The theatre world has revealed its Tony Award nominations, and a few things become instantly clear. Not unlike the Oscars, the lack of diversity is glaring. Not one African-American is listed among the major categories, and women may shine on stage, but behind it? Not so much.
Female names are the the most reliable draws on stage these days -- from Audra MacDonald to Kelli O'Hara to Kristin Chenoweth to Bernadette Peters to 82-year-old Chita Rivera -- but writers and directors still can't catch a break come Tony time. For the second year in a row, only one woman's name is listed among the solo writers of any nominated show, (British author Hilary Mantel, who penned the Wolf Hall books, is listed as a co-writer of the stage adaptation) and only one director is female (like Mantel, a Brit).
The single writer is Lisa Kron, who penned the book for Fun Home, a dark and untraditional contender for best new musical. The show's music is also composed by a woman, Jeanine Tesori. It's a wonderful piece, told from the viewpoint of a lesbian growing up with a closeted, unhappy father.
The nominations also remind us how very English Broadway has become. The acting nominees include Helen Mirren, Ruth Wilson, Carey Mulligan, Ben Miles, Alex Sharp and Bill Nighy, and the winners of the best new play and best revival will likely both be West End imports. (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Skylight). There is nothing inherently wrong with this: At least Shakespeare took a Broadway season off, unless you count the hilarious take on him by nominee Christian Borle in Something's Rotten! But it always brings up the sad reality that not enough original work by American playwrights is ending up on the big stages. (Take a look at the last decade of Pulitzer Prize-winners and note how almost all played off-Broadway).
The nominations indicate that Hollywood star-power can still be a life-saver financially for a mediocre piece. Helen Mirren, Jake Gyllenhaal, Larry David, Hugh Jackman, Bradley Cooper and Matthew Morrison are among the stellar names who turned their imperfect productions into hits. But Elisabeth Moss (who received a nomination) could not save The Heidi Chronicles, nor Tony Danza in Honeymoon in Vegas, and Vanessa Hudgens will likely not saveGigi (which is facing long odds to make it through, or even to, the summer). It is still rare when the show and glittery film or TV star click on all cylinders: Last year's Tony-winner Bryan Cranston in All The Way was one.
Finally, what we have learned this past season is that not everyone knows how to deliver a great Broadway show, even if they have the deep pockets to get one up, or have succeeded in another area. Film impresario Harvey Weinstein rather bullied the mediocre Finding Neverland on to the Great White Way quickly. It is doing boffo at the boxoffice, but was totally ignored by the Tony folks. Larry David's Fish in the Dark can say the same. Yes, he made his investors happy, but no one says he wrote -- or acted -- particularly well. The great singer/composer Sting won a nomination for his score of the flop The Last Ship and learned -- as did Paul Simon before him with Capeman -- that a good score is not enough if you want your show to have legs.
Who knows who is happier post-nominations? My guess is that struggling shows would give up a few of theirs to be able to pay back their investors. But, then I bet Larry David and Harvey Weinstein wouldn't mind a little less money and a lot more respect.
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