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Tonys Have a Song in Their Heart

Theater: Best new musical nominations go mostly to revues, while three of the four best play nods go to British imports.

May 04, 1999|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

A lesson to be learned from this year's Tony Award nominations for new musical: The less of that pesky dialogue between songs, the better.

"Revue" is the key word for three of this year's new musical nominees: the Bob Fosse greatest-hits revue "Fosse" (eight nominations), seen last year at downtown L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre; the small-scale blues revue "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues" (four nominations), co-produced by the San Diego Repertory Theatre; and the widely maligned Frank Wildhorn-Jack Murphy revue, or song cycle, or whatever it is, titled "The Civil War" (two nominations).

Proving the glaring exception to the rule, nine nominations went to the controversial "Parade," with a book by Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy") and a score by newcomer Jason Robert Brown. The musical, which closed in February at a loss of millions, dramatizes the 1913 lynching of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank.

It tops the 53rd annual Tony nominations announced Monday.

The awards will be aired live from Broadway's Gershwin Theatre on June 6 with a tape-delayed telecast at 9 p.m. on the West Coast on CBS, preceded by the one-hour PBS presentation "Broadway '99: Launching the Tony Awards." Rosie O'Donnell, who has done wonders for recent Tony Awards telecast ratings, won't return this season, and a roster of co-hosts is yet to be announced.

The commercial failure of "Parade" has provoked speculation regarding whether Broadway can still make room for serious musicals. This year's musical field is by any standard remarkably thin, taking Tony voters back to the dog years of the late 1980s, when "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" and "Black and Blue" represented the best of the available crop.

Despite special pleas from producers, the Matthew Bourne revisionist ballet "Swan Lake" didn't qualify for best musical consideration. However, Bourne received nominations for best director of a musical and best choreographer. "Swan Lake" played the Ahmanson two years ago, and Bourne's "Cinderella" currently is being presented there.

Best new play nods went to Warren Leight's "Side Man" and three British imports. Patrick Marber's stylishly nasty "Closer" shares the new play category with Martin McDonagh's "The Lonesome West" and a 61-year-old, never-produced Tennessee Williams prison melodrama, "Not About Nightingales," a London transfer.

"The Weir," a lauded recent Olivier Award winner from London, surprisingly received no nominations.

The Beverly Hills-based Canon Theatricals team of Joan Stein and Susan Dietz has its hands in two of this year's four new play nominees. Stein is a co-producer of "Side Man"; Stein and Dietz are co-producers of "The Lonesome West." Both dramas are struggling for audiences on Broadway and should benefit from the Tony exposure.

According to Stein, Canon Theatricals is negotiating with the other producers of "Side Man" to present the play in San Francisco early next year, followed by a spring 2000 Los Angeles engagement.

This season, a couple of salesmen are making the sort of noise and box-office music traditionally associated with new musicals. The revival of "Death of a Salesman," starring Brian Dennehy, scored six nominations, including best revival of a play, best actor and best featured actress, Elizabeth Franz.

Up against "Salesman" for best play revival is that scalper's delight, the hugely popular "Iceman Cometh" (recently extended through July 17) starring Tony-nominated Kevin Spacey as Eugene O'Neill's self-destructive hardware peddler.

Judi Dench, fresh off her Academy Award for "Shakespeare in Love," is considered the favorite in the leading actress category. She was nominated for her portrayal of an actress in David Hare's drama "Amy's View." The play itself was overlooked for new play consideration, as were Hare's two other plays this season.

"Annie Get Your Gun" tops the musical revival category, receiving nominations for Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat. Also nominated for leading musical actress: Carolee Carmello, for "Parade." Los Angeles audiences get to hear the Carmello pipes in person when she takes on the Judy Holliday role in the May 12-23 "Reprise!" concert presentation of "Bells Are Ringing," at UCLA's Freud Auditorium.

The stage version of "Footloose," though the season's longest-running new musical, failed to score a best musical nod. (It's scheduled for a Pantages Theatre tour stop Aug. 24-Sept. 5.) Best musical nominee "The Civil War" makes its Southland debut in June 2000, as part of the Orange County Performing Arts Center Broadway Series.

Play: "Closer" by Patrick Marber, "Not About Nightingales" by Tennessee Williams, "Side Man" by Warren Leight, "The Lonesome West" by Martin McDonagh.

Musical: "Fosse," "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues," "Parade," "The Civil War."

Book of a Musical: Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, "Footloose"; Charles Bevel, Lita Gaithers, Randal Myler, Ron Taylor and Dan Wheetman, "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues"; Pam Gems, "Marlene"; Alfred Uhry, "Parade."

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