Nominations for the 2014 Tony Awards were announced on Tuesday morning, and headlines blared that the cosy musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder led the field with 10 of them. Meanwhile, the real story of the just-concluded Broadway season – and the Tonys, which will be held on June 8 at New York’s Radio City Musical Hall, hosted by Hugh Jackman, celebrate Broadway – was reflected by the fate of another new musical, Rocky.
Rocky, an adaptation of the 1976 Sylvester Stallone movie, received only four nominations, none of them for the coveted Best Musical. Yet it encapsulates the current state of Broadway for two reasons. First, it is the only new musical that seems to be drawing men in any numbers. Men, according to a report released last month by an industry trade group, made up only 32 per cent of Broadway attendance last year, down from 42 per cent in 1980. Humourist Paul Rudnick instantly responded that men avoid musicals because they “are a gateway drug to opera”.
Rocky is significant for another reason: its climactic bout contains no literal knock-out punch. Similarly, no new musical or new play wholly provided that ka-pow factor symbolically. Gentleman’s Guide, for example, which is based on the same source material as the 1949 classic British film Kind Hearts and Coronets, could win Best Musical, because Aladdin, with five noms, is from the generally ill-favoured Disney; the dance-heavy After Midnight, with seven noms, is basically a revue; and Beautiful, also with seven, is a jukebox show. Yet Guide is by no means a sure thing, even though the show with the most nominations tends historically to win Best Musical.
The Best Play category – consisting of All the Way, Mothers and Sons, Outside Mullingar, Casa Valentina, and Act One – is widely considered to be the weakest field in years. All the Way, by Robert Schenkkan, could eke out a win, if only because its subject matter – the successful attempt of Lyndon Baines Johnson to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act – feels important, and the play itself is powered mightily by the performance of Bryan Cranston, of TV’s Breaking Bad, as LBJ. Cranston will win the Best Actor in a Play category, besting a group including Samuel Barnett, from the Globe Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night, which received seven nominations, and Mark Rylance, for the Globe’s Richard III. Denzel Washington, for A Raisin in the Sun, and Daniel Radcliffe, for a very funny, London-imported revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, were among the big names overlooked.
The Best Revival of a Musical category was scanty this year in quantity rather than quality. Three of the four eligible nominees – Violet, Les Misérables, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch – were nominated. That last, with eight nominations, is the likely winner, just as its glam-rock star, Neil Patrick Harris, is the certain victor for the Leading Actor in a Musical category.
The Leading Actress in a Play category has two main contenders. There is Cherry Jones, for The Glass Menagerie, which, along with Twelfth Night, for which Rylance received a second Tony nom, in the featured category, is the odds-on leader for Best Revival of a Play. And there is Audra McDonald, who could pick up an unprecedented sixth Tony for her role as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.
The competition is even more gruelling in the Leading Actress in a Musical sweepstakes. I suspect that two of the nominees – Idina Menzel, of If/Then, and Sutton Foster, of Violet – have no prayer because they already have Tonys. The real derby is between newcomer Jessie Mueller, who plays the American songwriter Carole King, in the hit Beautiful, and oft-nominated Kelli O’Hara, who is terrific as an Italian housewife in Iowa, in the commercially struggling The Bridges of Madison County. If O’Hara loses this year to a King it may be in part because she is expected to win next season for a King – she is expected to star in a revival of The King and I in early 2015.