Estelle Parsons earned her fifth Tony Award nomination yesterday. Her reward? Unemployment. Parsons, who is 86 and made her Broadway debut in 1957, is the star of The Velocity Of Autumn, in which she plays a youngster of a mere 79 years who has outfitted her Brooklyn brownstone with Molotov cocktails should anyone try to move her into a home. Despite sterling reviews for the indomitable actress, the play got middling reviews. The producers posted a closing notice of this Sunday. It will have played 22 previews and 16 regular performances at the Booth Theatre.
The closing, along with several weird Tony nominations in a season ripe with them, has consequences beyond just the Velocity company. Why? Because Velocity is one of six shows that received Tony nominations but closed before, or will close immediately in the wake of, yesterday’s announcement of the nominees. So many of the 800-plus Tony voters, most of them producers scattered around the U.S., will not have seen the nominated shows. That means they’re not supposed to vote in any category that includes a show they haven’t seen. And since those producers are thinking about prospective ticket sales (OK, and quality), they’re also not likely to cast a vote in favor of a show unlikely to make money at their box offices.
How important is this? Well, consider the case of The Glass Menagerie. This groundbreaking revival (two words infrequently seen together) is nominated in seven categories — including best revival, outstanding direction and Cherry Jones’ outstanding performance in a leading role. But Glass Menagerie closed in February, and if you’re a Tony voter but missed it, you’re not supposed to vote for any nominees in those categories. Same goes for the two categories in which Mark Rylance was nominated, lead and featured actor, for Richard III and Twelfth Night, respectively. Both shows are history. In all, 20 nominations went to shows that have closed.
Happier was the news for After Midnight, the vintage Harlem club revue that beat out several other hopefuls in the Best Musical category. This feel-good 90-minute show with a sensational vintage score played by the Jazz At Lincoln Center All-Stars under the direction of Wynton Marsalis, and with no small assist from Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, has capitalized superbly on stunt casting with brief run by the likes of Fantasia Barrino and k.d. la Nominated for seven Tony Awards including best musical, the producers announced today that the “special guest star” slot would be filled shortly by pop-music icons Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Natalie Cole (making her Broadway debut) beginning in June at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Tony producers threw a meet-the-nominees reception this morning that tried to seem upbeat despite the absence of a number of crossover stars who didn’t make the cut yesterday, notably Denzel Washington in best revival nominee A Raisin In The Sun and Daniel Radcliffe in the revival-nominee The Cripple Of Inishmaan. Ariel Tepper Madover, a co-lead producer of Inishmaan, by Martin McDonagh, was feeling her star’s pain. “I’m really sad that he didn’t get nominated,” she told me. “I think that he deserved it. He gives an unbelievable performance.”
She may have a conflict of interest, but she is hardly alone in that sentiment.