Progressive or Traditional: Who will win the Tony Awards? by Kevin M. Thomas

Sahr Ngaujah as Fela Kuti and Saycon Sengbloh as Sandra in FELA!

Sahr Ngaujah as Fela Kuti and Saycon Sengbloh as Sandra in FELA!

Between the 11 nominations for both “Fela!” and “La Cage aux Folles,” the Tony Award nominations prove to be an even mix of progressive and traditional theatre.

“Fela!” which is a politically-motivated true story musical that got its start off-Broadway is pitted against two men in drag in the more traditional “La Cage aux Folles,” makes its third appearance on Broadway.  These shows couldn’t be more different – one has an edgier, Afrobeat  while the others has bangles and bows, standing out amongst the chorus line.

La Cage Aux Folles The Musical Nominated for Tony Awards

La Cage Aux Folles The Musical Nominated for Tony Awards

This duality is evident throughout the list of nominees. The rock show “American Idiot” is one of the Best Musical nominees as is the old-style musical “Memphis.” It’s actually a surprise that “American Idiot” didn’t make a better showing, only scoring two nominations. It seemed the perfect show to have many slots filled in the featured performer categories. It was a shame there was a last minute ruling that John Gallagher Jr. was moved to the leading actor category as he was a front runner to win in the featured actor category.

Additionally, moving Barbara Cook at the last minute from lead to featured for “Sondheim on Sondheim” not only guaranteed her a featured nomination, but now gives Angela Lansbury in “A Little Night Music” a run for her money. But alas, perhaps including Cook in the featured category took votes away from her wonderful co-star Vanessa Williams, who didn’t make the cut.

Also missing from the ballot is James Monroe Iglehart – so memorable in “Memphis.” Yes, it’s a tough category and it’s wonderful its stars Chad Kimball and Montego Glover made the list, but when I saw Iglehart in “Memphis,” I said to myself “Tony!” I did the same thing last year for Karen Olivio in “West Side Story” and look how that turned out.

Other surprises include the numerous nominations for “Promises, Promises.” While it received lukewarm reviews, it has won over its audiences. But it seems more surprising that the Tony-darling Kristen Chenoweth didn’t get nominated but Sean Hayes did. But she’s not alone. Other Tony favorites Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth were passed over for “The Addams Family.”

On the play side of things, it was a treat to see Valerie Harper receive a nomination for “Looped” as it didn’t last but a minute on Broadway. But alas, Victor Garber didn’t make the final cut for “Present Laughter.” And “Race” isn’t in many races – just one: featured actor David Alan Grier. And the featured actor category is the only place you’ll see the critically acclaimed “Superior Donuts” with its one nomination for Jon Michael Hill.

Some movie stars didn’t fare well either. While Denzel Washington will bring a touch of Hollywood to the ceremony with his “Fences” nomination, Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig from “A Steady Rain” won’t be joining him.

Whether it’s a big traditional show or something more progressive, several of the producers are normally performers themselves so their presence may add a little excitement to the June 13 telecast of the Tonys.

Among the producers of the various shows are Jay Z, Elton John, Tom Hulce and Will and Jada Smith.

For more information, go to www.tonyawards.com.