Tony Awards: 'Gentleman's Guide,' 'Hedwig' Dominate 2014 Nominations

6:13 AM PST 04/29/2014 by David Rooney
"A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

Neil Patrick Harris, Idina Menzel, Audra McDonald, Chris O'Dowd, Sutton Foster and Woody Allen are among the contenders for Broadway's top honors in a wide-open season, with Mark Rylance landing a double nod.

NEW YORK – Nominations were announced Tuesday morning for the 68th annual Tony Awards, and in keeping with a season that failed to generate clear frontrunners, the honors for Broadway's best were scattered across a wide field.

Leading the pack with 10 nominations is the musical comedy A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, a British music hall pastiche in which a commoner sets out to eliminate all the members of an aristocratic family separating him from his noble birthright. That show scored nods for best musical, original score, book and direction, as well as lead actor for both Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham and featured actress for Lauren Worsham.

Close behind is the revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch  with eight nominations, including lead actor in a musical for Neil Patrick Harris as the eponymous transgender East Berlin punk rocker. The four-time Tony Awards host now has a shot at winning one of Broadway's top honors rather than presiding over them.

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The Harlem Jazz Age revue After Midnight landed seven nominations, as did Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Glass Menagerie and Twelfth Night.

While a notably large number of big-name stars were shut out, marquee talent among the acting nominations, in addition to Harris, includes Bryan Cranston for All the WayIdina Menzel for If/Then, Chris O'Dowd for Of Mice and Men, Tony Shalhoub for Act One and Audra McDonald for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

Playing legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday in the bio-drama with music, five-time Tony winner McDonald earned her spot in the race for lead actress in a play, the only female acting category in which she has not previously notched at least one win. A victory on awards night would make her the first performer to complete a Tony grand slam, giving her an equal number of trophies to beloved stage great Julie Harris, who won six, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

However, McDonald faces stiff competition from Cherry Jones as domineering matriarch Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. That Tennessee Williams American classic from 1944 finally broke its unparalleled unlucky streak of being overlooked in the Tony race; the revival's seven nods included mentions for director John Tiffany and featured actors Brian J. Smith and Celia Keenan-Bolger, but Zachary Quinto missed out for his acclaimed turn as Amanda's tormented son, Tom.

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While the revival of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan scored a healthy six nominations, lead actor Daniel Radcliffe was a high-profile shut-out. That marks the third time a well-reviewed performance from the Harry Potter star has been passed over for a Tony nomination, following two prior Broadway appearances, in Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Denzel Washington, who won in 2010 for lead actor in August Wilson's Fences, also failed to make the cut this year for A Raisin in the Sun. However, his co-stars LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose all scored nods for the hot-ticket revival of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 drama, which recently made news when President Barack Obama and the first lady attended a performance. The revival drew a total of five nominations.

Among the year's most competitive fields is lead actress in a musical, with previous nominees Kelli O’Hara (The Bridges of Madison County) and Jessie Mueller (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) up against past winners Sutton Foster (Violet) and Menzel, as well as Broadway newbie Mary Bridget Davies (A Night with Janis Joplin).

Another previous winner, Mark Rylance, who took home lead actor in a play Tonys in 2008 for Boeing-Boeing and in 2011 for Jerusalem, this year has the rare distinction of being a double nominee. He made the shortlist as lead actor for his lip-smacking turn as the devious title character in Richard III and for featured actor as the romantically dizzy noblewoman Olivia in Twelfth Night. That all-male double-bill import from Shakespeare's Globe in London had a smash Broadway run in the fall.

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In addition to Rylance's Olivia, a number of gender-bending turns were nominated, continuing the cross-dressing theme from last year's Tony laureate, Kinky Boots.

Those include Rylance's castmates Samuel Barnett as the incognito Viola and Paul Chahidi as scheming lady-in-waiting Maria in Twelfth Night, Harris as Hedwig, Lena Hall as Hedwig's drag husband Yitzhak, and Reed Birney as an ostensibly heterosexual transvestite activist in Harvey Fierstein's Casa Valentina. Mays (the dueling frontrunner with Harris for lead actor in a musical) also dons a frock or two as a couple of the doomed Brits he plays in his virtuoso multi-character turn in Gentleman's Guide.

While Fierstein has been represented over the past three decades at the Tonys as an actor (Hairspray) and book writer on musicals (La Cage aux Folles, Newsies, Kinky Boots), Casa Valentina marks his first new play on Broadway since Torch Song Trilogy 31 years ago. That career-making success landed him Tonys for best play and lead actor in 1983.

The four nominations for Casa Valentina included one for best play, where it faces off against Robert Schenkkan's political history drama All the Way, John Patrick Shanley's Irish romantic comedy Outside Mullingar, Terrence McNally's reflection on the evolution of gay relationships and the legacy of the AIDS crisis, Mothers and Sons and James Lapine's adaptation of playwright-director Moss Hart's memoir about his early life and entree into the theater, Act One.

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In addition to A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder and After Midnight, the nominees for best musical – the award believed to have the most significant impact at the box office – include Disney’s Aladdin and Beautiful, both of which have been strong performers at the box office since opening earlier this year. Fall openers Gentleman's Guide and After Midnight have seen their sales slipping, and now appear likely to benefit from Tony attention.

It's worth noting that two of those best musical contenders, After Midnight and Beautiful, are essentially jukebox shows. The former serves up jazz toe-tappers from the Duke Ellington repertoire and the latter weaves together popular songs by King and her then-husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, as well as that couple's best friends and fellow hitmakers, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, to tell the biographical story of King's marriage and early career. Aladdin uses songs from the 1992 Disney animated movie by Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman (whose work was completed following his death by Tim Rice), as well as numbers written for the film but not used. That makes Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman's songs for Gentleman's Guide the only entirely original score of the bunch.

While Bullets Over Broadway didn't snag a best musical nomination, it did receive a nod to Woody Allen's book, adapted from his screenplay for the 1994 comedy. In a weird quirk of this year's Tony race, Allen is up against his co-scripter on the original Bullets movie, Douglas McGrath, in the same category for the latter's work on Beautiful. While Allen's musical received mixed reviews, it landed six nominations, including one for featured actor Nick Cordero.

Bullets was among a handful of polarizing new shows to open in the spring that had been angling for a best musical slot but got more limited affection from Tony nominators. Others included Rocky, The Bridges of Madison County and If/Then, all of which failed to crack the top category. Rocky took four nominations, including one for lead actor Andy Karl in the Sylvester Stallone role, while Bridges also received four, landing a nod for Jason Robert Brown's score as well as lead actress O'Hara. If/Then received two nominations, for Menzel's lead performance and for the original score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.

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If/Then has seen robust box office on the strength of Menzel's Frozen exposure and enduring Broadway popularity that stretches back to her days in the original casts of Rent and WickedBullets is also off to a promising start even if the big-budget show hasn't become the instant sensation producers had hoped. But Rocky has been performing below expectations and Bridges has struggled to build an audience. It remains to be seen whether those shows' Tony nominations will do much to increase ticket sales.

An even bigger question is whether Tony fever can save two plays with dismal box office: Mothers and Sons, nominated for best play and lead actress Tyne Daly; and The Velocity of Autumn, which nabbed a single nom for lead actress Estelle Parsons. (UPDATE: An early closing notice for Velocity was posted within hours of the Tony nominations.)

In the revival races, the musical contenders are Hedwig, Les Miserables and Violet, with the return engagement of Cabaret locked out, in likelihood because the production won in the same category in 1998. That John Kander & Fred Ebb musical failed to secure a nomination for Michelle Williams in her Broadway debut but landed featured acting nods for Linda Emond and Danny Burstein. The crowded field for revival of a play narrows down to The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Glass Menagerie, A Raisin in the Sun and Twelfth Night, all of which also secured nominations for their directors.

The nominations were announced by Lucy Liu and Jonathan Groff at New York's Paramount Hotel. Presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, the Tony Awards will be held on June 8 at Radio City Music Hall. Hugh Jackman will be back for his fourth turn as host of the ceremony, airing live on CBS.

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