The 72nd Tony Awards

This year’s crop of An­toinette Perry nom­i­nees re­flect a heavy over­seas in­flu­ence

Variety - - Contents - By GOR­DON COX

The shows all played on Broad­way, but a num­ber of nom­i­nees have come from across the pond.

Broad­way is as Amer­i­can as ap­ple pie — or at least as Amer­i­can as the Big Ap­ple. But this year, a lot of the nom­i­nees for Broad­way’s big­gest night have one thing in com­mon: A Bri­tish pass­port.

Of the shows nom­i­nated for best new play at the June 10 Tony Awards, three out of the five orig­i­nated in Lon­don. The race for lead ac­tor in a play is be­ing run by four Bri­tons and one Amer­i­can (or maybe 1.5, if you count dual cit­i­zen An­drew Garfield); the ra­tio’s the same in the com­pe­ti­tion for fea­tured ac­tress in a play. And the fron­trun­ner for lead ac­tress in a play? Glenda Jack­son, who’s so Bri­tish she used to be a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.

There’s al­ways been a transat­lantic the­ater pipe­line be­tween New York and Lon­don, par­tic­u­larly for plays (think “Nicholas Nick­leby” and “War Horse”), and the bal­ance shifts from sea­son to sea­son. Last year all four new play nom­i­nees at the Tony Awards were writ­ten by liv­ing Amer­i­can writers. This year, U.S.-bred plays were sparse, and the big­gest head­line grab­bers — two-part epics “An­gels in Amer­ica,” set­ting a new record with 11 nom­i­na­tions, and “Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child,” the lead­ing can­di­date for new play with 10 — came from across the pond.

For a lot of this year’s Brit nom­i­nees, Broad­way wasn’t even on the radar as a ca­reer goal, es­pe­cially not for the ones who spe­cial­ize in plays rather than mu­si­cals. But even on the other side of the ocean, Broad­way beck­ons as a ro­man­ti­cized ideal, just as it does for State­side the­ater fans.

Still, there’s al­ways a lit­tle cul­ture shock.

“It’s the epi­cen­ter of Western com­mer­cial the­ater. Why wouldn’t you want to come to Broad­way?” asks Olivier win­ner Jamie Parker, who is nom­i­nated for lead ac­tor in a play for his per­for­mance as the grown-up Boy Who Lived in “Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child.” “but Broad­way’s daunt­ing. It’s a big old ma­chine. If it’s treat­ing you nicely, it’s an in­cred­i­ble, benef­i­cent power.”

He should know. “Harry Pot­ter” is al­ready a sold- out smash; his last New York out­ing, the Tony-win­ning 2006 trans­fer of Na­tional The­atre’s “The His­tory Boys,” was equally suc­cess­ful. Parker and other nom­i­nees note that on Broad­way, ev­ery­thing — from au­di­ence en­thu­si­asm to awards-sea­son hype — is out­size, doled out in gen­er­ous Amer­i­can por­tions.

“There’s some­thing about what Broad­way rep­re­sents and what the Tony Awards rep­re­sent that just feels big­ger,” says Tim Levy, a New York-based Brit who, as the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional The­atre’s Broad- way pro­duc­ing arm, NT Amer­ica, brought “An­gels in Amer­ica” to New York in part­ner­ship with U.S. back­ers in­clud­ing Ju­jam­cyn The­aters’ Jor­dan Roth. “There’s a glam­our to it. Amer­i­cans cel­e­brate suc­cess in a way that I find very hon­est and heart­en­ing. Brits are em­bar­rassed by it, and it’s quite dif­fi­cult for us.”

Also big­ger on Broad­way: the price tag. Transat­lantic pro­duc­ers es­ti­mate that pro­duc­ing on Broad­way can cost four times a show’s West End bud­get, due to a com­pli­cated tan­gle of fac­tors in­clud­ing tight union reg­u­la­tions in the U.S. But the po­ten­tial in­come yielded by a hit is that much higher, too.

“Ev­ery­thing is on a mul­ti­ple of four or five on Broad­way: risk, re­ward, re­sponse,” says So­nia Fried­man, who lead pro­duces “Harry Pot­ter” with Colin Cal­len­der. She has a long his­tory of work­ing on both sides of the pond, with ti­tles in­clud­ing “Noises Off,” “The Nor­man Con­quests,” “Jerusalem” and “Farinelli and the King” (the cur­rent can­di­date for best play that earned an act­ing nom­i­na­tion for Mark Ry­lance).

She’s also had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence with the Tonys — the an­nual awards cel­e­bra­tion that, in New York, plays a lead­ing role in a pro­duc­tion’s suc­cess.

“The Tonys cast a shadow over a lot of the strate­gic think­ing on Broad­way in a way that the Oliviers don’t in Lon­don,” Cal­len­der points out. “They de­ter­mine all sort of as­pects of the strat­egy, least of which is the ac­tual tim- ing of things.”

On Broad­way, the ma­jor­ity of award hope­fuls tar­get an open­ing in March or April, so as to be fresh in the minds of Tony vot­ers.

That’s be­cause a big win at the Tonys, es­pe­cially for a new mu­si­cal, can turn a strug­gling show into a slam dunk. “The Tonys can have a mas­sive ef­fect on the box of­fice,” says “Harry Pot­ter” di­rec­tor John Tif­fany. “I’ve seen that first-hand with ‘Once.’”

That mu­si­cal, his first Broad­way credit, carved out a three-year run with the help of ma­jor Tony wins in 2012.

The Tony Awards cer­e­mony it­self — and its na­tional tele­cast, some­thing no the­ater awards show gets in the U.K. — also strikes Brits as su­per­sized.

“I’m blown away by the scale of the Tonys,” says Harry Had­den-pa­ton, nom­i­nated for his per­for­mance

as Henry Hig­gins in the re­vival “My Fair Lady” (10 nom­i­na­tions). “You guys don’t do un­der­state­ment.”

Well, no. But the U.K. cre­atives who find them­selves in the Tony spotlight seem to en­joy it as much as they’re gob­s­macked by it. For them, both the Tonys and Broad­way have an ap­peal that car­ries all the way to Lon­don.

“Broad­way means a lot to any­one work­ing in the the­ater in­dus­try, across the world,” says Mar­i­anne El­liott, the two-time Tony win­ner (“War Horse,” “The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night-time”) up for a third for her stag­ing of “An­gels in Amer­ica.” “It is seen as a mecca to a lot of us. Plus it feels so glam­ourous and so al­lur­ing! I mean it’s New York! It’s Broad­way!”

“The grass is al­ways greener, isn’t it?” says Tom Hol­lan­der, in the race for lead ac­tor in a play for his work in the nom­i­nated re­vival “Travesties.” “New York is a mir­a­cle in it­self, and to be here and to be work­ing in the the­ater com­mu­nity is a very ex­cit­ing thing to do for a Bri­tish ac­tor.”

For Brits — as for the rest of the world — the Broad­way brand rests squarely on the shoul­ders of its raz­zle- daz­zle tuners. “I think where Broad­way fea­tures in the Bri­tish imag­i­na­tion is prob­a­bly the mu­si­cals as­pect of it,” says Jack­son, the Tony fron­trun­ner for “Three Tall Women.” “They re­ally taught us how to do mu­si­cals. And of course, all the films that we’ve all seen which are cen­tered around Broad­way.”

Denise Gough, up for fea­tured ac­tress in a play for “An­gels in Amer­ica,” agrees. “To me Broad­way was the home of mu­si­cals, and then Off Broad­way was where re­ally cool plays hap­pened,” she says. The suc­cess of “An­gels” has helped her re­al­ize that “it just so hap­pens you can do cool plays on both.”

Even given all the chal­lenges spe­cific to Broad­way — the sky­rock­et­ing costs, the dic­ta­tor­ship of the Tonys, an on­go­ing realestate squeeze — pro­duc­ers say they just can’t quit New York.

“I bloody love it,” Fried­man says. “It’s a pro­ducer’s town. It’s where I am most chal­lenged, in terms of the busi­ness ver­sus the cre­ative. It tests me like no other place in the world. And as a re­sult, when some­thing works on Broad­way, the sense of achieve­ment is that much greater.”

Nearly all this year’s transat­lantic nom­i­nees cite the close-knit na­ture of the Broad­way com­mu­nity as a wel­come dis­cov­ery for them. Garfield, nom­i­nated for lead ac­tor in “An­gels in Amer­ica,” is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing life in a suc­cess­ful play for the sec­ond time, af­ter his Tony-nom­i­nated turn in “Death of a Sales­man” in 2012. “When you’re in a show that’s well-re­ceived, you get kind of em­broi­dered into the fabric of the city,” he says. “You feel very wel­come.”

“Part of the glam­our of Broad­way is the com­mu­nity,” echoes Noma Dumezweni, the Olivier win­ner who is now Tony-nom­i­nated for her turn as Hermione in “Cursed Child.” “Ev­ery­one knows ev­ery­one on Broad­way, and we’re all in this thing to­gether, and there is a lovely feel­ing about that.”

That lo­cal fel­low­ship is one of the main rea­sons so many ac­tors want to come back. “Broad­way was never re­ally an am­bi­tion or any­thing, but af­ter com­ing here, I’ve re­al­ized that it’s the best f---in’ place in the world,” says Dumezweni’s co-star and fel­low nom­i­nee An­thony Boyle, who plays Scor­pius Mal­foy in “Cursed Child.” “The au­di­ences and the en­ergy and the com­mu­nity are just so up­lift­ing. I never want to leave. I just want to do Broad­way my whole life!”

Ac­cio Tonys“Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child” hit New York ear­lier this year and drew the most Tony nom­i­na­tions, 10, for a new play.

Good to Be the King“Farinelli and the King” earned five Tony nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing one for lead ac­tor and three-time win­ner Mark Ry­lance.

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