It’s been a long and sporadically eventful season on Broadway , culminating, as always, with next month’s Tony Awards on June 10. The last twelve months saw revivals of certified American classics (Death of a Salesman, Follies, Evita, Porgy and Bess), meteoric breakouts (Nina Arianda, Jeremy Jordan), and a surprisingly strong slate of new works—including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park and the rare screen-to-stage adaptation that got it right. That musical would be Once, based on the 2006 independent film that won the Best Song Oscar with a simple and delicate true love story, and leads the Tony race so far with eleven nominations, including nods for Best Musical and both of the lead performers. But unlike in recent years—The Book of Mormon was a safe bet for 2011 pretty much before it opened—there are few clear favorites so far, proof that this was one of the strongest theater seasons in a good while.Once will be up against the commercial hit Newsies (which, along with the short-lived Bonnie and Clyde, featured one of Jeremy Jordan’s two star turns this season), the Matthew Broderick vehicle Nice Work If You Can Get It, and the lackluster Leap of Faith, which Patrick Healy of the New York Times hypothesized only made the cut to shut out Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Clybourne Park, a response to A Raisin in the Sun, will be in competition against the dysfunctional family drama Other Desert Cities, the Peter Pan origin story Peter and the Starcatcher, and the S&M-inflected Venus in Fur in the strong Best New Play category. Jesus Christ Superstar rounds out the Best Musical Revival slate, while a revival of Gore Vidal’s political drama The Best Man will be battling Death of a Salesman, the Maria Callas snapshot Master Class, and the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winner Wit for Best Play Revival.
Most of the season’s biggest names have been tipped for acting awards, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cynthia Nixon, John Lithgow, Audra McDonald, Andrew Garfield, Frank Langella, and James Earl Jones. The nomination committee also tapped most of the year’s brightest new performers, including James Corden for his physically demanding role in the slapstick One Man, Two Guvnors, Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the sole redeeming aspect of Ghost, and Laura Osnes as Bonnie to Jordan’s Clyde. In the season’s biggest surprise, two-time Tony-winner Bernadette Peters was the only lead actor from Follies to be snubbed. Elena Roger and Ricky Martin both failed the make the cut for Evita as well, although with more reason.
But the biggest snub—but no surprise—was the lack of any major nominations for Spider-Man, which was only named in two technical categories. The ill-fated U2-penned musical was by the far the most expensive to ever reach Broadway, and the onstage injuries and backstage catfights made it easily the most discussed show of 2011, the subject of countless late-night jokes and even a New Yorker cover. If its producers thought all that buzz might turn into some cachet come awards season, they were wrong—and deservedly so for their big-budget mess. All in all, 2012 is the rare year that the Tony crew looks to have gotten it mostly right. And if the largely unsurprising nominations are lacking in drama, the big races are all wide open at this point, which means it’ll be a mad scramble to get ahead in the next forty days before the big ceremony.