Shortly after Katharine McPhee and Leslie Odom Jr., announced the nominees for the 2018 Tony Awards on Tuesday morning, Ben Brantley and Jesse Green, chief theater critics for The New York Times, took a first look at the results of this year’s game of musical (and nonmusical) chairs. Or maybe the right metaphor in the season of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” would be Quidditch?
BEN BRANTLEY Good morning, Jesse, on this hallowed day of tributes to the Boy Who Lived — and to J.K. Rowling, who is not just a very rich woman but now a Tony-nominated producer, for “Cursed Child,” which received 10 nods. I presume you’re still nursing your breakfast margarita, in homage to “Escape to” (or is it “From,” I always forget) “Margaritaville,” your personal dark horse, which received no nominations. It seems rather cruel to make these announcements so early in the morning, given that so many of those nominated are creatures of the night.
JESSE GREEN Hey, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, as Jimmy Buffett reminds us in “Margaritaville.” But they are probably not celebrating in the cabana from that show, which fell victim not only to its own “qualities,” but to updated Tony Award math. A new rule this year from the Tony administration committee decreed that only categories with nine or more eligible competitors will get the usual five nominees.
BRANTLEY Does that mean that some categories never reached their thresholds?
GREEN Why yes! Because this has been a very slim Broadway season, the threshold was not reached in several of them. That’s basically why the same four shows were nominated for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book: “The Band’s Visit,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Frozen” and “Mean Girls.” (“Angels in America” got a surprise nomination for its score, even though it’s a play.) Left out in each case were “Margaritaville,” “Prince of Broadway,” “Summer” and “Rocktopia.” All of those received mediocre to blistering reviews — and none were eligible in any case for Best Score, because they used pre-existing music. Take that, ye unholy jukeboxes!
BRANTLEY So if we’re going by quantity (and we’re Americans, so we are), the biggest winners in terms of nominations are “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob,” which racked up a dozen apiece. I have the feeling, though, that those nominations will definitely not be translating into a double-digit trophy count for either show. The biggest surprise here is the lack of love shown “Frozen,” the heir apparent to “Wicked” as an evergreen teenage dream of Broadway.
GREEN “Frozen” did get nominations in three big categories: musical, score and book, but all of those were nearly by default, thanks to the math mentioned above. Perhaps most surprising was that neither Caissie Levy nor Patti Murin, as Elphaba and Glinda — er, I mean, Elsa and Anna — got nods for lead actress, even though there was apparently a near-tie in the category. (That’s why there were six nominations instead of five.) Perhaps, as the conventional wisdom goes, the princesses split the vote.
BRANTLEY That reindeer was robbed!
GREEN I think we are approaching a moment when puppetry, magic and special animal effects will have to get a category.
BRANTLEY Agreed, which would definitely add another few notches to the belt of nominations for “Cursed Child.”
GREEN “Cursed Child” was nominated in just about every category it was eligible for, as were “Angels,” “SpongeBob,” “My Fair Lady” and “The Band’s Visit.” “Carousel” had a similar haul, notably excepting direction, which is always an odd thing; who but the director, in this case Jack O’Brien, made all those other choices?
BRANTLEY It was interesting to see that two musical revivals which were controversial simply for being revived — “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel” — did just fine in terms of nominations. There had been fears that these old-fashioned shows’ takes on their heroines, who are both bullied by their love interests, might be out of sync in this #MeToo moment.
GREEN Given the math of the season, they’d have to have been positively Stone Age in their sexual politics not to reap a lot of nominations. That said, the third musical revival, “Once on This Island,” which faced similar criticism from some quarters, also cleaned up, especially for its fantastic design elements. The surprise, for me, was that Alex Newell, who plays the goddess Asaka, did not get noticed. He stopped the show.
BRANTLEY “Once on This Island” is one show that could benefit from wider exposure. It’s charming but also quite rousing. I can imagine Asaka’s song “Mama Will Provide,” for instance, bringing down the house on Tony night. Speaking of showboating performers, how about the nomination of “Latin History for Morons” as best play? I’m a devoted John Leguizamo fan and am more fond of that show than you, but it does feel like a category filler in this case.
GREEN If “Latin History for Morons” had not been nominated, what else would have filled the slot? Though I really liked John Lithgow’s “Stories by Heart,” it’s not exactly Tony bait. In general, smaller plays, bad plays and those that opened early in the season fared poorly, as usual.
BRANTLEY The best-stocked category this year, by far, would appear to be revivals of plays. Roundabout did manage to score some significant nods for its delightful “Travesties” revival, an import from the Menier Chocolate Factory in London.
GREEN And Manhattan Theater Club got some deserved love, if not in my opinion enough nominations, for its production of Lucy Kirkwood’s terrifying “The Children,” an import from the Royal Court Theater.
BRANTLEY The woebegone Land of Brexit is very well represented here in general, what with “Cursed Child” (which first opened in the West End) and “Angels” (from London’s National Theater), which have 21 nominations between them.
GREEN Any other notable picks or disses to mention? I’ll start: I was sorry not to see Laura Benanti nominated for her hilarious work in the otherwise meh “Meteor Shower,” by Steve Martin. Comic performances are often ignored, though they are at least as difficult as weepy screamers. On the other hand, I was very happy to see Brian Tyree Henry nominated for his role as a security officer in “Lobby Hero.”
BRANTLEY He was sensational. But I was sorry that Chris Evans was excluded (no Captain America on Tony night!), since I thought every member of the “Lobby Hero” ensemble was first-rate.
GREEN Even Mr. Evans’s mustache deserves an award. See puppetry/magic/special effects above.