Tue 10 May, 2005 10:08 am
From the New York Times (Link to NYT article with pictures)
May 10, 2005
'Spamalot' Leads the Pack With 14 Tony Nominations
By Jesse McKinley
"Spamalot," the decidedly goofy musical adaptation of the 1975 cult film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," led all Broadway productions today as it picked up 14 Tony Award nominations, including those for best musical, for Mike Nichols as best director of a musical and for five of its actors.
The show, which opened in March and has built a mammoth $25 million in advance ticket sales, will face competition in the best musical category - the Tony Awards' most sought after prize - from an eclectic bunch of challengers.
The competitors include "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," another musical drawn from a film; "The Light in the Piazza," a high-minded musical from Lincoln Center Theater, also once filmed; and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," a low-budget but critically acclaimed musical comedy that was originally conceived as an Off Off Broadway play. The awards will be announced June 5 at Radio City Music Hall.
Of the best musical nominees, both "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Light in the Piazza" also made strong showings, each bringing in 11 nominations. For "Scoundrels," that included nominations for its two leading actors, John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz.
Both Hank Azaria and Tim Curry from "Spamalot" were also nominated for their performances as leading actors in a musical, as was Gary Beach, who was cited for his work in the revival of "La Cage Aux Folles." "Spelling Bee," meanwhile, received six nominations, including featured actor nominations for Dan Fogler and Celia Keenan-Bolger, both making their Broadway debuts.
What may have been more notable than who was nominated, however, was who was left off the list in two prominent - and highly contested - acting categories. In the competition for leading actor in a play, Denzel Washington, currently appearing as Brutus in "Julius Caesar," was absent from the list, as was Jeff Goldblum, who plays a curious cop in Martin McDonagh's dark comedy, "The Pillowman."
In the leading actress category, meanwhile, Jessica Lange was passed over for her performance as the mother in a revival of "The Glass Menagerie," as was Natasha Richardson for her work in another Tennessee Williams' revival, "A Streetcar Named Desire."
In the men's category, both James Earl Jones (playing a crotchety professor in "On Golden Pond") and Billy Crudup (as a possible child killer in "The Pillowman") were nominated, as were several respected Broadway leading men like Philip Bosco (for his work as a juror in "Twelve Angry Men"), Bill Irwin (the long-suffering husband in "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Wollf,") and Brian F. O'Byrne, for his work as a priest suspected of pedophilia in "Doubt," John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.
That production - which started Off Broadway before jumping to Broadway this spring - landed the most nominations in the dramatic categories, with eight, including nods for best play and for Cherry Jones (leading actress in a play) for her performance as a nun.
The competition was expected to be fierce in the leading actress category, with Laura Linney ("Sight Unseen"), Phylicia Rashad ("Gem of the Ocean"), Kathleen Turner ("Virginia Wolff") and Mary-Louise Parker ("Reckless") all in the running.
As for new play, the main competitor to "Doubt" seems to "The Pillowman," though the two other nominees - "Gem of the Ocean," August Wilson's turn-of-the-20th century drama, and Michael Frayn's "Democracy," about former German chancellor Willy Brandt - may also grab some votes.
Christina Applegate, the television star who broke her foot but still made her Broadway debut in a revival of "Sweet Charity," may have already won in the sympathy vote in her category, leading actress in a musical.
But Ms. Applegate will face stiff competition from Sutton Foster (nominated for "Little Women"), who won in 2002; Sherie Rene Scott, from "Scoundrels"; Erin Dilly, from the car-loving spectacle "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"; and Victoria Clark, who received some of the best reviews of the year for her portrayal of an American abroad in "Light in the Piazza."
It was a big year for play revivals on Broadway, and both "Virginia Wolff," Mr. Albee's classic 1962 examination of academic marriage gone awry, and "Glengarry Glen Ross," the 1984 David Mamet drama set in a low-rent real estate office, picked up six nominations. Both shows are nominated for best revival of a play, along with "On Golden Pond" and "Twelve Angry Men."
It was a less spectacular year for musical revivals: only three were nominated today -"Sweet Charity," "La Cage," and "Pacific Overtures" - and none won unanimous raves.
"Glengarry," in fact," picked up three nominations for its all-male ensemble alone, including Alan Alda, Liev Schreiber and Gordon Clapp, each in the featured actor in a play category. The category was filled out by David Harbour, who plays the ambitious young professor in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?" and Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays a troubled brother in "The Pillowman."
One-person shows were also popular along Broadway during the 2004-05 season, and four were nominated for "special theatrical event," a catch-all category which can include anything from mime to Billy Crystal, whose show "700 Sundays" is this year's odds-on favorite to win the award. Other nominees include comedians Whoopi Goldberg, Dame Edna, and Mario Cantone.
Established in 1947, the Antoniette Perry Awards - as they are formally known - are intended to award excellence on Broadway, the 40 large commercial theaters located inside Manhattan's Theater District.
The awards only include Broadway theaters, excluding Off Broadway and regional theater, where the vast majority of America's plays and musicals are seen. A single award for regional excellence is presented: this year the winner is the Theater de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis.
Predominately owned by three companies - the Shubert Organization, the Nederlanders, and Jujamcyn Theatricals - Broadway's theaters represent a $750 million a year business that relies heavily on New York's tourist trade and, in turn, helps drives the city's tourist economy.
But the Tonys are also a valuable marketing tool for the industry, offering a televised platform (CBS will carry the program this year) for producers to promote their shows to the country as a whole.
A win at the Tony Awards for best musical, for example, can mean millions of dollars in sales, and a lucrative national tour. This year, all four shows nominated will have their ardent supporters and will also compete in the categories for best book of a musical and best score.
This year, the Tonys have expanded to include 25 competitive categories, including more design categories by dividing the awards into play and musical categories. Here, "Gem of the Ocean," which failed at the box office but picked up five nominations, was hailed for its lighting, sets, and costumes on the play side, while "Spamalot" did the same for musicals.
One lighting designer, Donald Holder, will actually compete against himself having been nominated for "Gem" and "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Jerry Mitchell was also nominated twice in the choreography category, for "La Cage" and "Scoundrels." Wayne Cilento ("Sweet Charity") and Casey Nicholaw ("Spamalot") are the final nominees.
Playwright Edward Albee will receive a special award for life achievement and Hugh Jackman will host the ceremony.
I'll be back later with some thoughts on the nominations - I haven't had time to read them yet!
I'm glad I don't have a vote, because if I did, I would have a hard time choosing between Cherry Jones or Phylicia Rashad as best leading actress in a play. I thought both of their performances were among the best I've ever seen. Cherry Jones will probably win, because Phylicia Rashad won last year (for A Raisin in the Sun), and also because Gem of the Ocean closed fairly quickly last winter, while Doubt is still running (and the Tony voters generally like to give awards to shows that are still running, because an award for a show that has already closed doesn't sell any tickets).
Best musical is an interesting category this year because the nominees are so varied. The biggest commercial success of the bunch is Spamalot, but that could work against it if the voters figure it doesn't really need an award to sell any more tickets. If so, will The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee follow in Avenue Q's shoes as "the quirky little musical that started off-Broadway, moved to Broadway after getting great reviews, and won the Tony"? The Light in the Piazza, with its a quasi-operatic score by Adam Guettel (Richard Rodgers's grandson) is a potential dark horse winner as best musical, but I think it will probably have to be satisfied with the award for best leading actress in a musical (Victoria Clark was superb) and maybe best scenic design and/or lighting design, which were also very good (although in the scenic design category, it is up against that flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!)
For those of you who want to get your bets down on the Tonys while there's still time, here's a link to an article from today's New York Times handicapping the races:
Will Tony Sweep or Share?
Jesse McKinley (who wrote the article) obviously read my previous post on this thread before making his predictions!
Welcome to A2K Jesse McKinley.
Thanks bree - I'm too sleepy to tackle it now, but will read it tomorrow. Don't forget to watch!
This article from today's New York Times is only tangentially Tony-related, but it's so interesting (and disturbing), I had to post it. As one of the people who were "rapturous" (the word the article uses) about "Gem of the Ocean", I want to say that I'm very grateful to Carole Shorenstein Hays, and people like her, who are willing to invest their money in shows they know will probably lose money, because they think it's important for people to see those shows.
June 4, 2005
Now Playing on Broadway: The Money Pit
In anticipation of tomorrow night's Tony awards, I saw "Hurlyburly" this week, the fine revival of David Rabe's 1984 play, which is playing at ... well, where it's playing is the whole point. Or at least it is if you're a business columnist and not a theater critic.
"Hurlyburly," which stars the movie actor Ethan Hawke, opened January in a small off-Broadway theater, where it got the kind of sweet reviews and packed houses that almost always mean an eventual move to Broadway. But when the play did move, in April, it didn't go to Broadway but to a bigger off-Broadway theater, in a new $28 million complex called 37 ARTS. That means the producers of "Hurlyburly" made a conscious decision to opt out of the Tonys, since only shows on Broadway are eligible. But it also signals something important about the increasingly impossible economics of the Broadway theater.
The producers of "Hurlyburly" and the owners of 37 ARTS are Jeffrey B. Seller and Kevin McCollum, two theatrical entrepreneurs who certainly know their way around the Great White Way. Their Broadway production credits include such rousing financial successes as "Rent" and "Avenue Q," but they also produced Baz Lurhman's version of "La Bohème," which lost $6 million.
Like everyone I spoke to for this column, including theater owners, producers and financial "angels," Mr. Seller and Mr. McCollum spoke passionately about bringing great plays to New York audiences. In talking about their new theater, they stressed art, not commerce.
"If you come to our theater you will have a fantastic relationship between audiences and actors," Mr. McCollum said.
But their new theater is very much about the financial realities of Broadway. To wit: "If you go to Broadway, you will spend a minimum of $2 million before the play is seen by a single audience member," Mr. Seller said. "We think the bill is too high."
By keeping "Hurlyburly" off Broadway, the producers' upfront costs were cut to $650,000; their weekly operating budget of $95,000 is also less than half the budget of even the most barebones Broadway production. But their upside is also limited: because their theater has only 499 seats, "Hurlyburly" will never generate the revenue that can be had in a big Broadway theater, most of which have at least 1,000 seats, nor can the show afford the big advertising budget that is part of any Broadway production.
With "Hurlyburly," Mr. Seller and Mr. McCollum are conducting an experiment, and it may ultimately not work. Although Mr. Seller said he expected it to make a small profit by the time the play closes in July, discounted tickets are being sold at the TKTS Booth in Times Square - never a good sign. But whether they ultimately succeed or not, at least they're thinking about new business models. Somebody sure needs to.
Venture capitalists love to talk about the high failure rate of the start-ups they finance, but it turns out that venture capitalists have nothing on Broadway producers. "One play out of 40 recoups its investment," said Rocco Landesman, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, one of the three companies that owns 31 of the 40 theaters that constitute Broadway.
That is probably an exaggeration. Jed Bernstein, the president of the League of American Theaters and Producers, said that it is more on the order of one in five, but even the latter number means the failure rate is 80 percent. (We're going to leave musicals out of this discussion. They cost much more to produce - upfront costs are usually over $10 million - but when a musical like "The Producers" or "Spamalot" hits, it can turn into a genuine cash cow.)
Theater people have lots of different theories why plays have so much trouble making back their investors' money. Audiences are aging. There is competition from television and movies and every other form of entertainment. Ticket prices, which now routinely reach $100, have put plays out of reach of many middle-income families. And so on.
But the biggest factor, everyone finally agrees, is the enormous cost of putting a play on Broadway. In a sense, Broadway is a little like the airline industry: its cost structure no longer makes sense, but it's almost impossible to change. Did you know, for instance, that in addition to getting a percentage of the gross and charging rent of $20,000 to $25,000 a week, theater owners also charge every penny of their own overhead to whatever production is playing in their theater - up to and including the toilet paper? Theater owners can make money even when shows flop.
Upfront advertising budgets start at $300,000 to $400,000 and go up from there. (The bulk of this money, it must be noted, goes to The New York Times, whose published rate for a full-page color ad in the Arts & Leisure section on Sunday is $105,000.) And then there are the labor costs. Any theater with 500 seats or more has to abide by the most onerous of the contracts theater owners have with the various theatrical unions.
That's why some off-Broadway theaters have 499 seats. Take, for instance, something called the "load in," which is the process of setting up the show - putting up the set and scenery and so forth. Thanks to the contract the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has with the theater owners, which includes work rules that guarantee lots of overtime, a load-in starts at $200,000 and can run as high as $1 million for some huge productions. By contrast, the "Hurlyburly" load-in was a mere $45,000.
When I asked people who worked on Broadway whether we were at the point where things might start to change, as they are starting to change in the airline industry, the answer I got was always the same: highly unlikely. Nobody involved has any incentive to change. Right now, for instance, every theater on Broadway is booked for the foreseeable future. "As bad an investment as this increasingly is," Mr. Landesman said, "there are no shortage of players who want to put in shows."
There are always just enough hits - "Doubt" is the big surprise moneymaker this season - to make theater investors and producers think that maybe their show is the one that makes it. So they keep coming back. But if costs keep rising and audiences keep dwindling, it is hard to imagine that this state of affairs is sustainable.
And then where will we be? I think we're going to be in "Gem of the Ocean" territory. Let me explain. "Gem of the Ocean," the latest Broadway offering by August Wilson, ran in the Walter Kerr theater, a Jujamcyn theater, for just two months, closing in early February. If not for a devoted theater backer named Carole Shorenstein Hays, a San Francisco real estate heiress, it wouldn't have even made it to Broadway; her last-minute infusion of $1 million provided the necessary capital that made it possible for Mr. Landesman, who was also a producer, to mount the production. Needless to say, the show lost pretty much all of its upfront costs.
Although Mr. Landesman wouldn't say so, it's hard to believe that he ever thought "Gem of the Ocean" would ever make money. In any case, he made it sound as though it didn't really matter to him whether it did or not. "We have a commitment to August Wilson," he said. "We lost a half a million dollars on that show. But the rewards aren't measured just in financial returns. The audiences at 'Gem of the Ocean' were some of the most rapturous we've ever had."
He added that he never wanted to have public shareholders because he never wanted to be in a position where financial considerations would prevent him from putting on a play like "Gem of the Ocean."
Ms. Hays, for her part, seemed not to care in the least that she had lost $1 million on the play. "I grew up loving theater," she said, "and it gives me faith and hope and verve." She, too, talked about her commitment to the work of August Wilson and other important American playwrights. " 'Gem of the Ocean' is an important work," she said. "It would be a shame if people didn't have a chance to see it." She described her involvement in the play as her true dividend.
As a theater lover, I'm happy that there are benefactors like Ms. Hays, and theater owners like Mr. Landesman. But the business journalist in me says something else. If this is the future of Broadway, we should stop talking about "investing" in a play, and start calling it what it is: an act of philanthropy.
That's not only disturbing - it's depressing, Bree.
Yes, very depressing. Something's got to give.
I just thought of something: Alan Alda is nominated for a Tony in the best featured actor category this year, for his role in the revival of Glengarry Glen Ross. He's been nominated before (for Jake's Women and The Apple Tree), but never won. His father, Robert Alda, won a Tony for best actor in a musical for his role as Sky Masterson in the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls. If Alan Alda wins tonight, will he and his father become the first father-and-son team to win Tonys? I don't know the answer, but maybe we'll find out tonight.
I do know that there's already been a mother-and-daughter Tony-winning duo (maybe more than one, but I can only think of one). Any guesses as to who they are?
I remember that Jennifer Ehle and her mother, Rosemary Harris were both nominated in 2000, I think. Jennifer won that year for The Real Thing, and Rosemary was a winner back in the 60s for The Lion in Winter. Who else? Maybe Vanessa Redgrave & one of her daughters?
I'm thoroughly enjoying the awards so far. Loved the number from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Christina Applegate is no Shirley MacLaine, but then, who is?
Good one, mac -- I had forgotten about Rosemary Harris and Jennifer Ehle. I was thinking of Vanessa Redgrave (the 2003 revival of Long Day's Journey into Night) and Natasha Richardson (revival of Cabaret).
Well, Alan Alda didn't join his father as a Tony winner, but now there's a grandfather-and-grandson team in Richard Rodgers and Adam Guettel.
The dance number from La Cage was great, too. Hard to believe all those dancers are men!
I don't know about this cast, but in the original production there were a few women mixed in too. (I sat close enough to be certain!)
First big goof (that I've noticed) was Jesse Martin's really bad cutoff at the end of Razzle Dazzle. Oops!
The only other goof I noticed was Chita Rivera accidentally killing off John Kander, when she meant to say Cy Coleman -- and then, when she realized her mistake, saying something that was bleeped out (the telecast must be on two-second tape delay).
Bill Irwin's award was a surprise. If I had had to lay odds on that field, I would have made him the longest shot.
Yep Bill Irwin was a surprise. But then, I was surprised that he was cast as George. Did you see Who's Afraid..., bree? I can't remember. I'm going to go back and read that review.
Several things were bleeped or else it was a bad feed here. Edward Albee's acceptance speech was interrupted a few times with a silent black screen. I wondered what he was saying about his partner! Billy Crystal got bleeped or whatever during his acceptance speech too.
I'm sure you're right about the delay. I think that's going to be SOP from now on.
I didn't see this production of Who's Afraid, because I've seen the show twice before (once on Broadway in 1975, with Colleen Dewhurst and Ben Gazzara, and once in London in 1996, with Diana Rigg and David Suchet), and I'm not a big Kathleen Turner fan. However, a co-worker who saw the current production said he wasn't surprised that Bill Irwin won, because he gives an unforgettable performance.
Thanks, Raggedy, that's a great article! I agree that the Hugh Jackman-Aretha Franklin duet was not the best use of either of their talents.
There was one mispronunciation the article doesn't mention: when Bernadette Peters read the names of the best-actor-in-a-musical nominees, she pronounced John Lithgow's last name as if the second syllable rhymed with "cow", instead of as if it rhymed with "go" (which I believe is the correct pronunciation). He seemed to grimace when his name was read, and I think he may have been grimacing over the mispronunciation.
The article clears up one thing I was curious about: why Cherry Jones mentioned "Laura Wingfield" in her acceptance speech (it turns out she was referring to Sarah Paulson, who's currently playing Laura Wingfield in a critically-lambasted Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie).
Yes, thanks for the link Raggedy.
I noticed the mispronunciation of Lithgow too. When Norbert Leo Butz accepted his award and thanked his co-star, it seemed that he hit the -GO of Lithgow harder than normal.
I shuddered at the Franklin/Jackman duet. I also cannot understand applause at those who have passed away. At the Oscars it's expected, (lol), but the Tonys, no.
And perhaps I've never noticed it before, but I don't remember cheering sections (as the nominations were announced) in past Tony Awards show.
Aaah.Sorry if I'm acting like a spoilsport, but the show just didn't have the same appeal as in previous years. The theatrical "class" was missing. And of course it might have helped if I had known some of the songs. (lol)
Great predictions on your part, Bree.