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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Up, down, sideways and sideways: A look at the Tony nominations

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There were many reasons to cheer for the Tony nominations on Tuesday. Steven Spielberg’s “The Lightening Thief” got the announcement-cut-to-the-heart special recognition for a show that ran more than a month on Broadway last year without much attention. There were also nominations for “Eclipsed,” a civil war drama about prostitution with the first-ever Lead Actress Tony nomination for a British star. “1984,” the George Orwell classic just starting its third week of previews in New York, received its first-ever Play Revival Tony nod. And despite local obstacles, “Disaster!” did manage to score a nom for Julie White, a certified wild-card stage actress.

Elsewhere, the nomination award for Best Musical was a keen one. Billie Jean King’s autobiographical “Betsy Ross,” with its throwback gowns and lilting score, scored five nods and will get a chance to compete against “Waitress,” a musical about a pie maker that has been in development for more than a decade.

One of the few Broadway shows that didn’t get any awards love was “Shuffle Along,” the inaugural star-filled revue of a musical that has had difficulty finding an audience in the past. “Shuffle Along” is probably a victim of its appeal as a vehicle for celebrities like Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald and Christine Ebersole. When the stars leave, the crowds thin out.

And as you might expect from a Broadway musical based on “Hamilton,” the ensemble cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash won a handful of nods, including for four of the five actors who shared the show’s leading role, Alexandra Krosney, Joshua Henry, Denzel Washington and Leslie Odom Jr.

But other stars have had their own tumultuous road to Tony Awards consideration. No more so than the “Hamilton”-related trio of playing Irving Berlin: Featured actor nominations went to Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr. and Leslie Odom Jr. Nathan Lane and David Cromer did not get nominations for their transformations as FDR and Olitzsohn, respectively. Daniel Radcliffe did not score a nomination for his “Equus” turn despite having been lined up for a solo performance after the play’s London run. And Theresa Rebeck, the playwright whose thrillingly melodramatic “It’s Only a Play” drew New York’s loudest response of the 2018 season, did not get a single nod for writing the play.

But as she noted Tuesday morning on Twitter, the way theater can be so fickle shows how difficult it is to track things down to fully appreciate — or make sense of — the theatrical economy. And so in time, it seems, the various contenders on this year’s Tony circuit will play out in different ways in the weeks and months ahead.

The best thing the Tony Awards can always hope for is for business to continue to drive attendance. If Broadway persists in offering something exciting, fun and unforgettable (and we’ll again, for the seventh time, see a “Hamilton” revival with more than 800 seats at the hottest show on Broadway), then theatergoers will flock back.

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