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There Will Be Catfights: This Year’s Tony Award Noms By the Numbers

Theater folk are no doubt freaking out this morning, as they’re want to do around early May every year: It’s Tony Nominations Day! The best way to get a good first impression of what’s going here is by nomination count. Check out our numeric breakdown/running commentary after the jump. Spoiler alert: Those three dancing brats from Billy Elliot managed to smoke everyone else’s ass.

Billy Elliot, The Musical – 15
Next to Normal – 11
Hair – 8
Shrek The Musical – 8
Mary Stuart – 7
The Norman Conquests – 7
God of Carnage – 6
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone – 6
Rock of Ages – 5
33 Variations – 5
Exit the King – 4
9 to 5: The Musical – 4
Pal Joey – 4
West Side Story – 4
Reasons to Be Pretty – 3
Waiting for Godot – 3
Blithe Spirit – 2
Dividing the Estate – 2
Equus – 2
Guys and Dolls – 2
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas – 2
Liza’s at The Palace – 1
Slava’s Snowshow – 1
Soul of Shaolin – 1
Speed-the-Plow – 1
[Title of Show] – 1
You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush – 1

In a word: wow. Not so much Billy Elliot‘s blazing by everybody else by four nominations — that one was pretty much as expected. No: it’s that the next one down from it is Next To Normal, a show with three more nominations than Hair and Shrek in a strange Fibonacci-esque sequencing, and an even strange statistical triumph: NTN filled 4,461 seats last week. Hair? 11,125. Shrek? 7,928.

You have to be cynical when looking at Tony nominations: it’s like every awards show for any industry. First and foremost, as a financial stimulus, and secondarily, an attempt to pat itself on the back for surviving another year. On that note: Hair is an epic revival that’s kicking box office ass, and which just announced a national tour. Shrek is a megaproperty still trying to find Wicked-esque success, and sweeping on a national stage could help it do just that. But instead, Tony nominators decided to award a show that has done anything but prove itself as a viable box-office winner with the second most nominations. Don’t think it can win them? Think again. Avenue Q beat Wicked, and Next To Normal is a different show: bare-bones, no special effects, no huge chorus, and lots of screamy nonsense about being bipolar (mind you: these are Tony voters — they can relate).

Best Musical isn’t always a shoe-in, and it certainly isn’t this year, especially when Best Revival is the more interesting category. The ladies of West Side Story are going to be pulling those tree hugger wigs off from Hair in what’s going to be the 2009 Tony’s biggest catfight. And if anybody’s worried about Tony voters doing anything about Rock of Ages: dude, it’s a jukebox musical that serves drinks during the show. They could award the show’s American Idol-alumni star (Constantine Marguilies) with an award for Best Actor in a Musical, but it’s unlikely: they’re gonna get beat out by the Billy Elliot kids (three of them nominated as one! How can you not throw down the utilitarian vote?) or Hair‘s Gavin Creel. More notes on musicals: the girls from West Side Story are gonna kick ass. Broadway loves itself a good come-from-nowhere story, which is exactly what Josefina Scaglione has behind her (besides, you know: beauty, talent, youth, an incredible voice) in the Best Actress In A Musical category. Same thing for fan favorite Karen Olivio (West Side Story) in the Best Featured Actress (Musical) category. Latinas will rule the day.

Down to the fun stuff: plays. Speed-the-Plow, with all of its awesome reviews, trials and tribulations (namely: having to replace Jeremy “Tuna Roll” Piven with William H. Macy and Norbert Leo Butz) only got one nomination (a very-deserving Raul Esparza, his third in a row). Mamet had three plays on Broadway in the last two years, and only has two nominations to show for it. Wow. Hopefully, Speed will win this one: Esparza lost last year for Pinter’s The Homecoming and the year before to (groan) David Hyde Pierce in Curtains after his knockout performance in the revival of Sondheim’s Company. If he doesn’t bring the bacon home this year — for putting up with all the shit he had to — he officially begins the path to becoming the Tony’s version of perpetual nominee-sans-win Susan Lucci. It’s gonna be tough. The show’s been closed for a while. Shocker in Best Revival of a Play: nothing for The Seagull or Desire Under The Elms, which both got complete snubs! Seagull director Ian Rickson might’ve slashed some of his credibility after the press mess that was the Roundabout’s Hedda Gabler (with Mary Louise Parker), but why not award up-and-comer Zoe Kazan for her startlingly solid performance in the show? She practically carried it.

Nothing shocking in Best Play: God Of Carnage is fantastic, but will they hand an award to a French playwright whose work is significantly different in each country its performed in? Neil LaBute is a straight-play favorite, it’s his first time on Broadway, and it’s certainly not as highbrow (thus: accessible) as Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations. Also: it’s a young show. I’d love to see him win. But: God of Carnage is a show catered to casting, that doesn’t rely on a huge ensemble (like last year’s winner: August: Osage County) or younger actors with less Broadway audience pull (Reasons To Be Pretty). It’s probably a lock, and it helps that all four leads got nominated. Ignore Dividing The Estate: Tony voters hate Lincoln Center for being a non-profit (thus: less risk, especially under a White House that’ll push for more government money for the arts) and will only give them awards when they absolutely have to (as was the case when Tom Stoppard’s nine-hour Coast of Utopia won in 2007). Best Revival of a Play is a boring, boring category. With the exception of Waiting For Godot, it looks like a list of places to take a great nap. Mind you: the exception was Waiting For Godot.

But that’s just one guy’s take. You want the real insidery stuff, go here. The peanut gallery at All That Chat represents the cattiest Greek Chorus of two-cent Broadway critics who’ve seen everything and often actually paid to see it, too. I’m press, man, and before that, I was industry. I don’t pay to see shit. Full list of nominations here, show’s on June 7 at Radio City Music Hall. I’ll be in the comments, taking questions if you’ve got any.

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