Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Chasing the Tony Awards

Musicals about adolescent angst and Jackie Kennedy's eccentric kin were showered with nominations. Among straight plays, the leader is Tom Stoppard's look at pre-Revolutionary Russia.

Spring Awakening,

a bold musical that overlays a 21st-century rock score on 19th-century adolescent sexual angst, received 11 nominations yesterday for Broadway's highest honor, the Tony Award.

The straight-play category was topped by another work with a 19th-century setting: Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia, an ambitious examination of Russia's pre-Revolutionary intelligentsia. Ten nominations went to the trilogy of plays that was perhaps the season's most anticipated, talked-about - and costly to attend - theatrical event.

The musical Grey Gardens, which, like Spring Awakening, premiered Off-Broadway last spring before moving uptown, garnered 10 nominations. Based on a documentary film, it limns the lives of Jackie Kennedy's oddball relatives Edith Beale and her daughter Edie, whose high-society Hamptons existence declined into ramshackle poverty.

The other nominees for best musical were the zany, old-fashioned Kander and Ebb mystery show Curtains - about onstage murders in Boston - and Disney's richly staged theatrical version of Mary Poppins.

Also nominated in the best-play category was the late August Wilson's Radio Golf, which opened at Princeton's McCarter Theatre, then moved to Broadway. The last of Wilson's 10-play cycle on black life in 20th-century America, it looks sternly at the notion of emerging success among powerful blacks in the 1990s. The other best-play nominees are the edgy comedy The Little Dog Laughed, about an actor, his male-prostitute lover, the lover's girlfriend and a hilariously difficult agent, and Frost/Nixon, a clever examination of TV host David Frost's 1977 interviews of former President Richard Nixon.

Jonathan Groff, who gives a powerful, racy performance as the mop-haired Melchior in Spring Awakening, was nominated as best actor in a musical. It's been a heady run for the 22-year-old from rural Ronks, Pa., near Lancaster. At Conestoga Valley High School, where he graduated in 2003, his gym-teacher mother yesterday led the cheers as students watched the nomination announcements from New York on a large-screen TV, the Lancaster New Era reported.

Groff has stiff competition: Raúl Esparza, who gives a smoldering performance as the schlub who cannot figure out marriage in the revival of Company; Michael Cerveris, the popular Broadway actor who portrays composer Kurt Weill in LoveMusik; David Hyde Pierce, of Frasier TV fame, whose nuanced performance of a detective is pure fun in Curtains; and Gavin Lee, the animated, loose-jointed Bert of Mary Poppins.

The nods for leading actress in a musical went to Laura Bell Bundy, the unendingly cheery heroine in the new theatrical version of Legally Blonde; Christine Ebersole, who plays both a mother and, in a riveting second act, her daughter in Grey Gardens; and Audra McDonald, the four-time Tony winner who is currently lifting the revival of 110 in the Shade several levels by dint of her talent. (One of McDonald's Tonys is for her performance in Master Class, which began stage life at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in 1995.) Also nominated are Debra Monk, who plays a funny, mouthy producer in Curtains, and Broadway favorite Donna Murphy, thoughtfully portraying singer Lotte Lenya in LoveMusik.

Nominated for best actor in a play were Boyd Gaines, for his dead-on portrayal of a war-weary officer in the World War I drama Journey's End; Frank Langella, who plays an emotionally manipulative Nixon in Frost/Nixon; Brian F. O'Byrne, the compelling lead of all three parts of The Coast of Utopia; another stage veteran, Christopher Plummer, who elegantly portrays the defense lawyer in the revival of Inherit the Wind, and Liev Schreiber, whose performance as the shock-jock host of Talk Radio has drawn raves.

The race for leading actress in a play, with five exceptional performances, presents perhaps the toughest competition.

The contenders are Eve Best, the long-suffering daughter in the revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten; Swoosie Kurtz, who tries against all odds to demand order in the revival of Heartbreak House; Angela Lansbury as an aged tennis champion in the new play Deuce; Vanessa Redgrave playing the role of Joan Didion, who has lost a husband and a daughter, in The Year of Magical Thinking; and Julie White, the agent in The Little Dog Laughed.

In the best-revival categories, 110 in the Shade, A Chorus Line, The Apple Tree and Company vie for musical honors; Inherit the Wind, Journey's End, Talk Radio and Translations are the straight-play nominees.

The Tony for excellence in regional theater will be awarded to Atlanta's Alliance Theatre.

Twenty-three theater professionals chose the nominees for Tony's 25 categories, and 785 members of the theater community will pick the winners. The awards ceremony will be televised live on CBS on June 10, from Radio City Music Hall.