Despite numerous “snubs” to the so-called Hollywood contingent that has taken Broadway by storm, this season today’s Tony Award nominations really prove just how reliant the Great White Way has become on movies. I’m not just talking those big stars such as Denzel Washington or Daniel Radcliffe (chief among today’s snubees), but the actual movies themselves. Nineteen of those nominations went to Broadway-ized musical versions of Disney’s Aladdin, Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky and Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges Of Madison County. Only Aladdin scored a Best New Musical nom. But Allen was nominated for his book (his first foray into musicals) based on his Oscar-nominated screenplay. Kelli O’Hara was the key nomination of four given to Bridges Of Madison County in the same role that won the original movie’s sole Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep. Eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken is among the five nominations for Aladdin by reprising his Oscar-winning score and adding just enough new tunes to qualify for the Tonys too. Rocky’s leading actor Andy Karl grabbed the Best Actor equivalent of Stallone’s Best Actor Oscar nom in 1976 but is likely, just as Sly did, to lose to much stiffer competition in the category. But the musical version’s scenic design, with its spectacular boxing arena, is certain to be victorious on Tony night.
And what about some of the other key nominees? Front-runner for Best New Musical is the zany farce A Gentlemen’s Guide To Love And Murder, which has — you guessed it — a movie to thank for its existence that led to its leading 10 Tony noms. It is based on the brilliant 1949 Ealing Studios comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets in which the immortal Alec Guinness played eight different murder victims, just as Tony nominee for Best Actor in a Musical Jefferson Mays does in this re-invention of the material that lives on as a classic screen comedy. And even If/Then, which grabbed a couple of noms for star Idina Menzel and its score, is, to put it politely, a real ripoff of a movie. It’s central concept of telling two concurrent versions of the same person’s life has been compared in nearly every critical review to the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film Sliding Doors. I also would venture to say the latest Broadway revival of Les Miserables, the show that spawned the 2012 movie version that was a box office hit, was nominated for Best Picture and won three Oscars, is most likely due to renewed interest because of that very movie version. It is nominated for three Tonys including Best Revival of a Musical.
So with all this seemingly Tony and Broadway love for the movies, it was curious to me why so many screen names — the list also includes Michelle Williams in Cabaret, Zachary Quinto in The Glass Menagerie, James Franco in Of Mice And Men, Zach Braff in Bullets Over Broadway — were left out in large numbers even as many of their co-stars who are creatures of the theatre were given Tony love. Is this a kind of snobbery at work here or just the way the cookie crumbles? Three of Washington’s co-stars were nominated, just not him for A Raisin In The Sun (though he has a Tony for Fences), and Radcliffe with The Cripple Of Inishmaan has been overlooked now in all three times at bat on Broadway (also How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Equus). Does the theater community really hold eight Harry Potter movies against this talented actor?
Of course the Broadway/Hollywood connection is nothing new. And it works both ways. Later this year we will see the latest cinematic incarnations of iconic Broadway musicals including Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods directed by Rob Marshall, who also helmed the movie version of Chicago, the last movie tuner to win a Best Picture Oscar; the third film version of Annie after previous tries by John Huston and Marshall himself with an ABC telefilm; and Eastwood’s take on Jersey Boys. This reps Eastwood’s first connection with a Broadway property since he co-starred with Lee Marvin and Jean Seberg, non-singers all, in the 1970 movie musical disaster Paint Your Wagon. Maybe that film was one reason Broadway never really has forgiven Hollywood while all the time feeding off of it. Wonder what Eastwood thinks of this year’s stab at his Bridges Of Madison County.
Nevertheless the steady stream of Hollywood movies turned into Broadway musicals is only going to intensify. In addition to all this year’s Tony nominees, still running in New York are film-to-stage adaptations of The Lion King, Newsies, Once, The Phantom Of The Opera (longest runner of all time), and last year’s Best Musical champ Kinky Boots. There are several more in various stages of development including Bull Durham, Pretty Woman, Finding Neverland, The Princess Bride, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and even this year’s documentary Oscar winner Twenty Feet From Stardom. But taking an iconic film doesn’t always mean instant success, obviously. A couple of seasons ago, a straight play version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s was attempted but closed quickly. That was even a longer run than an ill-fated 1966 Broadway musical version of Tiffany’s with Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain that basically closed before it could open. And Big Fish came and went last year after fewer than 100 performances. The obvious attraction to these projects is instant name recognition, and that’s something that Broadway producers have in common with their Hollywood counterparts: the desire for a sure thing. Disney has been the best at living in both worlds, and you can bet the farm that Frozen will be hitting the Great White Way. Just about every studio has someone assigned to comb their vaults for Broadway potential. New York just can’t get enough of Hollywood when it means money.
The ironic thing is the Tony Award show itself (airing June 8 on CBS) almost always wins the Emmy over the Oscar Show. And so it goes.