation, that each of these actors absolutely deserved a nomination. I’d probably also say that Denzel Washington was deserving for the wonderful (and nominated) revival of A Raisin in the Sun (three of his fellow cast members did receive nominations). That said, I’m really satisfied with those that were chosen for acting nominations; all of them were memorable. I am endlessly amazed by the abundant talent on Broadway. These actors perform eight times a week, but somehow make it seem as if they’ve performed that night for the first time just for you!
There is a remarkable array of theater offerings on Broadway right now. If you’re planning to be in New York City this spring/summer, check some of them out. And if you want to make a spur-of-the-moment decision, don’t forget that discount tickets can be found at the TKTS ticket booth in Times Square, on the day of the performance for many of the shows (even the big names!).
A complete list of the Tony Award nominations can be found on the Tony Awards website, and the 2014 Tony Awards show will be broadcast on CBS on Sunday evening, June 8, with Hugh Jackman hosting. By the way, last year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris is himself a nominee this year as Best Actor in a Musical for Hedwig and the Angry Inch!