Entertainment

2018 Tony Award Nominations: ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘SpongeBob’ Lead the Way

Posted May 1, 2018 4:25 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2018 4:31 p.m. EDT

Two musicals with enormous brand names, “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” led the pack of Tony-nominated shows Tuesday morning, garnering 12 nods each.

The nominators also showered affection on five critically acclaimed productions: Revivals of “Angels in America” and “Carousel,” as well as the new musical “The Band’s Visit,” got 11 nominations apiece, while the new play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and a revival of “My Fair Lady” each got 10.

The best new musical race will now pit “The Band’s Visit,” a critical darling, against three shows with bigger fan bases but weaker reviews: “Mean Girls,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Frozen.”

Among the boldface names who scored nominations: Denzel Washington, Andrew Garfield, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Cera, Renée Fleming and Diana Rigg.

Thirty Broadway productions were eligible for prizes, the smallest number in more than a decade. This year’s Tony Awards will take place on June 10 at Radio City Music Hall and will be broadcast on CBS.

And now, the races begin.

“The Band’s Visit,” a delicate musical that has been doing strong but not sell-out business at the box office, will face strengthened challenges from “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical,” two titles that arrived with built-in fan bases, in the highest-stakes race in this year’s Tony Awards.

In something of a surprise, “Mean Girls,” Fey’s musical adaptation of her 2004 film about high school social dynamics, and the eye-popping “SpongeBob,” based on the animated television series about underwater sea creatures, led the nominations Tuesday, each earning 12 nods. Both are spearheaded by cultural powerhouses: Fey is one of the nation’s most well-liked comedic writers and performers, and “SpongeBob,” with a huge cult following, is the first Broadway venture led by Nickelodeon, the children’s cable network.

“The Band’s Visit,” by contrast, is adapted from a fictional 2007 Israeli film about what happens when an Egyptian police band gets stranded for a night in an Israeli desert town. It is a bit of an oddity on Broadway — more subtle than showy, long on loneliness and short on spectacle — with aching performances and unusually artful lyrics. But after a successful start at the Atlantic Theater Company off-Broadway, it moved to Broadway and earned superlative reviews.

The fourth contender for best musical is Disney’s “Frozen,” based on the enormously popular animated film, which was not embraced by critics. The show didn’t get nominations for its performers or much of its creative team, although it did score nods for its book and score.

“I cannot lie — I cried a little bit in the middle of Equinox this morning, and not because my workout was too hard,” Fey said in an interview. “It’s such a childhood dream. You go back to when you were a kid and going to see shows — getting a Playbill, dreaming of being in a Playbill some day.”

A panel of 43 theater experts who saw all 30 eligible shows over the last year voted on the nominations. The voters are not allowed to have any financial relationship with any of the eligible shows.

“SpongeBob,” “Mean Girls” and “Frozen” are among numerous big brands that have dominated a season whose new shows have also included “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Escape to Margaritaville” and “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” There were also solo shows by Bruce Springsteen, Michael Moore, John Lithgow and John Leguizamo, and star turns by Schumer, Washington, Chris Evans, Uma Thurman, Garfield and Clive Owen.

Big plays get big notice.

The two most-nominated play productions — “Angels in America” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” are long (each is staged in two parts), big (large casts, giant sets), and British (each transferred to Broadway from the West End). And both feature wings (don’t ask).

They are competing in different categories. The 11 nominations for the revival of “Angels in America” make that the most-nominated production of a play in Broadway history. The 7 1/2 hour drama, written by Tony Kushner, is a searing, sometimes surreal tale set in the Reagan era during the onset of the AIDS crisis; the original, staged a quarter century ago as two plays over two seasons, won a Pulitzer and many Tonys.

“I’m enormously happy and very moved,” Kushner said on Tuesday. “Being on Broadway is always exciting — there’s a feeling of an immediate and a lively connection to American theater history, and to the extent the Tonys are a celebration of theater in the United States, it’s great to know that the play still has a place and that people are still excited about it.”

“Angels” is now the leading contender for best play revival, but the category is extraordinarily strong, and includes new productions of “Three Tall Women,” by Edward Albee, “The Iceman Cometh,” by Eugene O’Neill, “Lobby Hero,” by Kenneth Lonergan, and “Travesties,” by Tom Stoppard.

At nearly four hours long, “Iceman” (like “Angels” and “Cursed Child”) is not for those with short attention spans, though it is swifter than earlier productions of the play. “Three Tall Women” and “Lobby Hero” share a different distinction — they are on Broadway for the first time, but are considered revivals because they have been widely staged since their off-Broadway debuts decades ago.

Among new plays, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is the overwhelming favorite. A sequel to the seven novels, it depicts a time when Harry and his friends are parents of Hogwarts students, and grappling simultaneously with ominous signs in the wizarding world and the ordinary challenges of raising adolescents.

“Cursed Child” is the only one of the nominated new plays still running. The others are “The Children,” by Lucy Kirkwood; “Farinelli and the King,” by Claire van Kampen; “Junk,” by Ayad Akhtar; and “Latin History for Morons,” by Leguizamo.

A veteran returns, and many new faces.

Probably the surest shot in the whole Tonys derby is Glenda Jackson, who at 81 and after two decades in British Parliament, has returned to the stage and is up for leading actress in a play.

Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner who last appeared on Broadway in 1988, portrays a formidable matriarch in “Three Tall Women.”

Another veteran getting notice: Rigg, a beloved British actress who won a Tony in 1994 for “Medea,” now back on Broadway at 79 with a fierce, funny and feminist take on Mrs. Higgins in a heralded revival of “My Fair Lady.”

Ten other performers were nominated for their Broadway debuts, dazzling audiences with unexpected gifts.

Among them: 19-year-old Hailey Kilgore, for her breakout performance as Ti Moune, the self-sacrificing girl at the heart of “Once on This Island”; Ari’el Stachel, who had to audition seven times before landing the role as Haled, an amorous Egyptian trumpeter, in “The Band’s Visit”; Lauren Ridloff, a onetime Miss Deaf America who unexpectedly landed the starring role of Sarah Norman in a revival of “Children of a Lesser God”; and Ethan Slater, who used lessons learned as a high school wrestler to develop a physical language for SpongeBob SquarePants.

Another nominated debut is for an actress with a high profile already: comedian Schumer. Writer Steve Martin approached Schumer at a starry party and asked her to read the script of a play he was working on. She agreed and that led to the production of “Meteor Shower” on Broadway.

How did women fare in the #MeToo era?

Women are dramatically underrepresented as decision-makers on Broadway — particularly as producers, directors and writers. But several powerful women scored nods this year.

J.K. Rowling and Sonia Friedman were nominated as two of the three lead producers of “Cursed Child” (the third is Colin Callender). Rowling is the author of the “Harry Potter” books, and Friedman is one of the most successful producers in London.

Two female directors were nominated and are now strong contenders for awards: Marianne Elliott, who directed the “Angels in America” revival, and Tina Landau, who directed “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

And despite some concern that their gender politics were dated, the lush musical revivals of “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel” scored well in the nominations, and are selling well at the box office.

Several female writers were also singled out. The leading contender for best book of a musical is Fey, Kirkwood and van Kampen were nominated for their plays. (Rowling is not credited as the writer of “Cursed Child,” although she collaborated with dramatist Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany on creating the story.)

Racial and ethnic diversity is always a big issue on Broadway. Of the 39 performers nominated for Tonys, 13 are black, Hispanic, Asian-American or Arab-American.

Springsteen is winning a (special) Tony.

Springsteen can make room for a Tony on his awards shelf.

Awards administrators said Tuesday that they had decided to give the 68-year-old rock idol a special Tony Award in recognition of his ongoing song-and-storytelling show, “Springsteen on Broadway,” which has been running at the Walter Kerr Theater since October.

The award, calling Springsteen’s show “a once-in-a-lifetime theater going experience for the Broadway stage, allowing fans an intimate look at a music idol,” is noncompetitive. Springsteen opted not to contend for competitive awards, disqualifying his show from consideration by declining to invite Tony voters to see it. Previous recipients of special Tonys have included Bette Midler, Lena Horne, John Cameron Mitchell and Dame Edna.

The award makes it far more likely that Springsteen will perform on the Tony Awards and that could help the show’s ratings.

“Springsteen on Broadway” has been an enormous hit, critically and commercially. It won rave reviews, and it has been consistently sold out; it has already grossed $55 million, and the most recent average ticket price was $508, which is quite high for Broadway. The last show is scheduled to be Dec. 15.

The Tony administrators will also give a special Tony to John Leguizamo, citing “his body of work and for his commitment to the theater, bringing diverse stories and audiences to Broadway for three decades.” Leguizamo’s fourth one-man show on Broadway, “Latin History for Morons,” ran this season and was nominated Tuesday for best play.

What happens next?

Now it’s up to the voters.

There are 841 Tony voters — investors and producers, as well as actors, directors, designers, journalists and others — who are eligible to cast ballots for most categories. (This year, for the first time, a few categories — sound design and orchestration — will be decided by a subset of about half of the voters.)

The voters now have about five weeks to finish seeing all the nominated shows, or to revisit shows they saw in the fall and want to see again, and then they have until noon June 8 to submit ballots. This is the first year that the Tonys, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, are using all electronic voting — each voter is to be tracking his or her show attendance on a website, and then is to submit votes using that site.

In the coming weeks, the voters will get barraged with goodies from the nominated shows — cast recordings, souvenir books, trinkets — and the nominees will pop up at a ceaseless stream of nonprofit benefits, hoping to build goodwill and remain visible to industry insiders while voting is underway.

A few noncompetitive honors have already been announced. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and performer Chita Rivera will receive lifetime achievement awards at the ceremony, while Nick Scandalios, executive vice president of the Nederlander Organization, will get a volunteerism award for his work as an advocate for gay parents and their children. The annual prize for regional theater will go to La MaMa Etc., the New York-based experimental theater company.

At a reception on June 4, Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater will be presented to Sara Krulwich, the longtime theater photographer for The New York Times; Bessie Nelson, a longtime costume beader; and Ernest Winzer Cleaners, a 110-year-old business with a specialty in costume work.

FULL LIST OF NOMINEES

Best Musical

“The Band’s Visit”

“Frozen”

“Mean Girls”

“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical”

Best Play

“The Children”

“Farinelli and the King”

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

“Junk”

“Latin History for Morons”

Best Revival of a Musical

“Carousel”

“My Fair Lady”

“Once on This Island”

Best Revival of a Play

“Angels in America”

“Lobby Hero”

“Three Tall Women”

“The Iceman Cometh”

“Travesties”

Best Book of a Musical

“The Band’s Visit,” Itamar Moses

“Frozen,” Jennifer Lee

“Mean Girls,” Tina Fey

“SpongeBob SquarePants,” Kyle Jarrow

Best Original Score

“Angels in America,” Adrian Sutton

“The Band’s Visit,” Music and Lyrics: David Yazbek

“Frozen,” Music and Lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

“Mean Girls,” Music: Jeff Richmond; Lyrics: Nell Benjamin

“SpongeBob SquarePants,” Various contributors

Best Leading Actor in a Play

Andrew Garfield, “Angels in America”

Tom Hollander, “Travesties”

Jamie Parker, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Mark Rylance, “Farinelli and the King”

Denzel Washington, “The Iceman Cometh”

Best Leading Actress in a Play

Glenda Jackson, “Three Tall Women”

Condola Rashad, “Saint Joan”

Lauren Ridloff, “Children of a Lesser God”

Amy Schumer, “Meteor Shower”

Best Leading Actor in a Musical

Harry Hadden-Paton, “My Fair Lady”

Joshua Henry, “Carousel”

Ethan Slater, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Tony Shalhoub, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Leading Actress in a Musical

Lauren Ambrose, “My Fair Lady”

Hailey Kilgore, “Once on This Island”

LaChanze, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”

Katrina Lenk, “The Band’s Visit”

Taylor Louderman, “Mean Girls”

Jessie Mueller, “Carousel”

Best Featured Actor in a Play

Anthony Boyle, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Michael Cera, “Lobby Hero”

Brian Tyree Henry, “Lobby Hero”

Nathan Lane, “Angels in America”

David Morse, “The Iceman Cometh”

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Susan Brown, “Angels in America”

Noma Dumezweni, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Deborah Findlay, “The Children”

Denise Gough, “Angels in America”

Laurie Metcalf, “Three Tall Women”

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

Norbert Leo Butz, “My Fair Lady”

Alexander Gemignani, “Carousel”

Grey Henson, “Mean Girls”

Gavin Lee, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Ari’el Stachel, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Ariana DeBose, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”

Renée Fleming, “Carousel”

Lindsay Mendez, “Carousel”

Ashley Park, “Mean Girls”

Diana Rigg, “My Fair Lady”

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Miriam Buether, “Three Tall Women”

Jonathan Fensom, “Farinelli and the King”

Santo Loquasto, “The Iceman Cometh”

Christine Jones, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Ian MacNeil & Edward Pierce, “Angels in America”

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Dane Laffrey, “Once on this Island”

Scott Pask, “The Band’s Visit”

Scott Pask, Finn Ross and Adam Young, “Mean Girls”

Michael Yeargan, “My Fair Lady”

David Zinn, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Best Costume Design of a Play

Jonathan Fensom, “Farinelli and The King”

Nicky Gillibrand, “Angels in America”

Katrina Lindsay, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Ann Roth, “Three Tall Women”

Ann Roth, “The Iceman Cometh”

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregg Barnes, “Mean Girls”

Clint Ramos, “Once on this Island”

Ann Roth, “Carousel”

David Zinn, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Catherine Zuber, “My Fair Lady”

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Neil Austin, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Paule Constable, “Angels in America”

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, “The Iceman Cometh”

Paul Russell, “Farinelli and the King”

Ben Stanton, “Junk”

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, “Once On This Island”

David Holder, “My Fair Lady”

Brian MacDevitt, “Carousel”

Tyler Micoleau, “The Band’s Visit”

Best Direction of a Play

Marianne Elliott, “Angels in America”

Joe Mantello, “Three Tall Women”

Patrick Marber, “Travesties”

John Tiffany, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

George C. Wolfe, “The Iceman Cometh”

Best Direction of a Musical

Michael Arden, “Once on this Island”

David Cromer, “The Band’s Visit”

Tina Landau, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Casey Nicholaw, “Mean Girls”

Bartlett Sher, “My Fair Lady”

Best Choreography

Rob Ashford, “Frozen”

Christopher Gattelli, “My Fair Lady”

Christopher Gattelli, “SpongeBob SquarePants

Steven Hoggett, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Casey Nicholaw, “Mean Girls”

Justin Peck, “Carousel”

Best Orchestrations

John Clancy, “Mean Girls”

Tom Kitt, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Annmarie Milazzo & Michael Starobin, “Once on this Island”

Jamshied Sharifi, “The Band’s Visit”

Jonathan Tunick, “Carousel”

Sound Design in a Play

Adam Cork, “Travesties”

Ian Dickinson for Autograph, “Angels in America”

Gareth Fry, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Tom Gibbons, “1984”

Dan Moses Schreier, “The Iceman Cometh”

Sound Design in a Musical

Kai Harada, “The Band’s Visit”

Peter Hylenski, “Once On This Island”

Scott Lehrer, “Carousel”

Brian Ronan, “Mean Girls”

Walter Trarbach and Mike Dobson, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater

Chita Rivera

Andrew Lloyd Webber

Special Tony Award

John Leguizamo

Bruce Springsteen

Regional Theater Tony Award

La MaMa ETC

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award

Nick Scandalios

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater

Sara Krulwich

Bessie Nelson

Ernest Winzer Cleaners