Broadway made it feelings felt this morning with a whopping 15 Tony nominations, including Best Musical, for Billy Elliot, Elton John's song-and-dance version of the 2000 film of the same name about a British lad with a talent for ballet that doesn't go over too big in a town of burly coal miners. Loved the movie, but I felt let down by the clanking, charmless stage version despite the critical raves and now the validating Tony nods that tie the nomination record with Mel Brooks' The Producers. Billy is a huge hit, and good for business. Unlike, say, [title of show], a small gem of a musical that closed in October after playing 13 previews and 102 performances. The show was original, had no Hollywood roots and no marketing budget, but its imagination soared. [title of show] deserved much more than one nomination for Hunter Bell in the category of Best Book of Musical. What about the music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen, and the four terrific lead performances by Bell, Bowen, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff? Aren't the Tonys, under the auspices of the American Theatre Wing, meant to reward art and screw commerce? Let's look at the facts:
Best news is that Next To Normal, my personal pick for Best Musical, scored 11 nominations. With music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Next To Normal uses its propulsive rock score to tell the wildly ambitious story of a bipolar mother (nominee and near certain winner Alice Ripley) and her family. Toting a hefty 11 nominations, Next To Normal has the best shot of knocking Billy off his toe shoes. Should Rock of Ages, a jukebox collection of heavy metal, or Shrek the Musical, from guess what Hollywood animated hit, receive the award, I will picket. I promise.
In the category of rewarding big names over big talent, I would happily exchange the Best Actress nomination Oscar winner Jane Fonda received for the shaky 33 Variations with one for Carla Gugino who achieved tragic dimension in Desire Under the Elms.
No argument about four acting nominations for the entire cast of Best Play nominee God of Carnage. On leave from various other projects in film and television, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden are doing Broadway proud. So forgive me if I think Neil LaBute's struggling reasons to be pretty is the better play.
But some of the snubs were inexplicable.
Ian Rickson's now-closed production of Chekhov's The Seagull, featuring a new translation by Christopher Hampton, electrified Broadway. As did the time-capsule-worthy performances of Kristin Scott Thomas as the actress Arkadina and Carey Mulligan as her young rival. Not a single nomination! Is this willed blindness? Or is it the fact that the four revivals that did get nominations — Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Mary Stuart, The Norman Conquests, and Waiting for Godot are still open for business?
Maybe that explains why the shuttered Equus and its gifted star Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe were cut off. Ditto the acclaimed revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, which scored a Best Actor nod for Raúl Esparza but spurned his co-star Elizabeth (Mad Men) Moss and the sushi-poisoned Jeremy (Entourage) Piven.
It ain't fittin' that so many worthy contenders are gone with the wind while questionable choices, geared to goose the ratings of the CBS Tony telecast on Sunday, June 7th, made the cut. Dolly Parton's overwrought musical version of her 1980 movie 9 to 5 was justly ignored as Best Musical, but Dolly's nomination for Best Score will have her camera ready on Tony night. Constantine Maroulis, late of the ratings-grabbing American Idol, won a Tony nod as Best Actor for Rock of Ages while the mega-talented Aaron Tveit of Next to Normal went home empty handed. And to get Will Ferrell on board, the funnyman will receive a prize for Best Theatrical Event for his limited, sold-out run in You're Welcome, America. A Final Night With George W. Bush. I'm taking nominations now for a Tony oversight committee.