Forget the envelope, please.
The 39th annual Tony Award nominations for excellence in the Broadway theater were announced yesterday, but three important categories have been eliminated this year for lack of suitable competition.
Recognizing the scarcity of worthy new musicals, the nominating committee declined to submit nominations for best actor in a musical and best choreography. The third category, best actress in a musical, was removed from the judging last week by the Tony administrative committee, which concluded that Leilani Jones, the determined stripper of "Grind," was the single performer to qualify and preferred not to give her a Tony by default.
Jones was subsequently reentered in another category, but her "Grind" costar, Ben Vereen, was left out in the cold.
Only "Big River," a musical version of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," prevented the musical categories from being a complete fiasco. "Big River," which opened late last month, picked up 10 nominations, including one for best musical. Also on the best-musical ballot are: "Grind," a lavish but lifeless saga set in a Chicago burlesque house in the 1930s; "Leader of the Pack," a collage of pop hits by songwriter Ellie Greenwich; and "Quilters," a tribute to pioneer womanhood, which expired early in the season after 24 performances, although it enjoyed successful engagements beforehand at the Kennedy Center and several regional theaters.
"Big River" is bound to be a shoo-in.
On the dramatic front, the nominators had slightly more to choose from and proposed as candidates for best play "Biloxi Blues," Neil Simon's autobiographical Army comedy; "As Is," a drama about AIDS victims by William Hoffman; "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," August Wilson's look at the legendary blues singer; and "Hurlyburly," David Rabe's examination of the lower depths of Hollywood show business.
The Royal Shakespeare Company made a strong showing with its two-play repertory of "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Cyrano de Bergerac," winning a total of 10 nominations for acting, direction, lighting design and costume design. Derek Jacobi and Sinead Cusack were both nominated as best actor and actress for their performances in "Much Ado." Terry Hands got nods for directing "Much Ado" and lighting the two shows. Both productions will compete against "Joe Egg," and the marathon revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude" for Outstanding Reproduction of a Play or Musical.
However, the award that is likely to generate the greatest enthusiasm among viewers of the annual telecast, scheduled for June 2, is a special honorary Tony to be bestowed on Yul Brynner. Brynner will give his farewell performance in "The King and I" on June 30, after having played the role more than 4,500 times.
Competing with Jacobi in the best actor category are: Jim Dale, as the anguished parent of a retarded child in "Joe Egg,"; Jonathan Hogan, who grapples with the tragedy of AIDS in "As Is"; and John Lithgow, as a battered boxer in another short-lived entry, "Requiem for a Heavyweight." Best actress nominations went to Stockard Channing, Dale's costar and his wife in "Joe Egg"; Glenda Jackson, as the tormented heroine of "Strange Interlude"; and Rosemary Harris, who discovers in the British import, "Pack of Lies," that her next-door neighbors are spies.
Two of "Hurlyburly's" actresses -- Judith Ivey and Sigourney Weaver -- will compete for best supporting actress in a play, along with Theresa Merritt ("Ma Rainey") and Joanna Gleason ("Joe Egg"). William Hurt ("Hurlyburly"), Charles S. Dutton ("Ma Rainey"), Barry Miller ("Biloxi Blues") and Edward Petherbridge ("Strange Interlude") are the contenders for best supporting actor in a play.
Further underlining the lack of musical competition, three members of the "Big River" cast will vie for best supporting actor in a musical: Daniel H. Jenkins, who plays Huck; Rene Auberjonois, who cavorts as the Duke; and Ron Richardson, who portrays Jim, the slave. Kurt Knudson edged his way into the circle with his characterization of drunken Uncle Sid from "Take Me Along," but the musical itself folded after one performance.
Although prevented from competing as best actress in a musical, Jones was reentered as best supporting actress and won a nomination. That pits her against Lenka Peterson and Evalyn Baron -- both for "Quilters" -- and Mary Beth Peil for "The King and I." Jones should have no trouble winning the race.
The Tony Awards show invariably tries to be upbeat about Broadway's sagging fortunes, but that looks to be a near-impossible task this year. The list of nominated performers is largely bereft of those celebrities recognized by the public at large; and many of the nominated shows are either limping along at the box office or have closed.
Commenting on the elimination of the two musical categories, Henry Hewes, one of the 11 retired critics and academics who make up the nominating committee, said yesterday, "The word on the top of the ballot is 'outstanding' and the Tonys always try to stand for excellence. We thought it was in the best interests of the theater and the Tonys not to present a slate of people who had not performed excellently in their art."
Final selections will now be made by approximately 600 theater professionals and critics. Meanwhile, the suspense continues to dwindle.
Here is the list of Tony Award nominees for Broadway's 1984-85 season. Winners will be announced June 2 in ceremonies televised by CBS.
Best Play: "As Is," William Hoffman; "Biloxi Blues," Neil Simon; "Hurlyburly," David Rabe;" "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," August Wilson.
Best Musical: "Big River"; "Grind"; "Leader of the Pack"; "Quilters."
Best Revival: "Cyrano de Bergerac"; "Joe Egg"; "Much Ado About Nothing"; "Strange Interlude."
Best Actor, Play: Jim Dale, "Joe Egg"; Jonathan Hogan, "As Is"; Derek Jacobi, "Much Ado About Nothing"; John Lithgow, "Requiem for a Heavyweight."
Best Actress, Play: Stockard Channing, "Joe Egg"; Sinead Cusack, "Much Ado About Nothing"; Rosemary Harris, "Pack of Lies"; Glenda Jackson, "Strange Interlude."
Best Book, Musical: "Big River," William Hauptman; "Grind," Fay Kanin; "Harrigan 'n Hart," Michael Stewart; "Quilters," Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek.
Best Score, Musical: "Big River," Roger Miller; "Grind," Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh; "Quilters," Barbara Damashek.
Best Director, Play: Keith Hack, "Strange Interlude"; Terry Hands, "Much Ado About Nothing"; Marshall W. Mason, "As Is"; Gene Saks, "Biloxi Blues."
Best Director, Musical: Barbara Damashek, "Quilters"; Mitch Leigh, "The King and I"; Des McAnuff, "Big River"; Harold Prince, "Grind."
Best Supporting Actor, Play: Charles S. Dutton, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"; William Hurt, "Hurlyburly"; Barry Miller, "Biloxi Blues"; Edward Petherbridge, "Strange Interlude."
Best Supporting Actress, Play: Joanna Gleason, "Joe Egg"; Judith Ivey, "Hurlyburly"; Theresa Merritt, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"; Sigourney Weaver, "Hurlyburly."
Best Supporting Actor, Musical: Rene Auberjonois, "Big River"; Daniel H. Jenkins, "Big River"; Kurt Knudson, "Take Me Along"; Ron Richardson, "Big River."
Best Supporting Actress, Musical: Evalyn Baron, "Quilters" Leilani Jones, "Grind"; Mary Beth Peil, "The King and I"; Lenka Peterson, "Quilters."
Best Scenic Design: Clarke Dunham, "Grind"; Ralph Koltai, "Much Ado About Nothing"; Heidi Landesman, "Big River"; Voytek and Michael Levine, "Strange Interlude."
Best Costume Design: Florence Klotz, "Grind"; Patricia McGurty, "Big River"; Alexander Reid, "Cyrano de Bergerac"; Alexander Reid, "Much Ado About Nothing."
Best Lighting Design: Terry Hands, "Cyrano de Bergerac"; Terry Hands, "Much Ado About Nothing"; Allen Lee Hughes, "Strange Interlude"; Richard Riddell, "Big River."
A special Tony Award for continued excellence by a regional theater was given to the Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago. Special awards also were given to the New York State Council on the Arts, for its distinguished support and assistance to the theater, and to actor Yul Brynner for his unprecedented record of 4,500 performances in "The King and I." The Lawrence Langer Award for lifetime achievement in the theater was given to Edwin Lester, founder and general director of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera for 40 years.