The lights of Broadway have been glowing a bit brighter this week in anticipation of Sunday’s Tony Awards ceremony. Exactly which nominees will win the coveted medallions honoring the season’s best plays, musicals and theatrical talent will remain a mystery until the nationally televised event.
There is plenty of diversity among this year's nominees. “The Book of Mormon,” a smash hit on Broadway, garnered 14 Tony Award nominations. That’s a near record says reporter Patrick Healy, who covers Broadway for the New York Times.
“It’s kind of a sweetly told musical about two Mormon missionary young men who go off to Uganda into a war zone and sort of find themselves like fish out of water trying to make their way and convert the local Africans to the Mormon religion and have all sorts of little and big challenges and confrontations along the way."
'The Book of Mormon' (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Healy says some of the themes in "The Book of Mormon" are somewhat topical. Two likely contenders for the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination - former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has already announced, and former Utah governorJon Huntsman, are Mormon, and many Americans are mystified by the religion.
“They would be like Africans, in a sense, in 'The Book of Mormon,' saying ‘Well, who are you people? What are you about, Mitt Romney? What do you believe, Jon Huntsman. Do you believe you can have three wives? Do you believe that Jesus really visited upstate New York and left a sequel to the Bible somewhere there?’ The show does not degrade or attack in any way the Mormon religion. So I think the show is a sort of send up of what may be strange to outsiders about the Mormon Church. But it shows the Mormon missionaries themselves as sort of sweet characters, true believers. It's very charming and fun."
Two other Best Musical nominees, “Catch Me If You Can,” an adventure tale, and “Sister Act,” a comedy about a lounge singer who takes refuge in a convent, are also charming.
'The Scottsboro Boys' (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
But “The Scottsboro Boys,” which received 12 Tony nominations, is based on the real life trial of nine African-American boys accused of raping two white Alabama girls in 1931, and tells the ominous story of justice denied.
Healy says all four contenders for Best Play are worthy. The nominees include “Jerusalem,” about a non-conformist in suburban Britain, “Good People,” about a Boston woman in dire straits, and “Warhorse,” the favored nominee.
It uses life-size horse puppets alongside human actors to tell a story of love, loss and redemption involving a teenage boy and his horse in rural England and the battlefields of World War I.
'Warhorse' (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
“"Warhorse" especially is doing very, very well at the box office. It’s selling out like crazy up at Lincoln Center Theater. There is sort of theatricality and frankly, a kind of magic to the puppets that has deeply impressed theatergoers and emotionally moved a lot of folks."
In recent years, Broadway producers have often relied on famous actors to drive ticket sales. This year’s Broadway crop also features well-known stars from stage and film. Robin Williams played in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo." And both Kiefer Sutherland, from the hit TV series “24,” and Chris Noth of “Sex and the City” starred in “That Championship Season.”
“That play did very well at the box office, but it didn’t do well at all in terms of the Tony Award nominations. It seems like the Tonys this year are really favoring .... shows that aren’t necessarily huge box office hits but are really well made plays or well produced plays that have really impressed people. And some of it is very risky work. So it should be a pretty exciting night."