NEW YORK – Two strikingly different musicals, “Fela!” and “La Cage aux Folles,” dominated the star-laden 2010 Tony Awards nominations.
“Fela!” — the innovative Afro-beat biography of Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti — and “La Cage aux Folles” — a revival of the classic Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical celebrating family — each received 11 nods on Tuesday as Jeff Daniels and Lea Michele announced the nominees for the 64th annual awards during a news conference.
They were followed by the revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” with 10 nominations and the musical “Memphis,” with eight.
“I actually got to call Jerry Herman, ’cause he’s on the West Coast, and break the news to him,” said Fierstein, whose “La Cage” won a best-musical Tony in 1984 and then a best musical-revival Tony in 2005. “We have had this child together since we began writing it in ’81 or ’82, so it’s always good when you get to call the other parent and tell them that the child is doing well.”
The critically maligned “Addams Family,” based on the New Yorker cartoons, was one of the most anticipated musicals of the season. It managed only two nominations, for Andrew Lippa’s music and lyrics, and for featured actor Kevin Chamberlin, who plays Uncle Fester in the show.
“Addams” stars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth were among the notable omissions for nominations. Also missing in action were Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, stars of Keith Huff’s police melodrama “A Steady Rain,” the big box-office sensation of last fall. And so were the star, John Gallagher Jr., and director, Michael Mayer, of “American Idiot.”
Best play nominations went to “Red,” John Logan’s incisive look at an artist — Mark Rothko — at work; “Time Stands Still,” Donald Margulies’ examination of a photojournalist’s intense commitment to her craft; Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall,” a story of belief and non-belief; and Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play),” a comedy about female liberation of a very specific kind.
“Red” received seven nominations. Among its nominees was Alfred Molina, who portrays Rothko. He will compete in what is perhaps the starriest Tony category — actor-play. His challengers: Denzel Washington, who plays an embittered sanitation worker with dashed dreams of baseball glory in “Fences”; Liev Schreiber, an obsessive Brooklyn longshoreman in “A View From the Bridge”; Christopher Walken, a peculiar fellow seeking revenge in “A Behanding in Spokane”; and Jude Law as the melancholy Danish prince in “Hamlet.”
“What a great honor,” Law said. “Bringing our production of Hamlet to New York will always be one of the highlights of my career and to receive this recognition amongst these other brilliant actors only makes this experience sweeter.”
Washington said that being on Broadway again — he last appeared in 2005 in “Julius Caesar” — was “like coming home again for me, and sharing a Tony nomination for ‘Fences’ with so many wonderfully talented people associated with this play makes it seem like one big family reunion.”
For the top musical prize, “Fela!” will go up against “Memphis,” an interracial romance set against the backdrop of the 1950s rhythm ‘n’ blues explosion; “American Idiot,” Green Day’s tale of disaffected slackers;l and “Million Dollar Quartet,” a celebratory jam session involving Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury were nominated — in different categories — for their roles in “A Little Night Music,” a musical revival nominee against “La Cage” and two shows that already have closed, “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Ragtime.”
“What a thrill to be nominated,” said Zeta-Jones, who plays the amorous Desiree Armfeldt in the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical. “The experience of doing this incredible show and working every night with such a talented group of people has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. And now to be nominated for a Tony, in my dreams, I couldn’t imagine a better way to make my Broadway debut.”
Zeta-Jones faces Kate Baldwin, “Finian’s Rainbow”; Montego Glover, “Memphis”; Christiane Noll, “Ragtime”; and Sherie Rene Scott, “Everyday Rapture.” In the featured actress-musical category, Lansbury goes up against Barbara Cook, “Sondheim on Sondheim”; Katie Finneran, “Promises, Promises”; Karine Plantadit, “Come Fly Away,” and Lillias White, “Fela!”
In the actress-play category, the nominees were Viola Davis, “Fences”; Valerie Harper, “Looped”; Linda Lavin, “Collected Stories”; Laura Linney, “Time Stands Still”; and Jan Maxwell, “The Royal Family.”
“I am so happy to be back ‘home’ again on stage, in this play, with these actors and to be recognized is icing on the cake,” said theater veteran Davis, who portrays Washington’s stoic, understanding wife in “Fences.”
“I am very, very grateful!”
Harper said her nomination was “bittersweet” because “Looped” had closed. “That was sad and disappointing but boy does this sweeten the pot,” she said. “And we have a 10-week commitment in Toronto. So there is an afterlife for the play, and that’s exciting.”
The two stars of “La Cage” — Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge — will compete against each other for the actor-musical prize. Their competition will be Sean Hayes, the ambitious young executive in “Promises, Promises”; Chad Kimball, the soul-drenched disc jockey in “Memphis”; and Sahr Ngaujah, the title character in “Fela!”
Among the more unusual twists of the 2010 nominations: Maxwell of “A Royal Family” was also nominated in the featured actress-play category, for her role as an opera singer’s jealous wife in “Lend Me a Tenor.” Competing with Maxwell are Maria Dizzia, “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play”; Rosemary Harris, “The Royal Family”; Jessica Hecht, “A View From the Bridge”; and Scarlett Johansson, “A View From the Bridge.”
“It has been a dream come true to be a part of the Broadway community,” Johansson said. “I am deeply honored to be nominated and so proud to have been a part of this extraordinary production.”
Featured actor in a play nominees included David Alan Grier, “Race”; Stephen McKinley Henderson, “Fences”; Jon Michael Hill, “Superior Donuts”; Stephen Kunken, “Enron”; and Eddie Redmayne as Rothko’s young assistant in “Red.”
Twyla Tharp, who choreographed and conceived the dance musical “Come Fly Away,” set to Frank Sinatra songs, will compete for the best choreography Tony with Rob Ashford, “Promises, Promises”; Bill T. Jones, “Fela!”; and Lynne Page, “La Cage aux Folles.”
Special Tony Awards for lifetime achievement will be given to playwright Alan Ayckbourn (“The Norman Conquests,” a trilogy that won the play-revival Tony last year), and actress Marian Seldes (“A Delicate Balance,” “Equus,” “Deathtrap,” “Three Tall Women”).
The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., will receive the regional theater award.
Winners will be announced June 13 during a ceremony televised by CBS from Radio City Music Hall.