What can you say about a Broadway season that was distinguished by adventurous revivals and crammed with superb performances? That it was a good year for actors and a challenging year for playwrights and musical theater composers and book-writers. The Great White Way continues to be on celebrity life-support, but, oh, who can complain about the lackluster array of new plays and musicals when Audra McDonald and Mark Rylance are on hand to distract us with their virtuosity?
Here are my 10 take-aways from this year’s Tony nominations:
1. If you still believe there’s no front-runner in the mixed bag of new musicals, then you’re clearly not paying close attention to the not-so-stealthy progress of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which leads the pack with 10 nominations and now has its murderous sights set on the top Tony prize.
2. If you’re an actor, it pays to put on a dress. Just ask Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi and Rylance of the all-male “Twelfth Night” brought from London by Shakespeare’s Globe that also picked up a nomination for Stephen Fry, who dons yellow stockings; Reed Birney of “Casa Valentina, Harvey Fierstein’s nominated play about straight guys who feel more like themselves when they’re dressed to the nines in female attire; Neil Patrick Harris of the gender-bending rock show “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which picked up eight nominations, including best musical revival; or Jefferson Mays, who seamlessly quick-changes into so many haughty homicide victims in “A Gentleman’s Guide” that it’s easy to lose track of the fact that he avails himself of that acting ace card, switching genders.
3. If you’re the brilliant Rylance, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in drag or not. He got nominated for his lead performance in “Richard III” as well as for his featured performance as Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” (Rylance’s nomination in the lead actor in a play category along with that of his co-star Barnett upset the predictions of pundits in this very crowded category, yet their Shakespeare work is infinitely deserving of these laurels.)
4. If you’re not Rylance, then you should dearly hope you’re Audra McDonald, nominated for her magnificent transformation into Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” A five-time winner, McDonald will get a crack at winning for best lead performance in a play, giving her a complete set of Tony acting awards for her trophy warehouse.
5. If you’re associated with a lucrative movie franchise, don’t bank on Tony love, no matter the depth of your commitment to the stage, as was discovered the hard way by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (the stars of the in-rep productions of “No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot”); Daniel Radcliffe (the reason “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” nominated for best play revival, is even on Broadway), and Zachary Quinto, who was the only member of the cast of “The Glass Menagerie” revival shut out of Tony contention and probably the one most deserving of a nomination. (That lead actor category could have been broken up into fall and spring editions to encompass all the great work this season.)
6. If you’re a TV or movie actor shopping for a part, the less experimental the play, the better, as the fine cast of “The Realistic Joneses” discovered. The disappointment for me wasn’t that Will Eno’s play wasn’t nominated but that there was no room to acknowledge Michael C. Hall’s extraordinary performance.
7. If you’re Bryan Cranston, you can star in anything, even a three-hour history lesson about Lyndon B. Johnson. Cranston is not only the favorite to win for lead actor in a play, but “All the Way,” Robert Schenkkan’s legislative drama about how LBJ got Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is likely to win the prize for best play. Cranston, mind you, isn’t coasting on his “Breaking Bad” fame. His titanic performance powers this marathon play to the finish line.
8. If your name is Woody Allen, the news is mixed. “Bullets Over Broadway” got shut out of the award categories that would have given this show a box-office boost. Yet the director isn’t persona non grata on Broadway, having received a nomination for the book for “Bullets.”
9. If you’re an actress, it never hurts getting cast in “A Raisin in the Sun.” Kudos to Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose, both of whom were nominated for their featured performances, and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who was especially deserving of her nomination as lead actress.
10. If you’re an actor in “A Raisin in the Sun,” it’s probably best to be in the ballpark of the age of the character you’re playing, even if you’re a bona fide superstar like Denzel Washington, who gives a muscular performance as Walter Lee Younger but might have gotten the nod had he been playing Walter Lee Older – in a dress.