Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Everything You Need to Know About This Year's Tony Nominees

If you're not a theatre fan, you probably don't care much about the Tony nominations (you probably also don't know why I spelled it "theatre" instead of "theater", but that's another blog for another day). But even non-theatre fans might be interested in some background about some of the shows that received Tony nominations this year. The shows with multiple nominations include the following:

  • A Doll's House, Part 2: Best Play, Best Leading Actor (Chris Cooper), Best Leading Actress (Laurie Metcalf), Best Featured Actress (Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashad), Best Costume Design (David Zinn), Best Lighting Design (Jennifer Tipton), Best Direction (Sam Gold)
  • Oslo: Best Play, Best Leading Actor (Jefferson Mays), Best Leading Actress (Jennifer Ehle), Best Featured Actor (Michael Aronov), Best Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Direction (Bartlett Sher)
  • Come From Away: Best Musical, Best Book (Irene Sankoff and David Hein), Best Original Score (Irene Sankoff and David Hein), Best Featured Actress (Jenn Colella), Best Lighting Design (Howell Binkley), Best Direction (Christopher Ashley), Best Choreography (Kelly Devine)
  • Dear Evan Hansen: Best Musical, Best Book (Steven Levenson), Original Score (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), Best Leading Actor (Ben Platt), Best Featured Actor (Mike Faist), Best Featured Actress (Rachel Bay Jones), Best Lighting Design (Japhy Weideman), Best Direction (Michael Greif), Best Orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire)
  • Groundhog Day the Musical: Best Musical, Best Book (Danny Rubin), Best Original Score (Tim Minchin), Best Leading Actor (Andy Karl), Best Scenic Design (Rob Howell), Best Direction (Matthew Warchus), Best Choreography (Peter Darling and Ellen Kane)
  • Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812: Best Musical, Best Book (Dave Malloy), Best Original Score (Dave Malloy), Best Leading Actor (Josh Groban), Best Leading Actress (Denee Benton), Best Featured Actor (Lucas Steele), Best Scenic Design (Mimi Lien), Best Costume Design (Paloma Young), Best Lighting Design (Bradley King), Best Direction (Rachel Chavkin), Best Choreography (Sam Pinkleton), Best Orchestrations (Dave Malloy)
  • August Wilson's Jitney: Best Revival of a Play, Best Featured Actor (John Douglas Thompson), Best Scenic Design (David Gallo), Best Costume Design (Toni-Leslie James), Best Lighting Design (Jane Cox), Best Direction (Ruben Santiago-Hudson)
  • Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes: Best Revival of a Play, Best Leading Actress (Laura Linney), Best Featured Actor (Richard Thomas), Best Featured Actress (Cynthia Nixon), Best Costume Design (Jane Greenwood), Best Direction (Daniel Sullivan)
  • Falsettos: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Leading Actor (Christian Borle), Best Featured Actor (Andrew Rannells and Brandon Uranowitz), Best Featured Actress (Stephanie J. Block)
  • Hello, Dolly!: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Leading Actor (David Hyde Pierce), Best Leading Actress (Bette Midler), Best Featured Actor (Gavin Creel), Best Featured Actress (Kate Baldwin), Best Scenic Design (Santo Loquasto), Best Costume Design (Santo Loquasto), Best Lighting Design (Natasha Katz), Best Direction (Jerry Zaks), Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman)
Other shows receiving nominations include: 
  • Plays/Play Revivals: Indecent, Sweat, Present Laughter, Six Degrees of Separation, Heisenberg, The Present, The Glass Menagerie, Arthur Miller's The Price, The Front Page, The Play That Goes Wrong
  • Musicals/Musical Revivals: Miss Saigon, War Paint, Anastasia, Bandstand, Holiday Inn the New Irving Berlin Musical

Let's take a quick look at the big nomination-getters.

A Doll's House, Part 2

The Background: Many of us may be familiar with Henrik Ibsen's play, A Doll's House, from having to read it in high school or college. You may even remember that the play ends with downtrodden wife, Nora, literally walking out the door and leaving behind her husband, Torvald, and their three children. Playwright Lucas Hnath wrote this play to answer the question, "But what happened afterwards?" Did Nora make her own way in life? Did Torvald manage to raise the children alone? Did either of them regret what happened? What did the children think about their mother leaving, once they were grown? It takes a daring playwright to write a sequel to a classic literary work, but judging by the long list of Tony nominations that this production received, his risk paid off. 

The Plot: The play begins, interestingly, with Nora knocking on the very same door we saw her walk through at the end of the original. Fifteen years have passed, and Nora has become a successful writer, but she has recently discovered that Torvald never divorced her. She has returned to request that divorce, since under Norwegian law at the time, a married woman was prohibited from conducting business without her husband's consent, making her writing illegal. We see the reaction of her nanny, her daughter, and her husband to her return.  

Interesting Factoids: Leading actor and actress, Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf, are familiar names even to non-theater-goers as well as hugely talented stage actors. Yes, that's the same Chris Cooper from the films American Beauty, The Bourne IdentityAdaptation (for which he received an Oscar), and Sea Biscuit. And yes, that's the same Laurie Metcalf from the Roseanne TV show and the voice of Andy's mom in The Toy Story films. Both have previous Broadway credits, Cooper in Of the Fields, Lately, and Metcalf in 5 other productions, 3 of which earned her previous Tony nominations (NovemberThe Other Place, and Misery). 


The Background: This play premiered at Lincoln Center and played off-Broadway for nearly a year before transferring the entire cast to Broadway.

The Plot: The true story of a group of diplomats attempting to broker peace between Israel and Palestine. But, as one reviewer commented, this is not a play about politics, nor even about leaders. "Rather, it is about their deputies, and oftentimes about their deputies’ deputies." [Tal Kra-Oz, tabletmag.com]

Interesting Factoids: This production involves a number of previous Tony nominees and winners. Jefferson Mays won a Tony for I Am My Own Wife and was nominated for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. Jennifer Ehle has two Tony awards, for The Real Thing and The Coast of Utopia. Set Designer Michael Yeargan holds previous Tonys for The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific as well as a nomination for The King and I. Lighting Designer Donald Holder has Tonys for The Lion King and South Pacific, plus a whopping NINE additional nominations. Director Bartlett Sher has five Tony nominations plus a win for South Pacific

Come From Away

The Background: The airport in the town of Gander, Newfoundland, was a popular refueling stop until the jet age made most of those stops unnecessary, and it began to be used only for emergency landings. On September 11, 2001, 38 planes were forced to make emergency landings there due to the bombing of the Twin Towers, and the town somehow managed to accommodate all 6,700 passengers on those planes until transportation could be arranged to send them home. Producer Michael Rubinoff pitched the idea of making the story into a musical to several writers before finding takers in husband-and-wife writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Sankoff and Hein flew to Gander for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and spent a month interviewing people and conducting research for the script. 

The Plot: The play takes place over the course of five days, as the town residents open their halls, homes, and hearts to the stranded passengers. It was described by one reviewer as a "portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure."

Interesting Factoids: Sankoff and Hein previously wrote a show called My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding (based on the real story of Hein's mother). Prior to its Broadway debut, Come From Away was performed in a hockey rink in the town of Gander where the actual events occurred, for the residents who inspired the production. 

Dear Evan Hansen

The Background: This original musical is based on an incident that happened during writer and composer Benj Pasek's high school career. 

The Plot: A shy, socially anxious teen writes himself a pep-talk letter, as advised by his therapist, but it gets stolen by another loner who later kills himself. The dead boy's family finds the letter and seeks Evan out, assuming the boys were friends, and looking for an explanation of why he killed himself. Evan gets caught up in a web of well-intentioned lies, enjoying the longed-for attention he is receiving, but being eaten by guilt. The themes of teen suicide and loneliness sound like a bleak show, but the result is actually upbeat, focusing on Evan's desire to do good and figure out what the right thing is to do. 

Interesting Factoids: Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are the same team who scored the Oscar-winning film La La Land. As a publicity stunt, the song "Requiem" was made available for streaming for a 24-hour period a week prior to the release of the full original cast recording. The cast album debuted at #8 on the Billboard 200 chart. 

Groundhog Day the Musical

The Background: Based on the 1993 Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day. The book of the musical was written by Danny Rubin, who co-wrote the original screenplay with Harold Ramis. 

The Plot: A TV weatherman forced to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsatawney gets stuck reliving the same day over and over again. 

Interesting Factoids: Stephen Sondheim considered the film as source material for a musical, but decided that "to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved." Composer Tim Minchin also received a Tony nomination for his score for Matilda the Musical

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

The Background: This musical was adapted from a section of the Leo Tolstoy novel, "War and Peace." The Broadway production seems to be a mix of period and contemporary looks and styles, both visually and musically. It is repeatedly described as "immersive," which seems to sum up much of the experience: the audience is surrounded by the coiled, multi-level stage and given vodka and pierogies during many performances. It's about soaring music and striking visuals. 

The Plot: I'll be honest: I've read at least half a dozen synopses of this show and I STILL can't figure out exactly what it's about. I think it's a bunch of Russians having affairs with inappropriate people. Some of them seem to feel guilty about it. Considering that the character descriptions given in the script are statements like, "Natasha is young," "Anatole is hot," and "Dolokhov is fierce, but not too important", I don't think the plot is really the point here. (See "vodka and pierogies" comment, above. Also, Josh Groban. Enough said.) 

Interesting Factoids: Composer and librettist Dave Malloy played Pierre in the original off-Broadway production. Groban plays the accordion onstage during the production. 

August Wilson's Jitney

The Background: Jitney was the eighth's play in Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle." Written and set in the mid-1970s, it was first produced in Pittsburgh (where it is set), with subsequent productions across the country through the late 1990s. 

The Plot: The play follows the lives of a group of men working as jitney drivers, unlicensed cabbies in a Pittsburgh district where regular, licensed taxis refuse to drive. Troubles arise when the city makes plans to tear down their building to build housing projects and the boss's son comes home after a long prison sentence. Ben Brantley sums up the message of the play thusly: "That many of the societal problems faced by its characters remain almost exactly the same is shaming and sobering. Yet their collective voice is joyfully intoxicating. Jitney is a lament that has the affirmative ring of celebration."

Interesting Factoids: The Broadway revival began previews in December 2016, opened in January 2017, and closed in March 2017. It is the only one of the 10 "Pittsburgh Cycle" plays not to run on Broadway following its original off-Broadway run. 

Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes

The Background: Hellman wrote the original play in 1939, the title of which is taken from Song of Songs 2:15: "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes." Hellman is said to have based the Hubbard family on her maternal grandparents and their family. 

The Plot: A greedy southern belle, Regina, and her two brothers scheme to manipulate her husband (who controls her fortune) into investing with a big-city developer. Regina is clearly a better businesswoman than her brothers or her husband, but she is frustrated at being forced into the traditional role of a Southern woman - who is not allowed to either handle or inherit money. Her shrewdness becomes bitterness and even rage.

Interesting Factoids: Dorothy Parker suggested the title of the play to Hellman. Tallulah Bankhead played Regina in the original Broadway production. Hellman rewrote the stage version into a 1941 film script, which starred Bette Davis and many members of the Broadway cast. In 1956, the script was adapted into a television version starring Greer Garson. In the current revival, Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternate the roles of Regina and sister-in-law Birdie.


The Background: The original production opened on Broadway in 1992, and was the combination of 2 of 3 one-act off-Broadway shows, The March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland.

The Plot: The show centers around Marvin, who has left his son Jason and his wife Trina to move in with his lover, Whizzer. Psychiatrist Mendel counsels Trina (finding himself attracted to her), Jason (who is uncomfortable with the thought that his father is gay), and Marvin (who is unsure of his love for Whizzer). Act 1 ends with Trina planning to marry Mendel, Marvin and Whizzer's relationship down the drain, Marvin and Trina's relationship in tatters, and Jason discovering girls - and that his father will be there for him, no matter what. In Act 2, Jason's upcoming Bar Mitzvah is threatening the tentative truce between Marvin and Trina, Jason is struggling with his invitation list, and Whizzer unexpectedly shows up, stirring up old feelings. Whizzer and Marvin rekindle their relationship, but it becomes clear that Whizzer is desperately ill and near death. Jason suggests they hold the Bar Mitzvah in Whizzer's hospital room and begs God for a miracle to save Whizzer's life. The play ends as Marvin and Whizzer's spirit reflect on what their lives would have been had they never been friends.

Interesting Factoids: The original production received 7 Tony nominations and won Best Book and Best Score. The revival was filmed by PBS on January 3 & 4, 2017, and is expected to be aired at a future date.

Hello, Dolly!

The Background: The original 1964 musical was based on Thornton Wilder's 1955 play "The Matchmaker" (which was Wilder's revision of his own 1938 play "The Merchant of Yonkers"). It was made into a film 5 years later, and was revived on Broadway in 1975, 1978, and 1995, in addition to the current revival.

The Plot: Widowed matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi takes on a rich but cantankerous client and decides that she's his perfect match.

Interesting Factoids: The working title of the original musical during out-of-town tryouts was "Call On Dolly", but when producer David Merrick heard Louis Armstrong's recording of "Hello, Dolly," he immediately changed the title. Clips from the 1969 movie were used in the film Wall-E. The song "Penny in My Pocket," originally sung by Vandergelder at the beginning of Act 2 but cut from the original Broadway production, is included in this revival.

Now go to your calendar and make a note to watch the Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11. Red carpet, here we come!

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