PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 30-May 6: Tony Nominations, Kushner's New Play, the Death of Arthur Laurents

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 30-May 6: Tony Nominations, Kushner's New Play, the Death of Arthur Laurents
The Tony Award nominations for the 2010-11 Broadway season were announced on May 3, and managed to get a little bit of attention during a news week first dominated by the British Royal wedding and then the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces.

Topping the list, to no one's surprise, was The Book of Mormon, the smash hit show of the season. It won 14 nominations. That's only one nod less than the record holder, The Producers, which netted 15 nominations back in 2001. The Trey Parker-Matt Stone-Robert Lopez musical is considered the front-runner as Best Musical, as well as in other categories.

The second-best nomination netter, however, did surprise. It was John Kander and Fred Ebb's challenging The Scottsboro Boys, which opened last fall and managed to eke out a few months of performances. Some critics championed its unorthodox storytelling approach (that of a minstrel show), as applied to an infamous Civils Rights chapter in American history, but the show didn't win across-the-board raves and had trouble drumming up business. The nominating committee, however, didn't forget the musical, honoring it with an astounding 12 nods, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. Closed shows are rarely so singled out.

It was revealed that same day that director-choreographer Susan Stroman will recreate her work (with as many original cast members as possible) for a co-production between The Old Globe in San Diego and American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. April-July 2012 dates may be followed by engagements at other U.S. not-for-profits in Seattle, Chicago and Boston, according Barry Weissler, the show's commercial Broadway producer.

Another fall failure that was resurrected to memory was Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. No one would have been shocked to see that production completely ignored, so bleak was its crucial reception. But composer David Yazbek and two of the stars (Laura Benanti and Patti LuPone) were cited.

The two big musical revivals of the season were roughly equally blessed. Anything Goes got nine noms, and How to Succeed… got eight. (Star Daniel Radcliffe, the reason for the Loesser revival's existing, was not among the lucky.) Play-wise, the American The Motherf**ker With the Hat and the British Jerusalem are set to duke it out with six nominations each. They were bettered only by the Al Pacino production of The Merchant of Venice, which collected seven nods. Merchant is a heavy contender for Best Revival of a Play, as is Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, which was recognized in five categories, and may become a sentimental favorite, the production marking Kramer's long-in-coming Broadway debut. Born Yesterday's best chance for glory, meanwhile, is its breakout star, Nina Arianda, won took one of the show's mere two nods. She'd have to beat back Frances McDormand of Good People and Lily Rabe of Merchant, both good and able performers. But their performances, while very fine, were not flashy in the way near-shoo-in Mark Rylance's was in Jerusalem. So there is a chance for the newbie Nina.

Fall-out? There's always some. The same day the nominations came out, the football drama Lombardi announced it would close May 22. The show got a single nomination, for Judith Light (who as also remembered by the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle). It will have played 30 previews and 244 performance, which can, in a way, be counted as a victory for the shows producers, since many Broadway observers were surprised to see the bio-drama last beyond Christmas.


Maria Aitken, whose The 39 Steps was a U.K. and Broadway hit, will direct three-time Tony Award winner Frank Langella in a fall Broadway production of Terence Rattigan's Man and Boy, Roundabout Theatre Company announced on May 5.

The play is rarely seen. But, then, Rattigan's plays in general are rarely seen, at least on these shores. The last Broadway revival was The Deep Blue Sea — also a Roundabout production. This year marks the centennial of the English playwright's birth. Langella will play ruthless financier Gregor Antonescu in the drama about a father reuniting with his estranged son in order to solve financial issues in a time of economic turmoil. Previews begin Sept. 9.


The biggest opening of the week was Tony Kushner's long-awaited The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, which premiered May 5 at the Public Theater.

Michael Greif, who staged the world premiere of the play at the Guthrie Theater in 2009, directed the four-hour work (presented with two intermissions), which stars Michael Cristofer, Linda Emond, Michael Esper, Steven Spinella, Steven Pasquale, K. Todd Freeman, Hettienne Park, Molly Price, Matt Servitto, Danielle Skraastad and Brenda Wehle.

Reviews were as dense as the work, which focused on the relationships within a fractious, argumentative, hyper-intelligent New York family that lives in some strange part of America where people still seriously discuss ideas and political concepts. The general reaction was that the play was worthy, sometimes thrilling, sometimes confounding, definitely overstuffed and perhaps a bir too much — too many words, too many ideas, too many characters, too many hours.

"From the get-go it is clear that while the resulting debate may be intellectual, it won't always be intelligible," wrote the Times, whose praise was measured. "Themes and theatrical precedents are crammed to the breaking point...This is thrillingly ambitious, but the author's playwriting craft has trouble keeping pace with his grandiose vision," wrote another, while a third reminded us that "it's also lush and beautiful, funny and an education. It is poignant and smart, gloriously messy and wonderfully acted. And never, ever boring." The "effect is mostly draining, occasionally bracing," went a commonly-held sentiment. "Kushner seems to prefer ideas to humans." (They said the same of Bernard Shaw, back in the day.)


Finally, Arthur Laurents, an all-around Renaissance man of the theatre and arguably the greatest musical bookwriter of the second half of the 20th century, died on May 5. He was 93 and, unlike many another talent who reached that ripe age, he was active until the end. His final great project was to bring his West Side Story to Broadway in 2009. There it stayed until January 2011. West Side Story was, of course, one of his two titanic credits. The other was the book for Gypsy, which many call the best in musical history. Laurents wrote dozens of other musicals and screenplays and plays — he came to the theatre as a playwright in the mid-1940s — and he had a sizable reputation as a director, but nothing he did exceeded the mark left by those two groundbreaking musicals. And it was those musicals that, to a great degree, kept him a vital personage in the theatre. For they were forever being revived. And nothing happened with either without his say-so. Beyond the twin peaks of West Side Story and Gypsy, perhaps Laurents' greatest achievement was his own personality. Few enjoyed a more renowned and infamous reputation for commentary and wit. He was fierce in his will and in his opinions, which he freely shared, unedited at the slightest provocation. His restless spirit, in which every matter in life and theatre was taken deadly seriously as a thing of principle, was rare and will be missed. He had recently completed a play, learned. 

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