'In the Heights' leads Tony Award noms

Snapshot of Latino life in Manhattan earns 13 mentions

NEW YORK -- In a Broadway season with no runaway hits, the nominators for the 62nd annual Tonys spread their affections among the original and the traditional Tuesday, as the Latin-themed musical "In the Heights" and the family drama "August: Osage County" dominated their respective categories.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's tale of the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights earned the most nominations overall (13), while Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize winner earned the most for a play (seven).

The theme between new and old was evident throughout the categories. Among musicals, the original "Passing Strange" -- about a young black man on a Walt Whitman-style journey, singing the song of himself -- captured seven nominations, while revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" (11) and two that bear the stamp of Stephen Sondheim ("Sunday in the Park With George," nine; "Gypsy," seven) also fared well.

Among performers, Broadway newcomers Ben Daniels ("Les Liaisons Dangereuses") and Mark Rylance ("Boeing-Boeing") will compete with veterans Laurence Fishburne ("Thurgood"), Rufus Sewell ("Rock 'n' Roll") and Patrick Stewart ("Macbeth") for lead actor in a play. Likewise, Deanna Dunagan ("August") and Kate Fleetwood ("Macbeth") will vie with Eve Best ("The Homecoming"), S. Epatha Merkerson ("Come Back, Little Sheba") and Amy Morton ("August") for lead actress in a play.

Additionally, Sondheim will receive a Tony for lifetime achievement at the June 15 ceremonies in Manhattan. The Regional Theatre Tony will go to Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and a special Tony will be given to Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) for his contributions in the field of orchestrations, evident in this season's "South Pacific."

Tony nominators, however, were not universally kind to Broadway's vaunted past. Two all-star revivals of well-known plays by literary giants -- Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and Clifford Odets' "The Country Girl" -- were shut out. In addition, Tony had little to say for new efforts by contemporary heavyweights: Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," Disney's "The Little Mermaid" and David Mamet's new play "November" received only six nominations among them, none of which included best musical or play.

The Tonys will be presented June 15 at Radio City Music Hall and broadcast by CBS and hosted by Whoopi Goldberg.

Among the nominees, autobiography is apparent in the leading contenders: Miranda's "In the Heights," the single-named Stew's "Passing Strange" and Letts' "August" are all deeply felt personal tales that concurrently reflect broader issues being played out on the many stages of America (literal, social and political). "Heights" is a love letter to a largely Spanish-speaking enclave where gentrification and assimilation are doing what they always do in New York neighborhoods -- having their way and altering the character of the landscape.

The opposite is true in "Passing Strange," where Stew recounts his expatriate days in Europe. He fled because he couldn't find a niche in an America that he felt demanded either assimilation with white society or the assumption of cookie-cutter black identity politics in the early days of the hip-hop era in Los Angeles. Stew and Miranda each received nominations for best score and best actor in a musical, while Stew also earned a nod for best book.

"August," in the meantime, is a causticly funny tale of a fractious family that has assembled on the occasion of the disappearance of its patriarch. It explores several themes, not least of which is the interplay between restlessness and ennui in an age of dissolution. Everything is coming apart, and not at the seams -- that would be too tidy.

For now, however, the Tony nominators seem content to weave all the threads of a disparate season together.