Update, with Scott Rudin quote, additional background Broadway doesn’t need Damon Runyon to prove yet again there’s no such thing as a sure bet: The To Kill A Mockingbird snub from the Tony Awards’ best play category today was easily the most surprising and confounding element of today’s nomination announcements.
“I don’t have an explanation for it,” Mockingbird director Bartlett Sher told Deadline from Berlin, where he’s directing an opera. Sher was nominated in the directing category, and cast members Jeff Daniels, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Gideon Glick (Mockingbird‘s Atticus, Scout and Dill, respectively) got nominations. Filling out the Mockingbird’s total of nine nomations are Adam Guettel (original score); Miriam Buether (scenic design); Ann Roth (costume design); Jennifer Tipton (lighting design); and Scott Lehrer (sound design).
But not Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation, despite massive press attention, public debate, box office heat and critical praise.
“It’s the best season for new plays in anybody’s memory – and certainly in my memory,” said producer Scott Rudin in a statement. “I’m thrilled for everybody who got nominated, especially the playwrights. We’re in a Golden Age and that’s the news of this season. As for Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin wrote a great play under nearly impossible circumstances, and it’s a big hit. I’m as proud of it – and of him – as I could ever be. The point of doing it was to do it well – everything else is kind of beside the point, nice though it would have been.”
Said Sher, “These votes can split in lots of strange way, and there are lots of great artists to choose from, so it can break in complicated ways. That seems to be how it broke this time. But I love Heidi’s play [Heidi Schreck’s What The Constitution Means To Me], I love The Ferryman, I love Gary.
“And I’m very thrilled for Gideon, and Jeff leads us and carries the show and Celia is one of my oldest friends. Plus to have our designers nominated is always a great acknowledged, and Adam Guettel for his subtle and beautiful score.”
Though the play received near-universal plaudits from critics, loads of press focusing on the much-anticipated reteaming of Sorkin with his The Newsroom star Daniels, recouped its entire investment after just 19 weeks and seems to be setting some sort of Broadway record for setting records, the production hasn’t been entirely without controversy.
Last year, Rudin settled a lawsuit filed by the Lee Estate that claimed Sorkin’s adaptation strayed too far from Lee’s novel. The producer had countersued for $10 million, arguing that the Estate’s suit could scare off investors. Rudin even offered to stage a reading of the play in court to counter the Estate’s trepidations.
That suit settled, there then came a brouhaha between the New York production and various community theaters around the country that had scheduled stagings of an old version of To Kill A Mockingbird. Tiny operations like The Dayton Playhouse and Buffalo’s Kavinoky Theater faced litigation if they proceeded with plans to stage Christopher Sergel’s 1991 Mockingbird adaptation.
Legally justified or not, the contretemps played out in the press as a sort of theatrical David and Goliath when the community theaters had to cancel their productions. In the end, Rudin made a rather staggering offer: The little theaters were given the opportunity – gratis – to stage Sorkin‘s version of Mockingbird, meaning patrons of the Oklahoma Children’s Theater theoretically could have seen the hit adaptation before Londoners. (Some of the theaters said at the time that logistics prevented them from taking up Rudin’s offer; a spokesman for Mockingbird said some of the theaters have since accepted the offer. An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated otherwise).
Whether any of that was on the minds of the Tony committee when it parceled out nine – and not 10 – nominations for Mockingbird is unclear and might just stay that way. The Broadway community, no doubt, will be pondering it all between now and June 9, and maybe long thereafter.
Here are a few other reactions to today’s nominations from the Mockingbird cast:
Jeff Daniels (Atticus Finch): “It is an honor to play Atticus Finch on Broadway. And now this. Thank you, League and American Theatre Wing.”
Celia Keenan-Bolger (Scout Finch):
“This day started differently than past nominations mornings. Previously, waking up at 8:30 felt extremely early, but this year, my 4 year old came into our room around 6:15 a.m. so I’ve been up for a couple of hours.
“I am so enormously proud to be a part of this production and the first person I thought of when these nominations were announced was Harper Lee. I wish she was alive to witness this production and I hope she’d feel so proud of what Aaron Sorkin has made and that something she wrote in 1960 about 1934 is having such a huge impact in 2019. She’s the reason we all get to be here and I am so moved that her contribution lives on through these awards.
“I am, of course, so grateful to be nominated, but this production has been a true collaboration from the start. So it is especially meaningful to me that so many people were recognized.
“I am so thankful, especially to Gideon and Will, since we are such a trio and so much of my performance hinges on them – I rely on them completely both as actors and humans every single time we perform. I’m over the moon for Gideon.”
Gideon Glick (Dill Harris):
“I am utterly shell shocked and beaming with gratitude. I’ve been working in this community since I was 17 years old and to be recognized and acknowledged in this way is very moving. I am so proud of the work that our cast, creative team, and crew have poured into this show, and I feel very lucky to be able to tell this story and to play this character every day. Aaron, Bart, and Scott have created something quite remarkable at the Shubert Theater and I feel so deeply grateful to be a part of it.”