'Billy Elliot' scores 15 Tony noms

'Normal,' 'Rock of Ages,' 'Shrek' also up for best musical

NEW YORK -- A story about a boy struggling to overcome dire economic circumstances and learning to dance is as good a metaphor as any for the current Broadway season, so it seemed foreordained that "Billy Elliot: The Musical" would emerge with the most Tony Award nominations on Tuesday.

The Lee Hall-Elton John musical adaptation of the Stephen Daldry film received a record-tying 15 bids, including ones for best musical, best book (Hall) and best score (Hall and John).

In an unusual twist, three actors were nominated as a single entry for the category of best performance by a leading actor in a musical -- David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish. The youths, all under the age of 15, have shared the title role since the show began previews Oct. 1.

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's "Next to Normal" figures to give "Elliot" the strongest competition. Their story of a housewife in the throes of bipolar disorder -- another apt metaphor for Broadway's up-and-down season -- received 11 nominations. David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori's adaptation of the cartoon "Shrek" and the Diane Paulus-directed revival of "Hair" collected eight nominations each.

Among plays, the revival of "Mary Stuart" and the revival of Alan Ayckbourn's "The Norman Conquests" lead the way with seven noms each, while Yasmina Reza's original "God of Carnage" and the revival of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" received six apiece. The directors for those shows were nominated as well: Phyllida Lloyd ("Mary Stuart"), Bartlett Sher ("Come and Gone") and Matthew Warchus (for both "God of Carnage" and "Norman Conquests").

"Mary Stuart," "Norman Conquests" and "God of Carnage" also contribute to extremely competitive acting races. "Mary Stuart's" Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter will vie for best actress, just as they vie for the soul of Britain in their roles as the Queen of Scotland and the Queen of England. For "Carnage," the actors playing four bickering parents will scrap for two Tonys: Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini will be among those competing for best actor, and Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden will be in the running for best actress. In "Norman Conquests," which features six characters fighting for love, Stephen Mangan and Paul Ritter will vie for best featured actor, while Jessica Hynes and Amanda Root will compete for best featured actress.

Roger Robinson, the featured actor nominee who played the streetwise mystic Bynum in "Come and Gone," was the lone actor selected from that production.

The Tony Awards will be presented June 7 at Radio City Music Hall in a ceremony telecast on CBS.

When the stock market crashed in mid-September, it looked as if it would be a bleak season for Broadway. Wall Street money -- in the forms of individual contributions, investment capital and ticket sales -- has provided a significant source of cash in recent years for commercial and nonprofit theater alike. In late fall and early winter, there was a wave of early closings -- including Tony stalwarts "Hairspray," "Spring Awakening" and the revival of "Gypsy" -- and stillborn productions. Planned revivals such as "Brigadoon," "Godspell" and "For Colored Girls ..." failed to secure financial backing.

Broadway's fortunes began to turn on two factors. The first was the number of straight plays that rushed to fill the void of faltering musicals, many of them populated by well-known and well-respected actors, such as the "God of Carnage" cast, as well as Oscar winners Jane Fonda ("33 Variations") and Geoffrey Rush ("Exit the King"), each of whom were also nominated.

Another factor was relatively strong attendance during the normally bleak winter months, which were helped greatly by the weeks bracketing President's Day. The weeks around the Easter and Passover holidays were also strong. Partly as a result, Broadway grosses are running about $25 million (or 3%) ahead of last year's pace.

The comparisons are a bit specious, as a 19-day stagehands strike in the middle of the 2007-08 season robbed at least 19 performance dates from the calendar for most of Broadway -- about $30 million in boxoffice revenue. Had there not been a strike, it is possible -- if not likely -- that the current season would be showing a slight falloff from the previous year.

Still, Broadway is on track to set a record at the boxoffice, and a family-friendly show such as "Billy Elliot," which shares its nominations record with "The Producers," could become a boxoffice bonanza if it has a strong showing at the Tonys. Even if it doesn't, other musicals have positioned themselves to be significant contributors to Broadway coffers.

"Hair" should continue to do well after Tuesday's announcements. Ditto "Rock of Ages": The tribute to trashy '80s rock and the hairballs and slatterns who loved it received five noms, including ones for best musical and best actor (former "American Idol" contestant Constantine Maroulis). Thanks to exposure on the Tony telecast, it may become a long-running rotation vehicle -- kind of like a "Chicago" for reality-show castoffs.

Some plays could also be helped by Tuesday's announcements. "Mary Stuart" and "Come and Gone," critically praised but underattended, could see attendance rise as a result of the nominations. Another possible beneficiary is "Reasons to Be Pretty": Neil LaBute's four-character rumination on the varying depths and degrees of love earned a bid for best play, best actor (Thomas Sadoski) and best featured actress (Marin Ireland). It has struggled to maintain 30% capacity at the relatively small Lyceum Theatre.

After Tuesday, it has a reason to be optimistic, which is as good a note as any to end the Broadway season.

Nominations for the 2009 American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

Best Play

"Dividing the Estate," Horton Foote
"God of Carnage," Yasmina Reza
"Reasons to Be Pretty," Neil LaBute
"33 Variations," Moises Kaufman

Best Musical

"Billy Elliot: The Musical"
"Next to Normal"
"Rock of Ages"
"Shrek: The Musical"

Best Book of a Musical

"Billy Elliot: The Musical," Lee Hall
"Next to Normal," Brian Yorkey
"Shrek: The Musical," David Lindsay-Abaire
"[Title of Show]," Hunter Bell

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

"Billy Elliot: The Musical": Music: Elton John; Lyrics: Lee Hall
"Next to Normal": Music: Tom Kitt; Lyrics: Brian Yorkey
"9 to 5: The Musical": Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton
"Shrek: The Musical": Music: Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Revival of a Play

"Joe Turner's Come and Gone"
"Mary Stuart"
"The Norman Conquests"
"Waiting for Godot"

Best Revival of a Musical

"Guys and Dolls"
"Pal Joey"
"West Side Story"

Best Special Theatrical Event

"Liza's at the Palace"
"Slava's Snowshow"
"Soul of Shaolin"
"You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush"

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jeff Daniels, "God of Carnage"
Raul Esparza, "Speed-the-Plow"
James Gandolfini, "God of Carnage"
Geoffrey Rush, "Exit the King"
Thomas Sadoski, "Reasons to Be Pretty"

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, "God of Carnage"
Jane Fonda, "33 Variations"
Marcia Gay Harden, "God of Carnage"
Janet McTeer, "Mary Stuart"
Harriet Walter, "Mary Stuart"

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Gavin Creel, "Hair"
Brian d'Arcy James, "Shrek: The Musical"
Constantine Maroulis, "Rock of Ages"
J. Robert Spencer, "Next to Normal"

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, "Pal Joey"
Sutton Foster, "Shrek: The Musical"
Allison Janney, "9 to 5: The Musical"
Alice Ripley, "Next to Normal"
Josefina Scaglione, "West Side Story"

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, "Waiting for Godot"
Zach Grenier, "33 Variations"
Stephen Mangan, "The Norman Conquests"
Paul Ritter, "The Norman Conquests"
Roger Robinson, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone"

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, "Dividing the Estate"
Jessica Hynes, "The Norman Conquests"
Marin Ireland, "Reasons to Be Pretty"
Angela Lansbury, "Blithe Spirit"
Amanda Root, "The Norman Conquests"

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Gregory Jbara, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Marc Kudisch, "9 to 5: The Musical"
Christopher Sieber, "Shrek: The Musical"
Will Swenson, "Hair"

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, "Next to Normal"
Haydn Gwynne, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Karen Olivo, "West Side Story"
Martha Plimpton, "Pal Joey"
Carole Shelley, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, "Exit the King"
Rob Howell, "The Norman Conquests"
Derek McLane, "33 Variations"
Michael Yeargan, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone"

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, "Guys and Dolls"
Ian MacNeil, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Scott Pask, "Pal Joey"
Mark Wendland, "Next to Normal"

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, "Exit the King"
Jane Greenwood, "Waiting for Godot"
Martin Pakledinaz, "Blithe Spirit"
Anthony Ward, "Mary Stuart"

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregory Gale, "Rock of Ages"
Nicky Gillibrand, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Tim Hatley, "Shrek: The Musical"
Michael McDonald, "Hair"

Best Lighting Design of a Play

David Hersey, "Equus"
David Lander, "33 Variations"
Brian MacDevitt, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone"
Hugh Vanstone, "Mary Stuart"

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, "Hair"
Kevin Adams, "Next to Normal"
Howell Binkley, "West Side Story"
Rick Fisher, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, "Mary Stuart"
Gregory Clarke, "Equus"
Russell Goldsmith, "Exit the King"
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone"

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, "Hair"
Paul Arditti, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Peter Hylenski, "Rock of Ages"
Brian Ronan, "Next to Normal"

Best Direction of a Play

Phyllida Lloyd, "Mary Stuart"
Bartlett Sher, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone"
Matthew Warchus, "God of Carnage"
Matthew Warchus, "The Norman Conquests'

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Daldry, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Michael Greif, "Next to Normal"
Kristin Hanggi, "Rock of Ages"
Diane Paulus, "Hair"

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, "Hair"
Andy Blankenbuehler, "9 to 5: The Musical"
Peter Darling, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Randy Skinner, "Irving Berlin's White Christmas"

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, "Irving Berlin's White Christmas"
Martin Koch, "Billy Elliot: The Musical"
Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, "Next to Normal"
Danny Troob and John Clancy, "Shrek: The Musical"

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre

Jerry Herman

Regional Theatre Tony Award

Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.

Isabelle Stevenson Award

Phyllis Newman

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre

Shirley Herz