May 4, 2011

Time Out for Tony Talk

The poor Tony nominators are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  As even the most casual theater fan knows, the Tony nominations were announced yesterday morning (click here to see the complete list with interesting annotations by my sister blogger Pataphysical Science) and, faster than you can say “and the nominees are..,” folks were online, cheering or complaining about who got recognized and who didn’t. 

There was a LOT of griping about the fact that Daniel Radcliffe hadn’t been nominated for his turn as J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The feeling seemed to be that he’s a big name who didn’t have to do a Broadway show, had worked hard to do it well and is a charming guy so he should have been rewarded. 

I suspect that many of those gripers were the same people who complained last year that too many Hollywood names had been nominated. Some of the grumps may even have signed up for last year’s GIVE THE TONYS BACK TO BROADWAY!! campaign (click here in case you forgot about it). Who knows, that effort may even have had an effect.  Neither Robin Williams,  Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, nor the all-stars team from That Championship Season were nominated either.

Ellen Barkin (supporting actress for The Normal Heart) Edie Falco (supporting for The House of Blue Leaves) Frances McDormand (lead actress for Good People) and Vanessa Redgrave (lead for Driving Miss Daisy) all did get nods. But, as Martin Denton at recently pointed out, there was less competition for them because, once again, there are far fewer women’s roles eligible for nominations and men played some of those—hello, Brian Bedford (lead actor for Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest).  (Click here to see Denton’s post, especially if you’re a playwright and can help close the gender gap.)

There also was some loud consternation over how The Scottsboro Boys got 12 nominations, just two less than the leader-board champion The Book of Mormon, which took 14.  I confess I was surprised by how well The Scottsboro Boys did too.  But I probably shouldn’t have been. 

Sure, the show closed after just 49 performances and I’m on record that I had problems with it (click here to read my review).  But many of the critics and most Broadway insiders loved the show (click here to read some of those reviews)

And there was probably some sentimentality attached to the fact that this may be the last show (there are at least two more in the drawer) that we’ll see from the legendary team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who died seven years ago. 

Kander recently signed on to write a new show with the playwright Gregory Pierce and I wish him well with it and with The Scottsboro Boys, which has just been scheduled to open at San Diego’s The Old Globe and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater next spring (click here to read more about that).

People like to think of the Tony nominators as some kind of group-think entity like The Borg in “Star Trek”.  Which it isn’t.  And I don’t say that just because I know a couple of people on the committee.  The roster changes regularly but the nominating committee is always made up of people who have spent a lifetime making or appreciating theater (click here to see this year’s members).

They don’t consult with one another once they’re in the voting room.  Each person votes separately.  The fact that they chose the little-known (at least on these shores) Hannah Yeland from last fall’s short-running Brief Encounter for a leading actress slot should be proof that each one really tries to do the best that he or she can.

And the fact of the matter is that they simply had a lot of good work to choose from this year. Thirty-nine shows opened on Broadway this season; 22 of them since January.  Eleven were musicals and, amazingly, only two of them were revivals (so the Best Revival of a Musical category was the only one that offered a sure crack at a nomination this year). There were a bevy of terrific straight plays too.

Hell, a lot of worthy people got left out. But not the people who go to see shows.  There’s a lot of great stuff to see and that means that regardless of who gets to take home an award when the names are called on June 12, theater lovers are already winners.


Guillaume said...

Very perceptive remarks, Jan. (In others words, I agree with you, LOL!) Especially the points you make that 1) the nominators aren't allowed to consult or lobby once they're in the nominating room; and 2) that the gripes about the omission from the list of some high-profile movie people were probably coming from the same people who last year griped that too MANY such people did get nominations!
Like you, I was pretty pleased with the totality of the nominations. Sure, there were some omissions I was disappointed about and well as some selections I didn't didn't fully agree with, but as you point out, there was an abundance of riches in some categories. What's more, the subjectivity of the nominator is always a factor, whatever the award under consideration. But this year, I thought that on the whole the nominations truly acknowledged quality.

jan@broadwayandme said...

Thanks, Guillaume. I think there's plenty to cheer about, particularly the fact that we've got so many new musicals (OK, they didn't all work but at least people are trying) and a good number of serious plays too, including several home-grown. The eternal invalid is enjoying a heartening remission.