Tuesday, May 5, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Tony voters cheer 'Billy,' slight '9 to 5'

Kiril Kulish in Billy Elliot, nominated today for 15 Tony Awards.
(Photo by David Scheinmann)

By Hap Erstein

If you think the three weapon-wielding secretaries of the newly opened musical 9 to 5 were angry before, you probably do not want to cross their path now that this season's Tony Award nominations have been announced.

Although the Dolly Parton-penned show got fairly dismissive reviews, it was thought to be a likely competitor with runaway hit Billy Elliot for the statuettes to be given out on Sunday, June 7.

Instead, the Tony nominating committee went out of its way to slight 9 to 5, giving it only four nods -- for singing-dancing challenged Alison Janney, the object of her ire Marc Kudisch, Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography and Parton’s country-fried score. That means the committee went out of its way to tap Shrek the Musical, Rock of Ages and even long-gone shows like [title of show] and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas over 9 to 5, which failed to make the cut for best musical, director or book.

Billy Elliot, the London hit with a driving score by Elton John, danced off with a blockbuster 15 nominations. The only reason it cannot threaten the record win of The Producers is that so many of the show’s performers will be competing against each other. As expected, the three original rotating Billys -- David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish -- gained a joint nomination for lead actor in a musical, and will be hard to beat.

The show’s prime competition will come from Next to Normal, the scrappy, unlikely musical about a bipolar, mentally unstable mom and her barely coping family. It copped 11 nominations and could use a few major wins to boost its already flagging box office.

Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage was the top nomination-getter among new plays with six, for best play, director Matthew Warchus and the production’s entire cast -- Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Jeff Daniels -- are considered leading performers.

Also nominated was the soon-to-close 33 Variations (as well as its star, Jane Fonda) and Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty. For the fourth best play slot, the nominators reached back for the long-since-closed Dividing the Estate by the late Horton Foote, thus snubbing Irena’s Vow and its star, Tovah Feldshuh.

The musical revival nominees were a foregone conclusion, with only four eligible choices. Hair seems to be the front-runner, judging by its eight nominations, followed by West Side Story, Pal Joey and Guys and Dolls.

The more interesting race will be the play revival category, with The Norman Conquests and Mary Stuart both pulling in seven nominations, followed by six for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and a mere three for Waiting for Godot. Failing to make the cut were its stars, Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin and John Goodman, though John Glover did gain a nod for playing enslaved Lucky, who delivers a torrent-of-words monologue. Four of the six actors in The Norman Conquests received featured performance nominations, and Warchus, its director, will compete against himself and his God of Carnage staging job.

So on to the wound-licking, the closing notices for the marginal shows that needed Tony attention to stay open and acceptance speech-writing for the optimistic nominees.

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