Nominees for Tonys as expected

Awards: Musical revivals, dance shows get most nods. But Patrick Stewart -- along with Disney's `Aida' -- has more to grumble about.

May 09, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Musical revivals, dance shows and one of Baltimore's native sons were among the high scorers in yesterday's Tony Award nominations.

In a season when most shows seemed to be getting smaller, two lavish productions -- both musical revivals -- danced off with the largest number of nominations, which were announced in New York. Cole Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate" chalked up 12 nominations, while Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" took nine.

The 54th annual Tony Awards will also honor Baltimorean T. Edward Hambleton. A pioneer in the off-Broadway and non-profit theater movements, Hambleton, a founding board member of Center Stage, will receive a lifetime achievement award.

"Contact" and "Swing," the two new musicals receiving the most nominations (six apiece) are both dance shows. The favorite, "Contact," was originally billed as a "dance play" and consists of three parts -- one inspired by a Fragonard painting, another about a repressed Queens housewife and a third about an advertising executive who meets a seductive woman in a yellow dress. Because "Contact" lacks an original score, not to mention live music, the show's classification as a musical prompted a protest by the Broadway musicians' union.

"Swing!" which also received six nominations, is a revue devoted to the latest retro dance craze. It will be part of the Mechanic Theatre's 2000-2001 season.

These two shows will compete for top honors against "The Wild Party," one of two new musicals to open in New York this season based on a Jazz Age poem by Joseph Moncure March, and "James Joyce's The Dead." Based on a story from the Irish author's "Dubliners" collection, "The Dead" closed April 16, despite winning some of the highest critical acclaim of the season.

Notably absent from the best musical category was "Aida," the season's costliest new musical and Disney's first Broadway show not based on an animated film. However, "Aida" received five other nominations: for the score by Elton John and Tim Rice, for lead actress Heather Headley, set design, costumes and lighting.

Of the four nominees for best new play, three have casts of four or fewer. Claudia Shear's "Dirty Blonde," about Mae West and two fans, came away with five nominations, including two for Shear, who also stars in the show.

Her play's toughest competition will come from "Copenhagen," British playwright Michael Frayn's fictionalized account of a 1941 meeting between real-life physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

Completing the category are two plays by master American playwrights -- "True West," Sam Shepard's 1980 play about a pair of warring brothers (which is considered a new play because it had never before been produced on Broadway), and Arthur Miller's "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan."

Along with "Aida," one of yesterday's only other major oversights was the lack of a nomination for Patrick Stewart, who plays the lead role of a bigamist insurance executive in "Mt. Morgan."

Stewart delivered controversial curtain speeches after the April 29 matinee and evening performances, denouncing the show's producers for inadequately promoting the production.

Two nominees will be competing against themselves this year. Susan Stroman faces off against herself in two categories -- choreography and direction -- for "Contact" and "The Music Man." And composer Michael John LaChiusa has two scores going head-to-head: "The Wild Party" and the now-closed "Marie Christine," a version of "Medea" updated to the 19th century.

And, for the first time in Tony history, a mother and daughter will compete against each other. Rosemary Harris, who stars as a retired actress in Noel Coward's "Waiting in the Wings," will vie for honors as best actress in a play against her daughter, Jennifer Ehle, who is starring in the revival of Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing."

Hambleton wasn't the only person with a Center Stage connection to figure into yesterday's announcement. Cherry Jones, nominated for her portrayal of farm woman Josie Hogan in the revival of Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten," played the same role in Center Stage's 1993 production. In addition, two-time Tony winner Boyd Gaines, who starred in two Center Stage shows in the 1980s, was nominated for best supporting actor for his depiction of the ad executive in "Contact."

Derek Smith, who appeared at Center Stage in 1991, was nominated for his supporting role in "The Green Bird." Costume designer and Center Stage alum Constance Hoffman received the only other nomination for "The Green Bird," the first Broadway show directed by Julie Taymor since her 1998 Tony triumph with "The Lion King."

Besides Hambleton's honorary Tony, special awards will also go to "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour"; actress Eileen Heckart; agent and manager Sylvia Herscher; and to the concert series "Encores!"

The regional theater award goes to the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah.

The Tony Awards will be presented June 4 at Radio City Music Hall, with Rosie O'Donnell as emcee. The first hour of the ceremony will be telecast on PBS (MPT, Channels 22 and 67) beginning at 8 p.m. and the remaining two hours on CBS (WJZ-TV, Channel 13) beginning at 9 p.m.

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