Tony nominations snubs and surprises: Steve Carell and 'The Wiz' miss out

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Tony nominations snubs and surprises: Steve Carell and 'The Wiz' miss out
Steve Carell as Vanya in “Uncle Vanya” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York, April 2, 2024. The day of the Tony Award nominations is like college acceptance day a bit earlier in the spring, but on the scarcity model: Of the dozens of artists eligible in each category, only five or so are “admitted.” (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

by Jesse Green, Alexis Soloski and Scott Heller

NEW YORK, NY.- The day of the Tony Award nominations is like college acceptance day a bit earlier in the spring, but on the scarcity model: Of the dozens of artists eligible in each category, only five or so are “admitted.” That means some great work gets left by the wayside — but also, because the number of nominators is small enough to be idiosyncratic, that plenty of outcomes defy all prediction. Here are our thoughts on this season’s inadvertent (and possibly advertent) snubs, delightful (or mystifying) surprises and other notable anomalies.

A melancholy morning for ‘Vanya.’

Television stars are considered good box office but not always good Tony bait. This year’s crop, including Sarah Paulson, Jeremy Strong, Steve Carell and William Jackson Harper, complicates that wisdom. Paulson is a likely winner but the men are already canceling each other out. Although Carell, in his Broadway debut, and Harper both play characters competing for the love of a married woman in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of “Uncle Vanya,” only Harper, excellent in a role that is usually considered supporting, was nominated as best leading actor in a play. (The production, which featured many lovely performances, was otherwise shut out.) Note that Anton Chekhov let neither man win.

Deep cuts for ‘Stereophonic.’

How the nominators handled the ensemble in David Adjmi’s recording-studio-set play was going to be one of the morning’s most interesting questions. The answer: Generously, as five members of the young cast were singled out for their supporting performances, including Tom Pecinka and Sarah Pidgeon as the fraying central couple, and Juliana Canfield and Will Brill as their bandmates. Without an instrument in hand, Eli Gelb got in, too, as the ’70s rock group’s frazzled sound engineer. Spreading all that love helped take the show to Number One with a Bullet — the most nominated play in Broadway history.

Too many riches to go around.

On the other hand, the superb ensemble casts of “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” and “Illinoise” were skunked. That’s no accident: As more works these days distribute the storytelling burden equally among many members of a cast, odd nomination outcomes — feast or famine — can result.

That’s why we often argue here for a new category that honors ensembles. And Actors’ Equity, the national union representing actors and stage managers, goes further, with its annual award for Broadway choruses. Of the 23 musicals that opened this season, 21 are eligible; the winner will be notified June 15 — pointedly, one day before the Tonys.

Women lead in directing.

In the history of the awards, only 10 women, beginning in 1998, have won prizes for directing. This year that number seems likely to rise, with seven of the 10 possible directing slots filled by women. Anne Kauffman, Lila Neugebauer and Whitney White have been nominated for best direction of a play, and Maria Friedman, Leigh Silverman, Jessica Stone and Danya Taymor (the niece of Julie Taymor, the first woman to win for direction of a musical) are in contention for best direction of a musical.

To love, honor and ignore.

The Tony nominating committee said “I do” to two pairs of actors playing married characters: Brian d’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara as lovers undone by alcoholism in “Days of Wine and Roses,” and Maryann Plunkett and Dorian Harewood as an older couple grappling with dementia in “The Notebook.” But the shows did not receive the same love. Neither was nominated for best musical, though “Days of Wine and Roses” did pick up a nomination for score and “The Notebook” for book. Guess you can’t always have your wedding cake, and eat it too.

A warm Willkommen to ‘Cabaret.’

Rebecca Frecknall’s crepuscular revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Cabaret” was celebrated when it opened on the West End in 2021, eventually winning seven Olivier awards. But its Broadway transfer received a more muted response. (“Too often a misguided attempt to resuscitate the show breaks its ribs,” The New York Times wrote.) So who cares? Not the Tony nominators, who recognized the show with a nomination for best revival of a musical and gave nods to the actors — Eddie Redmayne, Gayle Rankin, Bebe Neuwirth and Steven Skybell — in all four categories.

No yellow brick road for ‘The Wiz.’

The much-anticipated revival has been one of spring’s early hits, but Tony nominators followed the lead of critics, not audiences, who didn’t have much nice to say about the show’s look, script and performances. “The Wiz,” which earned seven Tony Awards when it arrived on Broadway in 1975, didn’t get a single nod this time around.

Shaina Taub gets out the vote (mostly).

Like “Hamilton,” the musical “Suffs” looks at American history through a contemporary lens. Like “Hamilton,” the show started at the Public Theater before moving to Broadway. And like “Hamilton,” it was written and composed by its multitalented star, here 35-year-old Shaina Taub. When nominations were announced, though, Taub didn’t pull off a Lin-Manuel Miranda Trifecta. She received nods for her music and book, two of six nominations for “Suffs,” but not for starring as suffragist Alice Paul. Nikki M. James, already a Tony winner for “The Book of Mormon,” got the show’s one acting nomination, as Ida B. Wells.

Pop/rock storms another stage …

Squint and you may think you’re at the Grammy Awards on Tonys night, as the best score nominees include Arcade Fire’s Will Butler (“Stereophonic”); David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (“Here Lies Love”); and Jamestown Revival (“The Outsiders”). Plus, of course, Sufjan Stevens, whose 2005 concept album is transcendently reorchestrated for dance in the best musical nominee “Illinoise,” and Alicia Keys, whose existing tunes power the most nominated musical of all, “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Except when it doesn’t.

Among those who might instead be watching from home: the not-nominated Barry Manilow (“Harmony”); Ingrid Michaelson (“The Notebook”); and Huey Lewis, whose songbook energizes “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” but didn’t rouse Tony nominators.

Waving the flag for ‘Illinoise’ and more.

Monday’s roster reflected a Broadway season that was notably American, even aside from “Illinoise,” a show actually named for a state. “Hell’s Kitchen,” nodding at the New York City neighborhood where Keys grew up, told a story we like to think of as local: Big dreams come true. “Suffs” took us behind the scenes of American history, as women fought for the vote. “Purlie Victorious” and “Appropriate” took contrasting approaches — one comic, one gothic — to the peculiar American institution of racism. But even aside from their content, the 17 productions nominated for the biggest prizes are overwhelmingly the work of American authors. (One of the touted London imports, Peter Morgan’s “Patriots,” didn’t even make the list for best play.) Is Broadway, which has too often resembled a British colony, finally achieving independence?

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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