PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 5-11: Tony Noms: 15 Becomes 14, and 3 close on 13

By Robert Simonson
May 11, 2001

The 13th of this month may not be a Friday, but it nonetheless marks a dark day for several Broadway producers. After the Tony Awards nominations were announced at Sardi's on May 9, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Gathering and Judgment at Nuremberg found few, or no, presents under the tree, the producers behind those though opted to shutter at the end of the week. A fourth show, the popular The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, also decided to post a closing notice (for May 20), despite getting a nomination for best revival of a play.



The 13th of this month may not be a Friday, but it nonetheless marks a dark day for several Broadway producers. After the Tony Awards nominations were announced at Sardi's on May 9, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Gathering and Judgment at Nuremberg found few, or no, presents under the tree, the producers behind those though opted to shutter at the end of the week. A fourth show, the popular The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, also decided to post a closing notice (for May 20), despite getting a nomination for best revival of a play.

Of course, the nominations were primarily a vast expression of love and gratitude for the folks behind The Producers. The show collected 15 nominations in 12 categories. Every leading and supporting actor was nominated, right down to the almost unknown (until recently) Brad Oscar, who plays the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind. The Full Monty came in second with an impressive 10 nods, but, in the face the unstoppable force that is Mel Brooks' musical, the fall hit faces the dire and very real possibility of taking home no awards. Two categories, however, do betray slight cracks in The Producers' armour. David Yazbek could best Mel Brooks for the best score prize (though that award means the most to Brooks, according to some sources). Also, though Cady Huffman is the frontrunner for best featured actress in a musical, Tony voters may get misty-eyed and nostalgic, and vote for veterans Kathleen Freeman of The Full Monty or Polly Bergen of Follies.

Overall, the Tony nominations held no surprises. Similarly, a story about the winners of New York Drama Critics Circle awards could have been written days in advance by a sleepy copy boy, so predictable were the results: best musical: The Producers; best play: Proof; best foreign play: The Invention of Love. (While we're on the subject, on May 29, a panel, moderated by Jesse McKinley of the New York Times and Michael Riedel and the New York Post, will be held. The title: "A Moratorium Should Be Placed on Theatre Awards." )

The Class Act, the Ed Kleban musical playing to the smallest audiences on Broadway, won five nominations, including one for best musical and a posthumous nod for Kleban's score. But few believe this will have much impact on the show's failing prospects, so this week producer Marty Bell revealed he planned to "Weissler-ize" the production by casting bankable, marquee-value stars. (He was referring, of course, to the celebrity-happy producers Fran and Barry Weissler. Take note: Bell deserves credit for coining this useful term, which, no doubt, will quickly fall into common usage.) Tony nominee Randy Graff will remain, but others, including lead actor (and the show's director and co librettist) Lonny Price and Nancy Anderson will soon leave.

Off-Broadway carried on amid all this hullabaloo. Three shows had great good fortune. Urinetown! opened to mixed-to-positive reviews and took the opportunity to extend to June 30 and — perhaps taking their lead from The Producers — ratcheted the ticket price from $25 to $50. Eli's Comin', the new musical interpolating the songs of singer-songwriter Laura Nyro, opened May 7 at Off Broadway's Vineyard Theatre, and soon extended two weeks until June 2. And Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, adapted from the cult novel with the same name, opened May 10 at lower Manhattan's Ohio Theatre to good notices and will likely draw out its run.

One more observation on the Tony nominations. Readers may recall that, in last week's column, I went on and on about how, back in 1971, Company collected 15 Tony nods and that the best The Producers could achieve was a tie with the record. Then comes the dawn of May 9 and everyone — from the Tony people to the Producers clan — is crowing how Brook's show broke the record with 15. Tony Award Productions now says that the 1971 listing that gave Company 15 noms has been a longstanding mistake, printed and reprinted in three editions of The Tony Award Book, and that the true truth is Company received only 14 Tony nominations. Upon further examination, this appears to be the case. However, one can't help but suspect a Max Bialystock-like act of publicity-generating trickery.