Tonys (love) 'Producers'

With its 15 nominations -- the most in Tony history -- the only question is how many awards the hit musical will actually win.

May 08, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

In a season in which Broadway, frequently dubbed the Fabulous Invalid, experienced a miraculous recovery, the runaway hit "The Producers" chalked up more Tony Award nominations than any show in history.

A record 15 nominations went to the musical theater adaptation of Mel Brooks' 1968 movie about a shifty Broadway producer and a timid accountant who hatch a scheme to make a fortune by deliberately mounting a flop. "The Producers" received nominations in every category for which it was eligible, including three for Brooks (for co-writing the book with Thomas Meehan, composing the score and co-producing the show), two for best actor (Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane) and three for featured actor.

The previous record holder was the musical "Company," which received 14 nominations in 1971; at the time, however, the categories were arranged differently (for example, there were separate slots for composer and lyricist).

Even in a relatively strong field, "The Producers" may have received so many nominations not only because of its wild popularity and, by all reports, splendid staging, but also because it represents a return to the beloved American musical comedy genre. The musical is a shoo-in for the top Tony. The only question will be how many other Tonys it will win.

The second largest number of nominations, 10, went to another musical based on a movie, "The Full Monty," adapted from the 1996 British film about out-of-work steelworkers who shed their clothes to raise some dough. For the stage version, Tony-nominated book writer Terrence McNally moved the setting from northern England to Buffalo, N.Y.

Among the show's other nominations was one for Baltimore native Andre De Shields, whose portrayal of a character nicknamed "Horse" drew critical plaudits. De Shields' competition for best actor includes fellow "Monty" cast member John Ellison Conlee and three actors in "The Producers." When the nominations were broadcast live on the Web yesterday morning, surprised laughter could be heard in the background as the crowd realized this entire category was divided between just two shows.

The other best-musical nominees are "Jane Eyre," adapted from the Charlotte Bronte novel, and "A Class Act," a small-scale musical about Edward Kleban, the late lyricist of "A Chorus Line." Although neither stands a chance at the top honor, the fact that there were more than enough eligible shows for the category ("Seussical" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" were left out) is typical of an abundant season that not only was the richest ever financially, but also the richest artistically in years.

The competition for best play promises to be one of the hottest races, pitting Tom Stoppard's "The Invention of Love" (about poet A.E. Housman) against this year's Pulitzer Prize winner, David Auburn's "Proof" (about a young woman coping with the mental deterioration and death of her mathematician father). "Proof" is expected to come to Baltimore next season as part of its national tour.

The other best-play nominees are Charles Busch's comedy, "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," and "King Hedley II," the 1980s installment of August Wilson's decade-by-decade chronicle of 20th century African-American life, which played a pre-Broadway run at Washington's Kennedy Center in March. "Hedley's" six nominations include one for director Marion McClinton, an associate artist at Center Stage.

The nominations had several other area connections as well. A best director nomination went to Eastern Shore native Mark Bramble, director of the revival of "42nd Street," which garnered twice as many nominations (10) as any other revival. Bramble also is co-author of the 1980 musical.

Robert Sean Leonard, nominated for his performance as the young Housman in "The Invention of Love," starred in "The Glass Menagerie" at Center Stage in 1997, and three nominated designers - Heidi Ettinger, Peter Kaczorowski and Kenneth Posner - also have worked at Center Stage.

"Blast!" the marching band extravaganza that played Kennedy Center last winter, received the first ever Tony for Special Theatrical Event. Another Kennedy Center tryout, Neil Simon's "The Dinner Party," took only one nomination, for featured actress Penny Fuller.

The recipient of this year's regional theater award is Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater. Four other special Tonys will go to: Broadway musical director Paul Gemignani; Betty Corwin and the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the New York playwright workshop, New Dramatists; and "Theatre World," the annual statistics book.

The 55th annual Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on June 3. In a fitting choice for a night that is virtually guaranteed to be a "Producers" love-fest, the ceremony's hosts will be "Producers" co-stars and co-nominees Broderick and Lane. The first 10 awards will be broadcast on PBS (MPT, Channels 22 and 67) from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the remaining awards on CBS (WJZ, Channel 13) from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. For the first time, the half hour preceding the telecasts will be broadcast on the Web the Tonys' site, www.tonys.org, at 7:30 p.m.

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