PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 2-8: But Few Are Chosen

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 2-8: But Few Are Chosen It didn't quite sink in how many shows were under consideration this Broadway season (43) until the Tony nominations were announced on May 5. While many attractions were honored with nominations, quite a few were also left out, including some productions that would have likely performed better in leaner years.
Kristin Scott Thomas in The Seagull
Kristin Scott Thomas in The Seagull Photo by Joan Marcus

Among musicals, the titles that came out best were the Elton John show Billy Elliot, which received 15 nominations (the most of any production); Next to Normal, the new musical about a struggling family headed by a bi-polar mother (11); the praised new revival of Hair (8); and Shrek the Musical (8). Making a surprising show of force was the cheeky 1980s-music jukebox musical Rock of Ages, which collected a Best Musical nod among its five nominations.

Rock of Ages effectively knocked out of the Best Musical category the new Dolly Parton tuner 9 to 5, which many expected to come out with more than the four noms it got. Parton, however, did get a nomination for Best Score.

Of the play revivals, two London imports fared best: the critic-impressing trilogy of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests and the revival of Schiller's Mary Stuart, both of which received seven nods, and will compete for Best Revival of a Play. (That's a first for a Schiller play. Enjoy it, Friederich!) Lincoln Center Theater's Joe Turner's Come and Gone and the Roundabout Theatre Company's Waiting for Godot rounded out the Revival category.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the nominations was that last fall's revival of The Seagull — hailed by many critics as the new gold standard for Chekhov production — was completely shut out, enjoying not a crumb of the play-revival nomination bounty. There was not even a place at the table for star Kristin Scott Thomas. (I guess that longstanding bit of conventional wisdom that New York theatre people only pretend to like Chekhov has some truth in it.) Many were also surprised that the audacious fall revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons, and the daring current rendition of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms were forgotten by the nominators. Speed-the-Plow was also given a pass, though the nominating committee made certain they did the right thing by star Raúl Esparza, by both giving him a nomination, and not giving one to his AWOL ex-co-star Jeremy Piven.

Raúl Esparza and Jeremy Piven in Speed-the-Plow
photo by Brigitte Lacombe

The nominees for Best Play were God of Carnage, reasons to be pretty, 33 Variations and Dividing the Estate by the late Horton Foote, who died shortly after the play's limited Broadway run. The box office smash God of Carnage showed its might by netting Leading Actor in a Play and Leading Actress in a Play nominations for all four of its performers. That's some trick, perhaps unprecedented in Tony history. The most eyebrow-raising omission among the performance nominations was John Goodman, who plays Pozzo in Waiting for Godot, and won reviews as good as any actor this Broadway season. His colleague, John Glover, who plays Lucky, however, was remembered.

Matthew Warchus, whom this column has pointed out as the hot British director of the moment, walked away with two nominations, for his work on God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests. That guy must be feeling pretty good these days.

Receiving special Tonys will be composer-lyricist Jerry Herman (Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre), Virginia's Signature Theatre (Regional Theatre Tony Award), longtime press agent Shirley Herz (Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre) and actress/writer Phyllis Newman (Isabelle Stevenson Award), who will all be honored at the 63rd annual Tony Awards ceremony. The 2009 Tony Awards will be held at Radio City Music Hall June 7. CBS-TV will broadcast the event live.

And, lastly, I would like to point out to Tony voters that, again this year, costumer Jane Greenwood was nominated for an award (for Waiting for Godot). That's her 17th nomination, people, and she STILL HASN'T WON. Make a note of it.

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I can't be sure of it, but I'm willing to bet that some of this year's Tony nominees were once clients of Sam Cohn. The daddy of all super agents died this week at the age of 79. At his zenith, in the late '70s and '80s, no talent agent was more powerful or influential. Indeed, few men of any kind in showbiz were more powerful. He represented the cream of Hollywood and Broadway talent, and could be counted to have his hand in a good share of the plays being staged in New York at any given time. He functioned much like a producer, putting together talent "packages," when that wasn't yet common practice. Revering artists, he was slavishly devoted to his clients.

As a member of the press who has covered the New York theatre for more than 20 years, I am honored to say that Sam Cohn never returned a single one of my phone calls. Looking back, I wouldn't have had it any other way. For this is what he did. He cultivated mystique by remaining tantalizingly ever out of reach. By being ignored, I was in some very good company. In fact, if he ever had picked up the phone, I'm not sure what I would have said. "Ate any good scripts lately?"