Season of the tomb

Awards: Among new shows, dead playwright and a closed musical about a lynching and murder received the most Tony nominations.

May 04, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

What could you say about a Broadway season in which a play by a dead American playwright and a musical that closed in February garner the most Tony Award nominations of any new shows? You could say that, at least for new work, it was a relatively lackluster season.

Tennessee Williams' long-lost 1938 drama, "Not About Nightingales," received six nominations in yesterday's Tony announcement in New York. These included a best actor nomination for Corin Redgrave, who portrays an evil prison warden in Williams' early play about a real-life tragedy in a Pennsylvania prison. Unearthed by Corin's sister, Vanessa, it qualified for consideration as a new play because it was previously unproduced on Broadway.

The musical, "Parade," chalked up nine nominations, more than any other production. Also based on a true event -- the 1915 Georgia lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man convicted of murdering a 13-year-old girl -- the show drew mixed reviews and closed after a little more than three months. Among its nominations were those for lead actors Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello, director Harold Prince, playwright Alfred Uhry and composer Jason Robert Brown. "Parade" is a longshot, however. Instead, the favorite for best new musical is the far less challenging, but far more popular, "Fosse," a hit revue of the work of the late director/choreographer Bob Fosse, which danced off with eight nominations.

Like "Fosse," the other two nominees in the new musical category are essentially revues -- "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues" and "The Civil War" (scheduled to launch its national tour at the Mechanic Theatre next season).

While the presence of these revues indicates how slim the pickings were for new musicals, the new play field was somewhat richer. The chief surprise yesterday was the absence of British playwright David Hare, who had three eligible plays on Broadway. His work was acknowledged solely by the nominations of two cast members in his current hit play, "Amy's View" -- Judi Dench and Samantha Bond. (Nicole Kidman, who created a major stir in Hare's "The Blue Room," was also left out.)

The remainder of the nominees for best new play are: Warren Leight's "Side Man," about jazz musicians; Patrick Marber's "Closer," a dark four-person drama about sex in the 1990s; and Martin McDonagh's "The Lonesome West," a play about a pair of antagonistic brothers, set in the same Irish town as the playwright's 1998 nominee, "The Beauty Queen on Leenane."

In selecting "Not About Nightingales" and "Side Man," the nominating committee chose two of the only eligible American offerings in a season heavily dominated by imports from the British Isles.

The revival field was again abundant enough to be divided into play and musical categories. Indeed, the hottest contention promises to be between two play revivals -- "Death of a Salesman," which earned six nominations, and "The Iceman Cometh," which earned five, including those for their respective stars, Brian Dennehy and Kevin Spacey.

Several special Tony Awards were also announced. The regional theater award goes to New Jersey's Crossroads Theatre Company, where "It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues" originated.

Lifetime Achievement awards will honor actress Uta Hagen, playwright Arthur Miller and Isabelle Stevenson, chairman of the American Theatre Wing, which jointly administers the Tonys with the League of American Theatres and Producers. And a special Tony will be awarded to "Fool Moon," the wordless Bill Irwin-David Shiner comedy that played its third Broadway engagement earlier this season (and was subsequently presented at Washington's Kennedy Center).

Another show seen at Kennedy Center this season, "Annie Get Your Gun," received nominations for best musical revival and for its two leads, Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat. Closer to home, "Footloose," whose national touring production was presented at the Mechanic in February, garnered four nominations, although it was shut out of the best new musical category.

As usual, several Center Stage alums received nominations, among them, director Michael Mayer ("You're A Good Man Charlie Brown"), costume designer Catherine Zuber ("Twelfth Night") and set designer Riccardo Hernandez ("Parade").

The 53rd annual Tony Awards will be presented June 6 at the Gershwin Theatre and televised on PBS (MPT Channels 22 and 67) from 8-9 p.m. and on CBS (WJZ-TV, Channel 13) beginning at 9 p.m. Instead of a single host, the telecast will have a number of guest hosts, who have yet to be announced.

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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