The 65th Annual Tony Awards Nominations: General Thoughts

On Tuesday 3 May 2011, the nominations for the 65th Annual Tony Awards were announced. I have to say that I'm rather happy with the direction the nominators went in. With the exception of Wonderland (more about that later today), all of the major musical productions of the 2010-2011 Broadway season were recognized in categories that fit. For example, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had a great book and set design and was nominated accordingly. The big news from the awards is not The Book of Mormon's 14 nominations, but The Scottsboro Boys' 12 nominations. That show, which closed after about six weeks, was critically acclaimed. It was smart, beautifully conceived, well-performed, and brilliant for its examination of dual histories (the minstrel form and the actual Scottsboro Boys case) without going so far into the horrors of either story to turn the audience off. Unfortunately, lackluster sales leading into the holiday season meant the show couldn't even stay open to try and get the end of the year crowds. Talk has sprung up again and again about bringing the show back for a limited run, or adapting it to a film, or touring with it, but very little was announced until the surprise dozen nominations. Now there are rumblings of a limited run in NYC and confirmation of the first LA production of the work.

It's always a great sign when the nominators remember shows that only had a short run, especially when they're as strong as The Scottsboro Boys or Brief Encounter. Another great sign is when big Hollywood stars don't get nominated on name recognition alone. Daniel Radcliffe was not nominated for How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying after he split the critics on his performance. Kathleen Turner was looked over for High which closed within a week in spite of strong reviews for her performance. Even Chris Rock, who helped make it so that The Motherfucker with the Hat could run on Broadway at all, was passed on in favor of his lesser-known co-star Bobby Canavale. The stars who were nominated--Al Pacino, Vanessa Redgrave, France McDormand, Edie Falco, etc.--received rave reviews and are strong contenders to win their categories.

The strangest category this year has to be Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical. The rules for the performance categories state the nomination committee--a rotating group of members who are invited to see all of the eligible shows in a season to make decisions on category placements--can eliminate performances from contention in a category if they are not strong enough. There need to be at least seven quality leading actress performances to have five nominees in this category and the committee narrowed it down to six: Janet Dacal in Wonderland*, Sutton Foster in Anything Goes, Beth Leavel in Baby, It's You, Patina Miller in Sister Act, Donna Murphy in The People in the Picture, and Sherie Rene-Scott in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The only performance I can see that was eliminated was Amy Spanger in Elf, though she might have been re-categorized as a featured performer rather than a leading lady.

That meant at most four nominees could emerge in the category. Janet Dacal--so effortless and enjoyable in Wonderland--and Sherie Rene-Scott--in the most emotionally and psychologically complex role of the season--were left out. This isn't a case of a weak year for leading actresses; it's a case of too few female leading roles in a season. Any of these women could have been nominated for the work they did in these productions. The only controversial nominee is Beth Leavel because Baby, It's You received such horrible reviews. If you look at the reviews (even my own), you can see that she was consistently was praised for rising above the production. I applaud the Tony nominators for actually looking at the quality of the individual categories rather than blindly recognizing better reviewed shows with lesser elements. Leavel is a worthy nominee in this category.

The full list of nominees is available at the Tony Awards' website. Don't forget to check out the nominee reaction videos, audio, and text available at Playbill.com and Broadway.com. They're always entertaining.

*A New Alice. A New Musical.