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A sunny Tony Awards outlook for 'August: Osage County'; Expect a stop to Tom Stoppard's recent romp

May 13, 2008 |  2:32 pm

Below, our resident Tonys guru Paul Sheehan gives us his take on the plays.

No surprise that "August: Osage County" dominated the play side of the Tony Awards, leading with seven nominations, including a bid for the top prize. After all, Tracy Letts' three-hour-plus drama about a dysfunctional family has already won the Pulitzer Prize, as well as kudos from the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Outer Critics Circle. It is the only American entry in the top race.

As headstrong matriarch and equally determined daughter, Outer Critics winner Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton scored dueling bids for best actress. These two originated the roles in the Steppenwolf Theater production in Chicago last summer.


"The 39 Steps,"Patrick Barlow's fast-paced adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock screen classic won last year's Olivier for best comedy (that's London's equivalent to the Tony), and earned six Tony nominations, including best play. However, the frantic foursome who play all the characters were snubbed, with the other five nods going to the creative team led by director Maria Aitken. Peter McKintosh picked up two nods for the scenic design and costumes that change in the blink of an eye.

Last year Tom Stoppard made Tony Awards history when his sprawling trilogy "The Coast of Utopia" won a record seven awards, including best play. He returns to compete in that category this year with "Rock 'N' Roll," which earned four nods. Just as Stoppard was a bridesmaid with the Gotham critics yesterday, it is unlikely he will win a fifth Tony for best play. However, Rufus Sewell, who recreated his Oliver Award-winning performance as the Czech expatriate, could prevail as best actor as could Sinead Cusack for featured actress. Last year Sir Tom bemoaned the lack of a sound-design category so he must be pleased with the nod for Ian Dickinson in the first year of this award.

Irish playwright Conor McPherson picked up two nods for writing and directing best play nominee "The Seafarer," which also earned nominations for featured actors Jim Norton and Conleth Hill. Norton, recreating his Olivier winning performance as a blind man, is a leading contender in this category.

Last year 7 of the 20 acting contenders appeared in play revivals. This year it is up to 9 nominees. This strong showing demonstrates the strength of these classic works be they comedy ("Boeing-Boeing") or tragedy ("Macbeth"). These two plays each earned six nominations, including best revival as well as a pair of acting nods. Acclaimed Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance scored a lead actor nod for his Broadway debut in "Boeing-Boeing." He recreated his Oliver-nominated performance as the innocent caught up in a sex farce. And Mary McCormack earned a bid as the Teutonic stewardess who lands him.


The last time Shakespeare competed for best revival was in 2004 when Lincoln Center Theater's sprawling production of "Henry IV" triumphed over "King Lear" among others. Rylance's Olivier rival, Patrick Stewart, is the first actor to be Tony nominated for playing "Macbeth" while Kate Fleetwood is only the second Lady M so recognized (after Glenda Jackson in 1988).

Right behind these revivals lies "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" with five nominations, including a lead acting nod for the roguish Ben Daniels in his Broadway debut. The original 1987 production of this tale of treachery went 0 for 7. "The Homecoming," which won four Tonys in 1967 including best play, scored three nominations this year including best revival. The two players in this Harold Pinter piece recognized were favorites who faltered last year -- Eve Best (up for "Moon for the Misbegotten"; lost to Julie White, "The Little Dog Laughed") and Raul Esparza (up for "Company"; lost to David Hyde Pierce, "Curtains").

The other acting nominees this year are all the sole representatives of their shows at the Tony Awards: lead actor Laurence Fishburne ("Thurgood"); lead actress S. Epatha Merkerson ("Come Back, Little Sheba"); featured actors Bobby Cannavale ("Mauritius") and David Pittu ("Is He Dead?"); and featured actresses Laurie Metcalf ("November") and Martha Plimpton ("Top Girls").