It's 68th Annual Tony time on Broadway Sunday night, though the fancy theatrical equivalent of keg parties has been popping corks around Times Square for days. Ever since the end-of-the-season statistics were released by the Broadway League after Memorial Day, big numbers have been flying into the record books with enough raucous glee to wake the uninvested neighbors.
Grosses are up 11.4 percent from last year, which had already been up 5.4 percent from the year before. In dollars, that means a record $1.27 billion. In an industry that prefers not to call attention to high ticket prices, however, the more significant figure is the 5.6 percent rise in attendance -- that is, actual bodies in the seats. Although 12.21 million theatergoers don't completely make up for the 8.2 percent drop in the past two years, up is definitely up.
And here comes the economic-impact report, always a favorite of politicians and Wall Street. Hey, the numbers implicitly crow, commercial theater is not just for fun and its own profit. Broadway added almost $12 billion to the city's economy, not to mention paying a half billion in city taxes and supporting 87,000 jobs.
So we're happy, right? The season has been busy and unusually rich in variety -- from original musicals to new American plays and smash classic revivals of Shakespeare, Pinter and Beckett. It was a season with genuine range, even without any blockbuster sure-thing runaway new shows.
Then why am I feeling so ambivalent about the Tonys this year? Why do the nominations reflect so little of those riches? And why, in fact, did I rummage around my office for a dried up old bottle of Wite-Out while filling out my ballot? Really, I did. Could I vote for the magnificent revival of "A Raisin in the Sun" instead of the wonderful, historically almost-accurate, all-male "Twelfth Night"? (I could, but then no, I couldn't.) Could I pick Bryan Cranston's substantial Broadway debut in "All the Way" over theater loyalist Tony Shalhoub in "Act One"? (I did, but first I didn't.)
The problem, at least my problem, is with the Tony nominations this year. I know that nominators -- 33 this year -- have a hard job and have to see every single play and aren't allowed to talk to each other before they pick their picks. But I don't remember a season when so many of the nominations seemed almost arbitrary, even random, and when so many of the plays and artists I loved were ignored in favor of so many I did not.
Surely, I am not the only one who wishes that -- for starters -- Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Michael C. Hall, Marisa Tomei, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Debra Messing, James Franco and Zachary Quinto were on the lists. I bet CBS, which telecasts the Tonys, also wishes these stars -- not just stars but deserving ones -- would be there to jazz up the ratings.
Less high profile, but no less egregiously omitted, were Rebecca Hall and the astonishing revival of "Machinal," Roger Rees and the terrific revival of "The Winslow Boy." How about featured actress nominations for Annie Golden in "Violet" and LaChanze in "If/Then"? How could Steven Pasquale not have been nominated as best musical actor in "The Bridges of Madison County" when Kelli O'Hara, his ravishing co-star, is nominated? And while we're asking hurtful questions about the shunning of that beautiful, if not perfect musical, why, in a season with so many innovative new shows, would the nominators pick only four musicals when they could have chosen five?
Here are a few other observations, not all of them complaints.
A TICKET REVOLUTION -- DOWNWARD? While Broadway courts the 1-percenters with premium tickets approaching $500 a seat (for "The Book of Mormon"), real news was made at the surprise double hits of "Twelfth Night" and "Richard III" from London's Shakespeare's Globe theater. The producers of this commercial visit chose to set aside 250 seats for each performance -- almost a quarter of the theater's capacity -- for $25 tickets. The shows sold out and still made a profit, believed to be impossible for Shakespeare on Broadway without movie stars.
DO YOU NEED STARS TO SELL CLASSICS? Well, Orlando Bloom may have brought in the fans for his Broadway debut, but he was a big disappointment in "Romeo and Juliet." Similarly, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz were the headlines of the fall season, but they were shockingly dull in Harold Pinter's "Betrayal." A bigger surprise, to regular theatergoers, was the dreary
"Macbeth" with Ethan Hawke, whose stage work had been so strong before this.
BROADWAY'S BEST NEW MUSICALS ARE 17 YEARS OLD The two shows I tell friends to see are "Violet," starring Sutton Foster, and Neil Patrick Harris' amazing star turn in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." Both were Off-Broadway hits in the late '90s, but are miles ahead of the nominated shows in originality and sheer pleasure.
The surprising favorite, with 10 nominations, is "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," an amusing 90-minute Edwardian novelty item that, alas, goes on for another hour of way-too-pleased-with-itself spoofery and mugging. But at least it has original music. "After Midnight" is a stylish, plotless revue of '30s Harlem jazz. "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" stars the first-rate Jessie Mueller, but the songs, no matter how beloved, are old and the book is leaden. "Aladdin" is jolly and does have new songs among the familiar, but it hardly reinvents the Disney cartoon as "The Lion King" did.
HAS THE WORM TURNED FOR MOVIE ADAPTATIONS? Except for "Aladdin," which is its own special case at Disney, there are no best-musical nominations for shows made from movies -- including "Big Fish," "Bullets Over Broadway" and "The Bridges of Madison County" (also a novel, of course).
WOMEN RULE -- OR DO THEY? Yes, grown-up woman protagonists dominated and were nominated in four big musicals -- Idina Menzel in "If/Then," O'Hara in "Bridges," Mueller in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" and Foster in "Violet." But only one, "Violet," was written and directed by women. Also, woman directors of two acclaimed revivals -- Lyndsey Turner ("Machinal") and Lindsay Posner ("The Winslow Boy") -- were ignored, along with their productions. And if Phyllida Lloyd's eye-opening all-woman "Julius Caesar" had run on Broadway instead of at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, she would have given those all-guy Shakespeares a little anxiety.
WHEN IS A MUSICAL NOT A MUSICAL? Really? Audra McDonald is amazing in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," but the virtual solo is all singing and some talk. But Lanie Robertson's show about Billie Holiday was categorized as a play with music when it ran Off-Broadway years ago and, somehow, the Tony administration decided the musical is still a play. Thus, the musical takes a slot away from the best-play category and McDonald competes as an actress in a play, not a musical. Does this make sense to anyone besides the producers, who probably prefer to be in the best-play category -- which is far less competitive, even lame, this year?
FINALLY, WHEN IS AUTUMN NOT A SEASON? Although plenty of shows opened in the fall, almost all were weak and disappeared before the holidays. And most of the good ones were forgotten by the Tony nominators -- once again proving that spring is the only time to open anything.
WHAT The 68th Annual Tony Awards
WHEN|WHERE Sunday night, 8-11 from Radio City Music Hall on CBS, also simulcast on the screen at Times Square Plaza, 42nd to 47th Streets.
INFO Hugh Jackman hosts for the fourth time, returning after a nine-year hiatus. Presenters and performers include Neil Patrick Harris, Sting, Carole King, Liev Schreiber, Clint Eastwood, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Cumming, Audra McDonald, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Bacon, Will Ferrell, Ethan Hawke, Idina Menzel, Zach Braff, Matt Bomer, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Fran Drescher and Zachary Quinto.
Our critic's picks:
SHOULD WIN "Casa Valentina"
WILL WIN "All the Way"
SHOULD WIN "Aladdin"
WILL WIN "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"
SHOULD WIN "Twelfth Night"
WILL WIN "Twelfth Night"
SHOULD WIN "Violet"
WILL WIN "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
SHOULD WIN Bryan Cranston, "All the Way"
WILL WIN Cranston
SHOULD WIN Audra McDonald, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill"
WILL WIN McDonald
SHOULD WIN Neil Patrick Harris, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
WILL WIN Harris
SHOULD WIN Kelli O'Hara, "The Bridges of Madison County"
WILL WIN O'Hara
FEATURED ACTOR, PLAY
SHOULD WIN Mark Rylance, "Twelfth Night"
WILL WIN Rylance
FEATURED ACTRESS, PLAY
SHOULD WIN Sophie Okonedo, "A Raisin in the Sun"
WILL WIN Celia Keenan-Bolger, "The Glass Menagerie"
FEATURED ACTOR, MUSICAL
SHOULD WIN James Monroe Iglehart, "Aladdin"
WILL WIN Iglehart
FEATURED ACTRESS, MUSICAL
SHOULD WIN Lauren Worsham, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"
WILL WIN Linda Emond, "Cabaret"
SHOULD WIN Kenny Leon, "A Raisin in the Sun"
WILL WIN Tim Carroll, "Twelfth Night"
SHOULD WIN Leigh Silverman, "Violet"
WILL WIN Darko Tresnjak, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"
SHOULD WIN Jason Robert Brown, "The Bridges of Madison County"
WILL WIN Brown
SHOULD WIN Woody Allen, "Bullets over Broadway"
WILL WIN Robert L. Freedman, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"
SHOULD WIN Susan Stroman, "Bullets Over Broadway"
WILL WIN Warren Carlyle, "After Midnight"
SHOULD WIN Es Devlin, "Machinal"
WILL WIN Beowulf Boritt, "Act One"
SHOULD WIN Alexander Dodge, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder"
WILL WIN Dodge
SHOULD WIN Jenny Tiramani, "Twelfth Night"
WILL WIN Tiramani
SHOULD WIN Isabel Toledo, "After Midnight"
WILL WIN Toledo
SHOULD WIN Natasha Katz, "The Glass Menagerie"
WILL WIN Katz
SHOULD WIN Donald Holder, "The Bridges of Madison County"
WILL WIN Kevin Adams, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
SOUND DESIGN, PLAY
SHOULD WIN Steve Canyon Kennedy, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill"
WILL WIN Kennedy
SOUND DESIGN, MUSICAL
SHOULD WIN Tim O'Heir, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
WILL WIN O'Heir
SHOULD WIN Jason Robert Brown, "The Bridges of Madison County"
WILL WIN Brown