The 66th Annual Tony Award Nominations were announced a few minutes ago and they're filled with surprises. It seems that shows that closed were remembered fondly and shows that are still running but not so good were mostly ignored. Even within that understanding, there are surprises.
The biggest shock has to be Leap of Faith getting a Best Musical nomination. The show was critically panned for being spectacle and nothing more. The producers even had to start running one of the most annoying "here's what the audience had to say" ads I've ever seen to try and drum up business. The musical is an adaptation of the Steve Martin film with the same name. If you trust the reviews, the show lacks a compelling story, good songs, direction that makes sense, and opportunities for the cast to do anything worth noting.
I know the pickings were slim for new musicals this year--Lysistrata Jones, Bonnie & Clyde, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, and Ghost were the only un-nominated options--but it really does feel like people just voted for the last show to open and said "good enough." I'm happy that the cast and crew of Leap of Faith are guaranteed another month of a job. That's the nice thing I can say about that. The not so nice thing I could say is that the producers of End of the Rainbow, the Judy Garland play centered around one of her last concert appearances, should feel foolish for not pushing that show as a musical. The reviews were better and it has enough musical performances to feel close enough to a musical.
Coming real close on the shock scale is Laura Osnes being nominated for Leading Actress in a Musical for Bonnie & Clyde. This is not to discredit the quality of her performance. She was very good in the show. The nomination (and Frank Wildhorn/Don Black's Original Score nomination) marks the first time a performer has been nominated for a Wildhorn show since Douglas Sills was nominated for The Scarlet Pimpernel in 1998. It's also the first time that a Wildhorn show has been nominated since The Civil War in 2000.
It's taken over a decade for a Wildhorn property to earn enough votes for a nomination. Could the impressions of his pop/rock theater approach be turning back in his favor? He did have back to back closed in one month flops. Will we ever see Broadway mountings of some of his shows that received career best reviews in Europe or do we settle for maybe a kinder look at future works?
Orchestrations had some pleasant surprises. As underwhelming as some of the original musicals were this season, most of the musicals (revival and new alike) had distinctive orchestrations. They easily could have gone for the folk stylings of Bonnie & Clyde, the synth pop of Ghost, the sugar of Lysistrata Jones, or even the stronger Latin rhythms of the Evita revival. When a bunch of people got mad that the Drama Desk Awards eliminated Orchestrations, it wasn't because of a strict adherence to tradition. It was because it was a fantastic season--on and Off-Broadway--for orchestrations. There were comparatively tiny, limited run Off-Off-Broadway shows that could have competed against fuller orchestrations in Broadway shows this year.
One thing that did not surprise me was the Orchestrations nomination for The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Deidre Murray did the "music adaptations" for the A.R.T. run in Boston that created a lot of the controversy. She did not orchestrate the Broadway production. William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke did. Regardless of any changes to the book or attempts to "correct" what the Gershwins and Heywards got "wrong," that score is a beast. If you tame it right, it sounds like the most beautiful music in the world. Clearly, Brohn and Janke did something right.
There was a bit of a surprise during the nominations telecast. Kristin Chenoweth and Jim Parsons announced the nominees. After Best Orchestrations, Chenoweth went off script and said, "I just love that category, don't you?" I wonder how the "get rid of Orchestrations, no one cares about them. Wait, what do you mean every music director and orchestrator in the NYC+ area signed a petition and went to the media to denounce our awards? Quick, drum up some nominations. We'll apologize on Monday," board of the Drama Desk Awards feels right now. Kristin Chenoweth had to stand on a box to reach the microphone and even she's taken them down for their foolish decision now. Well played, Kristin Chenoweth.
Another non-surprise was the lack of nominations for very visual shows. Spider-Man was only nominated for its amazing set and elaborate costumes. Ghost was nominated for lighting design and Da'Vine Joy Randolph's performance as Oda Mae (now officially a baity role on stage and screen). Leap of Faith is Gospel revival spectacle and only got one nomination. It's in Best Musical, sure, but that's it. On a Clear Day, with its forced 1960s op art perspective, only received an acting nomination for Jessie Mueller. Lysistrata Jones relied on the spectacle of basketball to wow audiences and only got nominated for its Book. It's hard to say the Tony Awards don't go for pure spectacle because they do in the design categories. You just need to have a strong show surrounding the visuals to get much attention beyond that.
Unless you're Leap of Faith. Then you get a Best Musical nomination and nothing else.
Thoughts? Love to hear them. I especially love to hear them if they support Once, which is finally getting its due as a brilliant story. It's more than "Falling Slowly," good people. I'd also love to see Eiko Ishioka win a post-humous Tony Award, even if it is for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. It's also quite telling that they do not count Julie Taymor's masks as part of the costume design. Lots of things to unpack about the Tony nominations this year.