The new musical "Memphis" and the old chestnut "The Royal Family" lead with seven Outer Critics Circle nominations apiece. Not surprisingly, the latter -- a George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber 1927 comedy based on the Barrymores -- netted three acting bids, including a lead one for Jan Maxwell, who also contends in the featured race for her performance in the 1986 farce "Lend Me A Tenor." Both of those plays are in the running for best revival as are "Fences" and "A View From the Bridge."
"Memphis" -- a musical about interracial love set against the backdrop of the burgeoning 1950s music scene -- also landed three acting nominations. The other new Broadway musicals contending for the top award are "American Idiot," "Come Fly Away," "Fela" and "Sondheim on Sondheim." "American Idiot" failed to land any other noms save a technical one, while Tony-winning director/choreographer Twyla Tharp ("Movin' Out") was snubbed for "Come Fly Away," which was blanked otherwise. "Fela" choreographer Bill T. Jones -- also a Tony champ ("Spring Awakening") -- got that show's only other nom, while the Sondheim revue earned three other bids including one for lead actress Barbara Cook.
Missing from that list of new tuners is the critically-lambasted "The Addams Family," which still managed five nominations including ones for leads Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth and featured players Kevin Chamberlin and Carolee Carmello.
That last race could be one of the most competitive as five-time Tony champ Angela Lansbury is in the running for the nominated revival of "A Little Night Music" as is Katie Finneran, who just opened to rave reviews in "Promises, "Promises," another revival contender. The two other musical revival nominees -- "Finian's Rainbow" and "La Cage Aux Folles" -- both netted three other noms.
Two Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights vie for best new Broadway play with Donald Margulies ("Dinner with Friends") nominated for "Time Stands Still" -- which also merited bids for lead Laura Linney and the featured Alicia Silverstone -- while Tracy Letts ("August: Osage County") contends for "Superior Donuts" as does featured actor Jon Michael Hill. The other two new Broadway play nominees -- "Next Fall" and "Red" -- were snubbed otherwise.
Announcing these nominations before the end of the eligibility period for the Tony Awards always produces some head-scratchers. "Fences" -- which opens Monday -- landed three other noms, including bids for two-time Oscar champ Denzel Washington ("Glory," "Training Day") and Oscar nominee Viola Davis ("Doubt"). However, the critically-acclaimed new play "Enron" -- which opens Tuesday -- does not figure in these nominations.
While these kudos consider new Broadway and off-Broadway plays and musicals separately, all other categories, such as acting and directing, combine the two. As such, there is not always room for all of the eventual Tony nominees. However, the Outer Critics Circle Awards often provide hints of the popularity of potential Tony winners.
Last year the two awards agreed, for example, on "God of Carnage" (best play), "Billy Elliot" (best musical), Geoffrey Rush in "Exit the King" (best actor, play) and Marcia Gay Harden in "God of Carnage" (best actress, play).
Two years ago, they concurred on "August: Osage County" (best play), Paulo Szot in "South Pacific" (best actor, musical), Patti LuPone in "Gypsy" (best actress, musical), Deanna Dunagan in "August: Osage County" (best actress, play), among others.
However, the two awards have had sharp disagreements. Two years ago, "Young Frankenstein" tied "Xanadu" for the Circle's trophy as best musical, but "Frankenstein" wasn't even nominated in the top Tony race. (Eventual Tony champ "In the Heights" wasn't eligible at that year's OCC Awards.)
Winners will be announced May 17 and feted at a dinner at Sardi's on May 27. For the full list of nominees, visit the Outer Critics Circle website.