Entertainment

Big Brands Lead the Tony Parade

Posted May 1, 2018 7:26 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — And now, the races begin.

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

In something of a surprise, “Mean Girls,” Tina 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 on 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 becomes 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 hit animated film. The stage adaptation, which was not embraced by critics, didn’t receive nominations for its performers or much of its creative team, although it did garner nods for its book and score.

“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.

In addition to “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob,” the nominators also showered affection on five critically acclaimed productions: revivals of “Angels in America” and “Carousel,” as well as “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.

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

“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 841 voters have about five weeks to finish seeing all the nominated shows, and until noon on June 8 to submit ballots. Winners will be announced on June 10 at Radio City Music Hall in a ceremony televised by CBS. Big Notice for Big Plays

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 during the Reagan era and 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 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 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.

Faces Familiar and New

Probably the surest shot in the whole Tonys derby is Glenda Jackson, who at 81 and after two decades in Britain’s 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: the 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.

Broadway 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, and Kirkwood and van Kampen were nominated their plays. (Rowling is not credited as the writer of “Cursed Child,” although she collaborated with the dramatist, Jack Thorne, and the 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’s Special Honor

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 song-and-storytelling show, “Springsteen on Broadway,” which has been running at the Walter Kerr Theater since October.

The award is noncompetitive. Springsteen opted not to contend for competitive awards, disqualifying his show by declining to invite Tony voters to see it.

A special Tony will also go to Leguizamo, citing “his body of work and for his commitment to the theater, bringing diverse stories and audiences to Broadway for three decades.”

2018 TONY NOMINEES

Musical

“The Band’s Visit”

“Frozen”

“Mean Girls”

“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical”

Play

“The Children”

“Farinelli and the King”

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

“Junk”

“Latin History for Morons”

Revival of a Musical

“Carousel”

“My Fair Lady”

“Once on This Island”

Revival of a Play

“Angels in America”

“Lobby Hero”

“Three Tall Women”

“The Iceman Cometh”

“Travesties”

Book of a Musical

“The Band’s Visit,” Itamar Moses

“Frozen,” Jennifer Lee

“Mean Girls,” Tina Fey

“SpongeBob SquarePants,” Kyle Jarrow

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

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”

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”

Leading Actor in a Musical

Harry Hadden-Paton, “My Fair Lady”

Joshua Henry, “Carousel”

Ethan Slater, “SpongeBob SquarePants”

Tony Shalhoub, “The Band’s Visit”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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