Finally, something to chatter about in the Theater District that doesn't involve fertilizer and suspicious shirt removal: Nominations for the 64th Annual Tony Awards were announced this morning, courtesy of erstwhile God of Carnage star Jeff Daniels (who clearly didn't want to be up this early) and Lea Michelle, of Glee and Spring Awakening, who's apparently even tinier than we thought; Daniels almost knocked her off her apple-box. (This is neither theater slang nor a double entendre: She was standing on an apple box; he almost knocked her off.)
It will be, as generally predicted, a star-studded Tonycast: Nominees Jude Law (Hamlet), Alfred Molina (Red), Liev Schreiber (A View From the Bridge), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane), and Denzel Washington (Fences) have turned the Best Performance by an Actor in a Play category into a typical waiting list at the Ivy. Scarlett Johansson (A View From the Bridge), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still), Linda Lavin (Collected Stories), and Valerie Harper (Looped) furnish star wattage on the distaff side. Meanwhile, Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music), Kelsey Grammer (La Cage aux Folles), and Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises) represent the Hollywood lobby on the musical end of the spectrum. (I'd suggest the ever-game Hugh Jackman host again, but he's probably a little sore about seeing his performance in A Steady Rain come up a Tony goose-egg.)
Right now, the momentum seems to be with Fela! (Or, as Daniels puts it, "Feel-Ah!"). The bio-sical of Nigerian multi-instrumentalist firebrand Fela Kuti had eleven nominations, tying with the London redo of Jerry Herman's La Cage; no shocker that their tally included noms for Best Musical (Fela!) and Best Revival of a Musical (La Cage), but Grammer's nod for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in La Cage might've provoked a double-take or two. The legit punditocracy has been split on his performance as Georges, the suave gay emcee of the show's title drag club. (Not so for fellow Best Actor nominee Douglas Hodge, a London-bred Pinter veteran who plays Georges' longtime love Albin, and was generally considered a lock from minute one.)
It was a tad surprising to see the tepidly reviewed Memphis rake in eight nominations, clocking just behind the rapturously received Denzel Washington–driven Fences, which collected ten noms. (Yes, Denzel and co-star Viola Davis received Best Lead Performance in a Drama nominations — no shocker there.) But, as has been widely noted, it's been another weak year for original musicals, and Memphis, while no revelation, is both a new work and a crowd-pumper. The Addams Family, which was almost universally panned, will have to content itself with its critic-proof box-office lucre and a what-else-are-we-gonna-nominate Best Score nod; it was shut out of the Best Musical category. The divisive American Idiot squeaked in, but director Michael Mayer, champion arranger Tom Kitt (who won last year for composing Next to Normal), and choreographer Stephen Hoggett were all conspicuously snubbed. (Idiot took only two other noms, for lighting and set design.) On the revival side, the short-lived and mostly unloved Ragtime ended up with a surprising seven nominations, including Best Performance hat tips for Bobby Steggert and Christine Noll.
Also in the closed-but-not-forgotten category: Young comer Sarah Ruhl surged from behind and swiped a Best Play nod for writing In the Next Room or the vibrator play, planting a big ol' Stars and Stripes in a slot that might've gone to Enron Brit Lucy Prebble or Irish bad-boy Martin McDonagh (A Behanding in Spokane). Actor Christopher Fitzgerald, nominated last year for Young Frankenstein, is back again this year, nommed for his featured role as a frisky leprechaun in Finian's Rainbow. (Finian's star Kate Baldwin is also in the running for Best Performance in a Musical.) And Jon Michael Hill — by far the best thing about Tracy Letts's shuttered Chi-town morality play Superior Donuts — is nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Play.
Furious debate has already begun in the chat rooms and piano bars of midtown: Where's Brian d'Arcy James's Featured Actor nod for Time Stands Still? How could Tom Kitt get so thoroughly screwed, after his fab-oo work on both American Idiot and Everyday Rapture? Hooray for that long overdue nomination for Stephen McKinley Henderson, the secret sauce in almost every recent August Wilson show! Me, I'm with Jeff Daniels: I'm going back to sleep now.