May 6, 2009

Time Out for Talk About Tony Nominations

What is there left to say about the Tony nominations? The New York Times live blogged the event. And by the time the sun set yesterday, about 11 hours after Cynthia Nixon and Lin-Manuel Miranda announced the nominees, Google News had aggregated 950 articles about them. During that same time, the All That Chat chatroom had racked up 183 responses on its “2009 Tony Award® Nominations” conversation thread (Click here to read them). And chatters who thought their comments might get lost in that din had started at least nine other threads on various aspects of who got nominated, who didn’t get nominated, who should have gotten nominated, and who shouldn’t have.

Still, I can’t resist chiming in too. Some folks complained that, as has become the custom with the Oscars, it was better for shows that opened late in the season so that their productions were fresher in the memories of the nominators. And indeed, all four Best Revival of a Play nominees opened in April, pushing out The Seagull, the snob hit of the fall, and my personal fave Exit the King, which opened in March. On the other hand, that approach didn’t work for 9 to 5, which opened on April 30, the very last day of eligibility, and still didn’t earn a Best Musical slot.

But there was so much good stuff to choose from this season that it’s inevitable that some standout performances would get left out. I’m particularly sorry that Patrick Page didn’t get some love for his best-thing-in-the-play performance as Henry VIII in last fall’s A Man for All Seasons and that Carey Mulligan wasn't recognized for her a-star-is-born turn as Nina in The Seagull. But you might also argue that John Goodman was robbed when he got overlooked for his larger-than-life Pozzo in Waiting for Godot. And weren’t Amelia Bullmore and Ben Miles just as funny and touching as the other four nominated cast mates in The Norman Conquests? I agree with New York Magazine's Jesse Green that it's time for the Tonys to give an award for Best Ensemble (click here to read his proposal).

For the most part, however, the nominating committee appears to have acted like the good citizens of Lake Wobegon who believe that all the town's children are a little better than average. The nominators, who gathered on Monday, cast secret ballots, there’s no debate during the voting process, and lobbying is discouraged before it. Still, they managed to give a little something to as many shows as they possibly could. Twenty-seven of the 43 productions that opened this season got at least one nomination. Big names like Jane Fonda and James Gandolfini got nods, as did Broadway favorites like Raúl Esparza and Sutton Foster, but so did lesser-known actors like Roger Robinson of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Marin Ireland of Reasons to be Pretty. (Click here to see the full list).

Of course, there's no denying that the big trend this season has been for TV and movie stars to do Broadway shows. Some theater snobs complain about their presence, arguing that they take jobs away from “real actors.” But, all in all, I think it’s a good thing that those Hollywood folks think theater is important enough that they want to do it and, in the process, bring their glamor to it, reminding people that Broadway is a cool place to be.

As a result even people who don’t normally care much about the theater are paying attention. In fact, the most surprising theatrical honor this season may have come from the magazine Vanity Fair, which usually devotes its glossy pages to Hollywood starlets. But in its June issue, which hits newsstands today, the magazine features a photo spread with 25 stars who have appeared on Broadway over the past six months. The magazine’s website also has a behind-the-scenes video about the photo shoot (click here to see them both).

It’s great to have everyone talking and even arguing about the theater. It's even greater to have so much quality theater around. So go see a show or a few and, at the very least, tune in to the Tony Awards broadcast on June 7 to get a peek at the folks and the shows that have made this such a great season.

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