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Tony noms: 'Drowsy' no more? 'Purple' blues?

May 16, 2006 |  9:02 am


"The Drowsy Chaperone" sure woke up the Broadway establishment today, nabbing the most nominations —13 — which is just 2 shy of the record set in 2001 by "The Producers" (which also, by the way, won the most — 12).

Just a few months ago "Drowsy" was a real sleeper that snuck onto Broadway late in the season when a theater suddenly became available thanks to the early closing of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White." Originally, "Drowsy" merely had been staged to amuse attendees at a Toronto stag party, but it ended up becoming a huge theater hit in Toronto, then Los Angeles.

Now the Canadian success story faces the ultimate theater test: a clash for the top Tony Award as best musical against "Jersey Boys," which chronicles the classic American success story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. "Jersey Boys" only nabbed 8 noms today and has another disadvantage: it's one of those productions often dismissed as a "jukebox musical," a genre that's never won the top Tony. Yes, some tuners have triumphed with rehashed music ("42nd Street," "Crazy for You," "Jerome Robbins' Broadway"), but they featured classic show tunes.

"Drowsy" has an advantage very dear to Tony voters' hearts — it's about Broadway — focusing on a theater nut's obsession with a fictitious 1920s musical. It's a bit fuddy-duddy, though, which means it might have limited audience appeal to the MTV Generation and thus to Tony voters sensitive about appearing hip.

Since producers make up the largest bloc of Tony voters, most award gurus believe it's smart to pick the nominee with the best road-tour potential when predicting a winner. That seems to be "Jersey Boys,' which producers dream will become a "Mamma Mia" for the guys. But beware: "Drowsy" was a surprise hit in both cities where it's played so far and it was recently voted best Broadway musical by the most prestigious critics' group, the New York Drama Critics Circle. Sure, "Jersey Boys" won a critics' kudos, too, but that came from the "outer critics" (think radio stations and pennysaver newspapers in distant suburbs).

"The Color Purple" got more noms than "Jersey Boys," but it recently failed to score a single nomination for the Drama Desk Awards (another New York critics' kudo, but less prestigious than the "circle"), which will be bestowed this weekend. Frankly, "Purple" just seems to be doomed at showbiz awards. The film version holds the record for being the biggest loser in Oscar history, tied with "The Turning Point" for losing all of its 11 nominations. Curiously, that's the same number of Tony Award bids it earned today. If it loses all of them, "Purple" will now be tied with "Steel Pier" (1991) and "Chicago" (1976) as the biggest loser in Tonys history. Another curious parallel: today "Purple" failed to nab a nom for best director — just like at the Oscars.

Here are a few more scattered Tony observations:

* No Julia. The gorgeous Ms. Roberts had hoped to prove she's a real actress by earning the acclaim of those tough Tony voters, but, alas, must be content with that mere Academy Award she won for "Erin Brockovich." That must be hard to take, knowing that even Goldie Hawn and Marisa Tomei have Oscars, too. Even worse: it wasn't like Tony voters snubbed Julia's play altogether. "Three Days of Rain" scored nominations for scenic design and lighting.

"The Tonys were so determined not to give Julia a bid that they elevated Lynn Redgrave from featured to lead status to fill in the spot," says veteran theater writer Paul Sheehan. The category ends up featuring five actresses in plays that are all closed. Most Tonywatchers expected Cherry Jones ("Faith Healer") to make the cut, but the qualifications committee pushed her down to the featured category where she was snubbed. That's really strange, since Jones is considered to be a Tonys darling, having four past nominations and two wins ("Doubt," "The Heiress").

* In the clash over best musical revival, critics' darling "Sweeney Todd" has a slight edge over box-office blockbuster "Pajama Game" considering only "Sweeney" was nominated for best direction.

* Oliver Platt reaped a best actor bid, but "Shining City" costar Brian O'Byrne didn't — that's a big surprise considering their roles have nearly equal dramatic weight. Ah, well. O'Byrne hasn't been left out in the Tonys cold completely. He was nominated four times in the past and won two years ago for "Frozen."

Photo: "Color Purple" best actress nominee LaChanze has good reason to be afraid. There are spooky Tony Award parallels to how the film version of "Purple" fared at the Oscars where it suffered the worst shut-out ever.
(Broadway Theater)