British talents have reaped a phenomenal array of nominations for this year’s Tony awards in New York. The Musical Six picked up eight nominations, including best musical and best original score for Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow who wrote the show when they were undergraduates in their final year at Cambridge University and first took it to the Edinburgh fringe as a student production. The musical, in which Henry VIII’s wives return from the dead to give a pop concert, was inspired by historian Lucy Worsley’s TV series and Beyoncé’s Live at Roseland show.
Moss, who at 26 became the youngest female director of a Broadway musical for Six, was in technical rehearsals for a new London production of Legally Blonde when her phone began to ping with news of Six’s nominations on Monday afternoon. “My head’s very much somewhere else right now,” she laughed. “There’s a lot going on.” Moss added that she had been unsure about whether US audiences would flock to a musical about Tudor queens. “We were originally worried about whether they would get it – do they know enough about British history, how much do they care about Henry VIII? But although it’s not American history, the pop concert is an American form. American audiences know what to do in a pop concert situation.”
Simon Russell Beale, Adrian Lester and Adam Godley, the three British lead actors of The Lehman Trilogy, will all compete in the same category at the Tony awards. Sam Mendes’s acclaimed production about the banking family – seen at the National Theater in London in 2018 – received five more nodes including best direction of a play. Marianne Elliott’s sparkling production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company received nine nominations including one for Patti LuPone, who starred in its previous outing in the West End. It could bring LuPone, a Broadway legend, her third Tony award. Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, co-stars in The Music Man, are both nominated – if they win it would mean their third Tony each.
The show that received the greatest number of nominations, with 11, was A Strange Loop by Michael R Jackson, who has already won the Pulitzer prize for this meta-musical about a black queer writer who is writing a musical about a black queer writer. The New York Times critic Maya Phillips said it “pulls off an amazing feat: condensing a complex idea, full of paradoxes and abstractions, into the form of a Broadway musical”. Three of its stars were nominated: Jaquel Spivey, John-Andrew Morrison and L Morgan Lee, who becomes the first openly transgender performer to be nominated for a Tony award for acting.
Hot on the heels of A Strange Loop with 10 nominations is MJ, the musical about Michael Jackson, which the Guardian’s Adrian Horton called “a rollicking parade of hits … and a sanitized spin through Jackson’s life that sketches demons without filling them in”. MJ brought nominations for, among others, its star Myles Frost, director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and book writer Lynn Nottage, who also received a nomination for best play for her drama Clyde’s. The other nominees for best play are Martin McDonagh’s black comedy Hangmen, which was first seen at the Royal Court in London in 2015; Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit drama Skeleton Crew; The Lehman Trilogy; and The Minutes, Tracy Letts’ play about a town council meeting.
Paradise Square, a musical named after a Manhattan saloon in the 19th century, received 10 nominations. A revival of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by the poet-playwright Ntozake Shange, who died in 2018, received seven nominations, as did Girl from the North Country, Conor McPherson’s musical set to Bob Dylan songs that was first seen at the Old Vic in London.
The nominations for the 75th Tony awards were announced in New York on Monday by actors Adrienne Warren and Joshua Henry. It was a noticeably diverse lineup, confirming the hopes of Audra McDonald – co-host of the 2021 awards – that Broadway is “finally ready to commit to the change that will bring more awareness, action and accountability [and] make our industry more inclusive and equitable for all”.
British actors, playwrights, designers and directors have all been recognized in this year’s nominations. Among them are Sharon D Clarke (best lead actress in a musical for Caroline, Or Change); Alfie Allen (best actor in a featured role of a play for Hangmen); Neil Austin (best lighting design of a musical for Company) and Bunny Christie (best scenic design of a musical for Company). Es Devlin’s design for The Lehman Trilogy will compete against Anna Fleischle’s for Hangmen, while Fly Davis’s costumes for Caroline, Or Change are nominated alongside Gabriella Slade’s for Six.
Ireland’s Conor McPherson will compete against Britons Christopher Wheeldon (MJ), Marianne Elliott (Company) and Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage (co-directors of Six), as well as Stephen Brackett (A Strange Loop) for best direction of a musical. Ruth Negga was nominated for her performance opposite Daniel Craig in Macbeth.
The eligibility deadline for shows to be considered for this year’s awards was extended to early May due to a number of productions’ Covid-related cancellations. Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theater Wing, and Charlotte St Martin, president of the Broadway League, said: “After the challenges that our community has faced over the past two years, celebrating the artistry of our nominees has never felt more poignant than it does now.”
The 2020 edition of the awards was canceled because of the pandemic, which also led to the delay of the 2021 ceremony, where Moulin Rouge! triumphed, picking up 10 trophies. This year’s awards will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York on 12 June and hosted by Ariana DeBose, who won an Oscar for her performance in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. After Chris Rock was slapped on stage by Will Smith at the Academy Awards earlier this year, the Tony awards announced that it has a “strict no violence policy” and that “in the event of an incident, the perpetrator will be removed”.