People within the tiny microcosm of culture that is the Broadway theatre district were breathless with excitement this morning over the announcement of the 2013 Tony Award nominations. But unless you were among the 12 million tourists who purchased tickets to a Broadway show in the past year—and coughed up the $120-a-pop to see a one-woman show on the Virgin Mary instead of Phantom of the Opera or Wicked for the fifth time—you’re unlikely to have any clue as to who the contenders are, or whether the shows were any good.
That’s where we step in, offering up this Outsider’s Guide to this year’s Tony nominees, featuring clips from those splashy musicals you may have missed, word on the buzz over who will win, and, most gleefully, which Hollywood big shots were left off the list.
Bring It On: The Musical
Yes, a musical based on the campy high-school cheerleading flick starring Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku—spirit fingers!—is now a Tony Award nominee. But the few who caught the show’s short run—it only ran for five months—may have left disappointed that catty exchanges like “She put the ‘itch’ in bitch…she put the ‘whore’ in horrifying” were missing. The film’s darkly comic plot was essentially scrapped in the peppy, Glee-like stage version. Andy Blankenbuehler’s high-flying, acrobatic choreography, on display above, scored the musical its sole other nod.
A Christmas Story: The Musical
This year’s Best Musical nominations certainly adhere to the credence: there are no new ideas. All four contenders are based on movies. The most tourist-baity of the group is A Christmas Story: The Musical, adapted from the “You’ll shoot your eye out” film that plays on loop on TBS each Christmas Eve. On Broadway for just six weeks this winter, the musical is the theatre producer’s dream: a cheap production that can be revived seasonally each year with a guaranteed audience of New York Christmastime gawkers chomping at the bit to purchase tickets.
There are four nominees in this category, but only two real contenders: Matilda and Kinky Boots, which led all shows with 13 nominations, including mentions for its three stars Billy Porter, Stark Sands, and Annaleigh Ashford. It’s certainly the most idiosyncratic nominee—Cyndi Lauper composed the music and lyrics, and it’s based on the 2005 film about a drag queen who helps rescue a man’s shoe factory by convincing him to manufacture thigh-high, high-heeled boots strong enough for men. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive for the show, especially for Lauper’s infectious numbers and Porter’s sassy lead performance as Lola, nee Simon.
Matilda: The Musical
Matilda: The Musical arrived on Broadway via Roald Dahl’s bewitching 1988 children’s novel, the charming 1996 film based on it, and an Olivier Award-winning run that was the toast of London last season. Reviews for the joyous musical were rapturous, particularly for the four girls who rotate playing the demanding title role (they will be recognized with a special award for Excellence in Theatre). Bertie Carvel’s cross-dressing performance as dastardly school headmistress Miss Trunchbull scored a Best Actor nod, while Lauren Ward competes in Best Featured Actress for playing Matilda’s sweet teacher and confidant, Miss Honey.
Best Revival of a Musical
To say that the most recent revival of Annie was received as merely pleasant is hardly an insult, but that won’t help it compete against the three other stellar, inventive revivals that populate this category. Nothing about the show was particularly bad—though Katie Finneran’s shrill take on Miss Hannigan, who will be played by Glee’s Jane Lynch for a brief run this summer, proved polarizing—but that none of its stars, including the enthusiastic young Lilla Crawford as the titular spunky orphan or silken-voiced Australian Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks, scored acting nods shows how competitive the musical categories were this year.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
The Mystery of Edwin Drood was this season’s little-seen delight, an under-the-radar revival of the 1985 musical that doubles as a live parlor game in which audiences play a crucial part in solving—if not deciding—each night the mystery of who killed Edwin Drood. Already closed and with not nearly the buzz that Pippin and Cinderella are enjoying, Drood’s nomination—and the mentions for stars Stephanie J. Block and Will Chase—is its award.
The original run of Pippin was quintessential Fosse—lean dancers clad in black slinking across the stage flashing some serious jazz hands. To update the classic musical for its first Broadway revival, producers took the show’s opening number “Magic to Do” to heart, supplanting skilled Fosse dancers and choreography with literal magic, integrating illusion and circus tricks from the 7 Fingers circus company into the show’s dazzling production numbers. Patina Miller does the impossible by making her own mark on a role indelibly attached to original star Ben Vereen as the Leading Player, and Broadway vet Andrea Martin stops the show with her trapeze-swinging big number. Both are the frontrunners, respectively, for Best Actress and Featured Actress.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Though revived twice for TV movie versions—one starring Julie Andrews in 1957 and another starring Brandy and Whitney Houston in 1997—the original off-Broadway version of Cinderella has never played on the Great White Way until now. It’s the very definition of lovely, led by the very definition of a star performance by Broadway’s go-to ingénue of the moment, Laura Osnes, in the glass slippers. The dated book is given an update by Douglas Carter Beane, while the parade of candy-hued ball gowns serves as Broadway’s version of fashion porn. Can it beat Pippin? Probably not, but to cheesily quote one of the show’s most famous songs, “Impossible? Things are happening every day.”
No Love for Hollywood
It was just three years ago that Denzel Washington, Scarlet Johansson, Viola Davis, and Catherine Zeta-Jones all won acting Tonys in the same year, leading the Broadway community to cry distaste for presumed stargazing on the part of the voting committee. No such complaint this year. A-listers snubbed this year include Johansson, Bette Midler, Jessica Chastain, Katie Holmes, Alec Baldwin, and Al Pacino. That’s not to say there was no Hollywood love. Tom Hanks, nominated for Lucky Guy, will face off against Nathan Lane (The Nance) and David Hyde Pierce (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) in Best Actor in a Play and screen legend Cicely Tyson is a frontrunner for her turn in The Trip to Bountiful, against Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf (The Other Place) and Two and a Half Men’s Holland Taylor (Ann). Still, Hanks aside, none of those actors really carry enough star power for Broadway journeymen to cry foul this year.
Best Actor and Actress in a Musical
The Tonys have award gender-bending performances: Harvey Fierstein in Hairspray, Douglas Hodge in La Cage Aux Folles, to name a few. But this could be the first year that both Best Actor and Actress in a Musical are awarded to actors playing roles intended for the opposite sex. Assuming Laura Osnes doesn’t score a surprise star-is-born victory for Cinderella, Patina Miller pretty much has the Actress statue in a bag for her Pippin role that was originated by a man. And Bertie Carvel very well could follow up his Best Actor Olivier trophy for a Tony win for his turn as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, that is, if Billy Porter’s impressive drag performance in Kinky Boots doesn’t steal it away.
The marquee title in this category and the one most people outside New York have likely heard about is Lucky Guy, about Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mike McAlary and the last work written by Nora Ephron. And, of course, it stars a little-known actor named Tom Hanks. Reviews were great for Hanks and kind to Ephron, and the allure of posthumously awarding an entertainment legend makes the play a contender, but the more likely victor will either be Richard Greenberg’s family drama The Assembled Parties or Christopher Durang’s serio-comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which could overcome the Tonys’ aversion to comedy plays thanks to the notion that Durang, a beloved playwright who has never won, is overdue.