'Billy' Dances Off with 15 Tony Noms

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A story about a boy struggling to overcome dire economic circumstances and learning to dance is as good a metaphor as any for the current Broadway season, so it seemed foreordained that Billy Elliot: The Musical would emerge with the most Tony Award nominations when they were announced Tuesday.

The Lee Hall–Elton John musical adaptation of the Stephen Daldry film received a record-tying 15 bids, including ones for best musical, best book (Hall), and best score (Hall and John). In an unusual twist, three actors were nominated as a single entry for the category of best performance by a leading actor in a musical—David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish. The three youths, all under the age of 15, have shared the title role since the show began previews Oct. 1.

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Next to Normal figures to give Billy Elliot the strongest competition. Their story of a housewife in the throes of bipolar disorder—another apt metaphor for Broadway's up-and-down season—received 11 nominations. David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori's adaptation of the cartoon Shrek and the Diane Paulus–directed revival of Hair received eight nominations each.

Among plays, the revival of Mary Stuart and the revival of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests lead the way with seven nominations each, while Yasmina Reza's original God of Carnage and the revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone received six each. The directors for those shows were nominated as well: Phyllida Lloyd (Mary Stuart), Bartlett Sher (Joe Turner's Come and Gone), and Matthew Warchus (God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests).

Mary Stuart, The Norman Conquests, and God of Carnage also contribute to extremely competitive acting races. Mary Stuart's Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter will vie for best actress, just as they vie for the soul of Britain in their roles as the Queen of Scotland and the Queen of England. For God of Carnage, the actors playing four bickering parents will scrap for two Tonys: Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini will be among those competing for best actor, and Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden will be in the running for best actress. In The Norman Conquests, which features six characters fighting for love, Stephen Mangan and Paul Ritter will vie for best featured actor, while Jessica Hynes and Amanda Root will compete for best featured actress.

Roger Robinson, the featured actor nominee who played the streetwise mystic Bynum in Joe Turner's Come and Gone, was the lone actor selected from that production.

When the stock market crashed in mid-September, it looked as if it would be a bleak season for Broadway. Wall Street money—in the forms of individual contributions, investment capital, and ticket sales—has provided a significant source of cash in recent years for commercial and nonprofit theatre alike. In late fall and early winter, there was a wave of early closings—including Tony stalwarts Hairspray, Spring Awakening, and the revival of Gypsy—and stillborn productions. Planned revivals such as Brigadoon, Godspell, and For Colored Girls… failed to secure financial backing.

Broadway's fortunes began to turn on two factors. The first was the number of straight plays that rushed to fill the void of faltering musicals, many of them populated by well-known and well-respected actors, such as the aforementioned God of Carnage cast, as well as Oscar winners Jane Fonda (33 Variations) and Geoffrey Rush (Exit the King), each of whom were also nominated. The second factor was relatively strong attendance during the normally bleak winter months, which were helped greatly by the weeks bracketing Presidents Day. The weeks around the Easter and Passover holidays were also strong. Partly as a result, Broadway grosses are currently running about $25 million (or 3 percent) ahead of last year's pace.

The comparisons are a bit specious, as a 19-day stagehands strike in the middle of the 2007-08 season robbed at least 19 performance dates from the calendar for most of Broadway—about $30 million in box-office revenue. Had there not been a strike, it is possible—if not likely—that the current season would be showing a slight falloff from the previous year.

Still, Broadway is on track to set a record at the box office, and a family-friendly show such as Billy Elliot, which shares its nominations record with The Producers, could become a box-office bonanza if it has a strong showing at the Tonys. Even if it doesn't, other musicals have positioned themselves to be significant contributors to Broadway coffers. Hair should continue to do well after today's announcements. Ditto Rock of Ages: The tribute to trashy '80s rock and the hairballs and slatterns who loved it received five nominations, including ones for best musical and best actor (former American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis). Thanks to exposure on the Tony telecast, it may become a long-running rotation vehicle—kind of like a Chicago for reality-show castoffs.

Some plays could also be helped by today's announcements. Mary Stuart and Joe Turner's Come and Gone, critically praised but underattended, could see attendance rise as a result of the nominations. Another possible beneficiary is Reasons to Be Pretty. Neil LaBute's four-character rumination on the varying depths and degrees of love earned a bid for best play, best actor (Thomas Sadoski), and best featured actress (Marin Ireland). It has struggled to maintain 30 percent capacity at the relatively small Lyceum Theatre. After Tuesday, it has a reason to be optimistic, which is as good a note as any to end the Broadway season.

The Tony Awards will be presented on June 7 at Radio City Music Hall in a ceremony telecast on CBS.

Nominations for the 2009 American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

Best Play

Dividing the Estate, Horton Foote
God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza
Reasons to Be Pretty, Neil LaBute
33 Variations, Moisés Kaufman

Best Musical

Billy Elliot: The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek: The Musical

Best Book of a Musical

Billy Elliot: The Musical, Lee Hall
Next to Normal, Brian Yorkey
Shrek: The Musical, David Lindsay-Abaire
[Title of Show], Hunter Bell

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Billy Elliot: The Musical: Music: Elton John; Lyrics: Lee Hall
Next to Normal: Music: Tom Kitt; Lyrics: Brian Yorkey
9 to 5: The Musical: Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton
Shrek: The Musical: Music: Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Mary Stuart
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Best Special Theatrical Event

Liza's at the Palace
Slava's Snowshow
Soul of Shaolin
You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish–Billy Elliot: The Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek: The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek: The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
Roger Robinson, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek: The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot: The Musical

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek: The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair

Best Lighting Design of a Play

David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot: The Musical

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal

Best Direction of a Play

Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot: The Musical
Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek: The Musical

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre

Jerry Herman

Regional Theatre Tony Award

Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.

Isabelle Stevenson Award

Phyllis Newman

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre

Shirley Herz