Tony Award nominations: Led by ‘Follies,’ Washington lights up Broadway

In another sign of Washington’s growing influence as a theater town, the Kennedy Center’s highly regarded revival of “Follies” garnered an impressive eight Tony Award nominations Tuesday, making it potentially one of the most highly decorated shows of the 2011-12 Broadway season.

Only four other shows earned more nods, including the day’s biggest ­winner, the new musical “Once,” with 11. And “Follies” was by no means the only Washington-built or -tested work whose artistry was validated by the Tony nominators. The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park,” which received a crucial early production at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, took four nominations, including one for best new play. And “Master Class” with Tyne Daly, a production that also originated at the Kennedy Center, was named a contender for best revival of a play.

All these, and a coveted special Tony, to Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, which was named the recipient of this year’s Regional Theatre Tony. The award marks the second time in four years that a theater from the Washington region has been so honored: Signature Theatre in Arlington County received it in 2009.

The magnitude of recognition for “Follies” surpasses the seven nominations bestowed upon the center’s revival of “Ragtime” on Broadway three years ago. “I think it’s fantastic,” Michael M. Kaiser, the Kennedy Center’s president, said by phone from Los Angeles, where “Follies” has been reassembled after its 152-performance New York run and starts an engagement this week. “We don’t do our shows to bring them to New York, but we’re thrilled that this one went and we’re very proud of that. Washington’s theater community has a lot to celebrate.”

In the awards across 26 categories revealed Tuesday by actors Jim Parsons and Kristin Chenoweth, “Follies” was named eight times, most notably as best musical revival, a category in which it will compete with revivals of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It also garnered nominations for lead actress (Jan Maxwell), lead actors (Danny Burstein and Ron Raines), featured actress (Jayne Houdyshell), costumes (Gregg Barnes), lighting (Natasha Katz) and sound design (Kai Harada).

Notably omitted were “Follies” director Eric Schaeffer, who heads Signature Theatre, and the show’s marquee performer, Bernadette Peters.

Nevertheless, the early prognostication has the category as a close contest between “Follies” and “Porgy and Bess,” the latter receiving 10 nominations and viewed as having a slight edge mostly because it’s still running. Although the Tonys are supposed to celebrate excellence, some voters tend to reward productions that still have a chance to sell tickets.

The surprisingly rich crop of new plays on Broadway this season was winnowed to four best-play contenders: Bruce Norris’s “Clybourne Park,” Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,” Rick Elice’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” and David Ives’s “Venus in Fur.” Ives, whose work has become a Washington staple in recent years, had “Venus” produced at Studio Theatre and adaptations of the classic French comedies “The Liar” and “The Heir Apparent” at Shakespeare Theatre Company.

The normally closely watched category of best new musical includes some lackluster entries, including the tepidly reviewed “Leap of Faith,” “Newsies” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” Only “Once,” adapted from the cult 2007 movie, received broad-based critical support, and the contest is seen as a cage match between that show and the Disney-produced “Newsies,” itself based on a 1992 movie.

The publicity-vacuuming “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” swung away with only two nominations, for its sets and costumes.

Among other nominees with associations for Washington audiences: Enda Walsh, the Irish playwright who was the subject of a three-play festival at Studio Theatre, was cited for his book for “Once”; Pam MacKinnon, who has staged works by Norris and Edward Albee in Washington, was named a directorial nominee for “Clybourne Park”; Brian MacDevitt, Bethesda resident, associate professor at the University of Maryland and lighting designer of Studio’s “Sucker Punch,” received a Tony berth for his lighting of “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman”; and Jeff Calhoun, an associate artist at Ford’s Theatre, will contend for best musical director for his work on “Newsies.”

The recognition of Shakespeare Theatre Company is something of a career-capper for artistic director Michael Kahn, who has led the classical company for a quarter-century. His Regional Theatre Tony, to be conferred at this year’s ceremony June 10, with returning host Neil Patrick Harris, is, if anything, overdue.

Kahn said he was honored by the award. “This is a very touching tribute, to have the work of all of the artists who have been a part of our 25-year history acknowledged,” he said in a prepared statement. “We are so thankful to our patrons and supporters who have helped shape us into the artistic institution that we have become.”

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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