This year star Julianne Moore is the Broadway baby most likely to be crying over her absence from the nominee list, due to poor reviews for "The Vertical Hour."
Instead, lots of theater veterans will be battling it out, a few even of the superstar kind. The awards fate of one of the biggest celeb names -- Angela Lansbury ("Deuce") -- and a Broadway insider not known well beyond the Rialto (Audra MacDonald of "110 in the Shade") comprises the biggest cliffhanger looming over this year's Tonys drama. Can those four-time past champs win one more trophy to tie the record held by Julie Harris?
Predicting front-runners is a challenge since nominees in 26 categories are decided by a select committee of 25, which includes Tony-winning actors Joanna Gleason and Brian Stokes Mitchell and playwright David Henry Hwang.
Winners, who will be announced on CBS on June 10, will be chosen by 750 voters drawn from the American Theatre Wing (which manages the Tonys), crafts unions, the press, and Broadway's almighty producers. Voters are expected to attend all nominated productions and, as with the Oscars, refrain from casting ballots in any category in which they have not seen all of the nominees.
Little hint of what will be included in the awards race can be gleaned from nominations already announced by the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Awards. Unlike their film counterparts, theater folk are not so swayed by rival awards.
Also, the Tonys honor the best of Broadway; the Drama Desk and Outer Critics kudos include off-Broadway, too. Furthermore, the rival awards are so intent to get a jump on the Tonys that they unveil nominees before the official end of the Broadway season. This year that meant they couldn't consider Angela Lansbury and "Deuce."
But the precursor awards do have some inevitable influence. When a show dominates a nominations list, as "LoveMusik" did in nabbing 12 Drama Desk nods, it cannot help but give permission to the Tony nominators to reward it, too. No doubt producers of "Legally Blonde" hope that there's minimal influence in their case. Their show got blanked by the Outer Critics.
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The New York Drama Critics Circle has considerable influence, but it only bestows awards for productions (performers need not apply). This year's top winners: "Spring Awakening" (best musical), "The Coast of Utopia" (best play) and "Radio Golf" (best American play).
While acting categories usually have five nominees, production awards, including best play and musical, have at most four contenders, to be drawn from the 16 musicals and 19 plays that opened this year.
Considering "Avenue Q" (2004 winner) is the only show based on original material to be named best musical in the last decade, it is not surprising that the four front-runners this year are all adaptations.
"Grey Gardens" opened to glowing notices for star Christine Ebersole, but reviews were mixed for the overall production, which was inspired by the acclaimed 1975 documentary about the real-life aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The show was substantially revised since its off-Broadway run last spring.
Critics of the overhauled show were wowed by the past Tony champ in dual roles of the reclusive Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, "Little" Edie, but less enthusiastic about the story (set in 1941, when their Hamptons estate was at its prime, and in 1973, when it was reduced to squalor). But Ebersole remains the one to beat for best actress and Mary Louise Wilson, as the aged Edith, could win supporting actress.
"Spring Awakening," another transfer from off-Broadway, may have opened in the dead of winter, but it lived up to its title with a frank depiction of teenage sexuality in a musicalized version of Frank Wedekind's century-old play. Look for Broadway newcomers Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele to score lead nominations. There also will probably be nods for several of the supporting cast, none of whom is over age 25.
If "Spring Awakening" is this year's "Rent" (1996 winner), then "LoveMusik," a look at the relationship between Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, is akin to the more serious-minded "Passion" (1993 winner), which also starred Donna Murphy. With Tony-winners Murphy and Michael Cerveris singing the songs of Weill and Brecht under the direction of Hal Prince (previous winner of 21 Tonys), expect a slew of nominations.
"Mary Poppins" may suffer by comparison with the movie classic, but Ashley Brown as the practically perfect nanny, Gavin Lee as the chimney sweep, and a supporting cast of 30 work their magic on audiences at the New Amsterdam Theatre (once home to 1998 winner "The Lion King").
This elaborate production could dominate the technical categories and get nods for the leads, as well as for Rebecca Luker and Daniel Jenkins as the beleaguered parents. "Poppins" should beat out that other movie-come-to-life, "Legally Blonde," for the fourth slot. Blonde belter Laura Bell Bundy, who got better reviews than her show, should make the cut, in addition to supporting players Christian Borle and Orfeh.
Two legendary musical teams returned to the Rialto with less-than-stellar productions. "Curtains," a backstage murder mystery musical that was the last collaboration of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb ("Cabaret"), will have to settle for nominations, if not wins, for Emmy champ David Hyde Pierce and Tony-winners Debra Monk and Karen Ziemba.