Tony Awards nominations led by new works 'Fela!' and 'Red' and revivals of 'La Cage aux Folles' and 'Fences'
"Fela!" -- a musical about Nigerian composer and activist Fela Kuti -- and "Red" -- a two-hander about abstract expressionist Mark Rothko -- lead the nominations announced Tuesday for the 64th annual Tony Awards. Winners will be announced on June 13 at Radio City Music Hall, with the kudocast airing on CBS.
The producers of "Fela," including Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, can rejoice with a leading 11 nominations for a new musical. No other new tuner in the top race scored in the double digits, with "Memphis" earning eight bids, and "American Idiot" and "Million Dollar Quartet" managing just three apiece.
Among the new plays nominated, "Red" drew seven nominations, including bids by both actors in the piece -- two-time Tony nominee Alfred Molina and newcomer Eddie Redmayne, reprising his Olivier Award-winning role as Rothko's put-upon assistant. Though this play began in London, it is by an American -- two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan ("Gladiator," "The Aviator") -- as are the other three nominees in the top race. "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play" by Sarah Ruhl picked up three noms while both Geoffrey Nauffts' "Next Fall" and "Time Stands Still" from Pulitzer Prize champ Donald Margulies ("Dinner with Friends") reaped just two each.
Two previous top Tony Award champs -- 1983 best musical "La Cage aux Folles" and 1987 best play "Fences" -- lead among the revivals with 11 and 10 nominations, respectively, and both surpass the track records of the original productions.
The first edition of "La Cage" won six of its nine nominations, including a best actor award for George Hearn in the role of the drag queen Albin. Among those Hearn defeated was his co-star Gene Barry, who played his partner, George. In this new production, Douglas Hodges is nominated for reprising his Olivier-winning turn as Albin while five-time Emmy champ Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier") picked up his first Tony bid as George. Another Emmy champ, Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace"), is nominated for his Broadway debut in the revival of "Promises, Promises." The field is rounded out by the stars of "Fela!" and "Memphis" -- Sahr Ngaujah and Chad Kimball, respectively.
Of the other nominated musical revivals, "Ragtime" -- which managed just four wins from 13 nominations for the original 1998 production -- contends in seven races this time around, while 1973 champ "A Little Night Music" vies for four awards (it won six of 12 bids back then) and 1947 tuner "Finian's Rainbow" is up for three, including a bid by Christopher Fitzgerald for the role that won David Wayne an award at the very first Tonys.
The original run of "Fences" won four of its six Tony races including a second best-actor award for James Earl Jones and the featured actress prize for Mary Alice. Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington ("Glory," "Training Day") landed his first Tony nom for taking on Jones' role as the embittered ex-baseball player, while Viola Davis was elevated to the lead race for her work as his put-upon wife.
Washington is up against two other actors reprising Tony Award-winning roles -- Jude Law for "Hamlet" (Ralph Fiennes won in 1995) and Liev Schreiber for the nominated revival of "A View from the Bridge" (Anthony LaPaglia won in 1998) -- and two performers from new plays -- Molina for "Red" and Oscar champ Christopher Walken ("The Deer Hunter") for "A Behanding in Spokane."
In the lead actress race, Davis -- who won the featured actress award for "King Hedley II" in 2001 -- contends against four-time Emmy champ Valerie Harper for "Looped," Tony winner Linda Lavin ("Broadway Bound") for the revival of "Collected Stories," three-time Emmy winner Laura Linney for "Time Stands Still" and Jan Maxwell for the nominated revival of "The Royal Family."
Had Davis stayed in the featured race, she would still have been pitted against Maxwell, who also reaped a bid for her appearance in another of the nominated play revivals, "Lend Me a Tenor." Among those Maxwell contends against here is her "Royal Family" co-star Rosemary Harris, who won the lead actress award in 1966 for "The Lion in Winter" and has gone down to defeat in seven subsequent races. Also in the running in the featured race are "Bridge" players Jessica Hecht -- for the role that got Allison Janney a lead actress nom in 1998 -- and Scarlett Johansson as well as Maria Dizzia for "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play."
The featured actress in a musical category is also jam-packed with talent, with four of the five nominees having at least one Tony Award already. Leading them is five-time Tony champ Angela Lansbury for her appearance in "A Little Night Music." Lansbury -- who has four lead actress in a musical awards -- tied Julie Harris' record with her win last year for her featured performance in the play "Blithe Spirit." Also in the running are a trio of past featured actress winners -- Barbara Cook ("The Music Man," 1958) for the revue "Sondheim on Sondheim," Katie Finneran ("Noises Off," 2002) for "Promises, Promises" and Lillias White ("The Life," 1997) for "Fela!" -- as well as Karine Plantadit for the dance musical "Come Fly Away."
It was expected that Cook would contend in the lead actress race for her role. Four of the five contenders in that category are first-time nominees -- Kate Baldwin ("Finian's Rainbow"), Montego Glover ("Memphis"), Christiane Noll ("Ragtime") and Oscar champ Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Chicago") for her Broadway debut in "A Little Night Music." The fifth contender -- one-time nominee Sherie Rene Scott ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") -- vies for the quasi-autobiographical "Everyday Rapture," which was a last-minute entry in the race when the revival of "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" was canceled due to the sudden departure of Megan Mullally.
The featured actor in a play race has just one past nominee, David Alan Grier ("Race"), who contended in 1982 for his featured performance in the musical "The First." The first-time nominees are Stephen McKinley Henderson ("Fences"), Jon Michael Hill ("Superior Donuts"), Stephen Kunken ("Enron") and Redmayne ("Red"). On the musical side, Fitzgerald and Robin De Jesus ("La Cage aux Folles") lost this same race two years ago to Boyd Gaines ("Gypsy") when they contended for "Young Frankenstein" and "In the Heights," respectively. The others in the race this year are Kevin Chamberlain ("The Addams Family"), Levi Kreis ("Million Dollar Quartet") and Bobby Steggert ("Ragtime").
Photo: Tony Award statue. Credit: American Theatre Wing