A Strange Loop, Michael R. Jackson’s critically cheered theatre meta-journey earned a leading 11 Tony Award nominations on Monday, as Broadway joined the national discussion of race by embracing an envelope-pushing black-written and black-led musical.
Jackson’s 2020 Pulitzer Prize drama winner about a black man writing a show about a blackman earned nods for best musical, best leading man in newcomer Jaquel Spivey and best featured actress for L Morgan Lee.
Jesse Williams, the Grey’s Anatomy star making his Broadway debut, earned a nomination for Take Me Out, as did his co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson of Modern Family fame.
Playwright Lynn Nottage had two reasons to smile on Monday morning: her book for the musical MJ was nominated for best book and her play Clyde’s got a nod for best play.
Right behind A Strange Loop is a tie with 10 nominations each for MJ, a bio musical of the King of Pop stuffed with his biggest hits, and Paradise Square, a musical about Irish immigrants and Black Americans jostling to survive in New York City around the time of the Civil War.
The rest of the best new musical category includes Six, the corrective feminist take on the six wives of England’s Henry VIII, Girl From the North Country, which uses the songs of Bob Dylan to weave a Depression-era story in the Midwest and Mr. Saturday Night, a reworking of Billy Crystal's film about a bitter, old insult comic chasing a last laugh.
Two of the best play nominees are about economics — Skeleton Crew, Dominique Morisseau’s play about blue-collar job insecurity in a Detroit auto stamping plant in 2008, and The Lehman Trilogy, Stefano Massini’s play spanning 150 years about what led to the collapse of financial giant Lehman Brothers.
There's also Clyde’s, Nottage’s play about a group of ex-cons trying to restart their lives at a truck stop diner, and Hangmen, Martin McDonagh’s look at an executioner-turned-pub owner forced to grapple with his past when capital punishment is made illegal in the United Kingdom. The Minutes, Tracey Letts’ depiction of a small-town city council meeting that exposes back-stabbing, greed and the larger delusions in American history, also earned a best play nod.
There were four musical revivals during the season, but only three got nominations: The Music Man which celebrates America’s soul with a travelling con man in a small Iowa town starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, who each have two Tonys and were each nominated this time as well.
The two other entries in the musical revival category are Caroline, Or Change, Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s show that explores America’s racial, social and economic divisions in 1963 Louisiana; and Company, Stephen Sondheim’s exploration of a single person’s conflicted feelings about commitment, this time with a gender-switching of the lead character. That left Funny Girl, the classic American show starring Beanie Feldstein about the rise of a comic star of the Ziegfeld Follies, out of the running — it got only one nod, for Jared Grimes as best featured actor.
Nominations for best play revival are Trouble in Mind, Alice Childress’ play about a Broadway play that explores the racial divide in the 1950s, and How I Learned to Drive, Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memory play told by the survivor of childhood sexual abuse, starring two nominees: Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse. The others are Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's baseball play and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf, playwright Ntozake Shange’s exploration of black womanhood.
The season — with a whopping 34 new productions — represents a full return to theatres after nearly two years of a pandemic-mandated shutdown. It is also notable for a wave of plays by black playwrights, reflecting the impact on Broadway of the global conversation about race following the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
Neither Matthew Broderick nor his wife Sarah Jessica Parker earned nominations for a revival of Plaza Suite, but Patti LuPone received one for Company and so did LaChanze for Trouble in Mind. Ruth Negga earned a nomination for Macbeth, but her co-star Daniel Craig came up empty-handed.
The musical Mrs. Doubtfire earned only one nod, for Rob McClure, stepping into the Robin Williams role of an actor who poses as his children’s portly, Scottish nanny to spend time with them after a divorce.
The nominees for best actress in a musical nominees are: Sharon D. Clarke of Caroline, Or Change; Sutton Foster in The Music Man; Katrina Lenk in Company; Joaquina Kalukango for Paradise Square; Carmen Cusack in Flying Over Sunset; and Mare Winningham in Girl From the North Country.
Joining Spivey, Jackman and McClure in the best actor in a musical category are Crystal for Mr. Saturday Night and Myles Frost, whose King of Pop in MJ was a moonwalking triumph.
The eligibility cut-off date for the 2021-2022 season was delayed to May 4 after several Broadway shows had to cancel performances due to Covid-19 cases reported among cast and crew.
The Tony Awards will be held at Radio City Music Hall on June 12.
The ceremony will air live on CBS and Paramount+ starting at 8pm ET (4am UAE).
Film and stage star Ariana DeBose will host the event.