'Once' Upon a Time at the Tonys

9:25 PM, May 1, 2012   |    comments
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By Elysa Gardner

Once again, a little musical that could, did.

Like "Spring Awakening," "In the Heights" and "Avenue Q" before it, "Once" -- the proudly low-tech, unapologetically earnest adaptation of a sleeper indie-pop film about struggling musicians in love -- has won over Broadway's establishment. The off-Broadway transfer topped the list of Tony Award nominations announced Tuesday morning, earning 11, even though it wasn't eligible for original score.

The two musical productions that tied for the second most nominations, 10 each, feature even more seasoned scores: "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" is a musical-theater staging of the classic folk opera, while "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is a nostalgic confection featuring other beloved Gershwin tunes. Both received mixed reviews but proved more endearing to audiences.

Among plays, "Peter and the Starcatcher", based on the novel, nabbed the most nominations, nine in all. Mike Nichols' wrenching revival of "Death of a Salesman" and the hilarious U.K. import "One Man, Two Guvnors" (based on the 18th-century Commedia dell'Arte work "The Servant of Two Masters") garnered seven each.

"One Man's" fast-rising central funnyman, James Corden, will vie against Salesman star Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Earl Jones, Frank Langella and John Lithgow in the category of best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play.

Reached for comment Tuesday, Lithgow declared his rivals "all fabulous actors. We're three old war horses, Frank and Jimmy and me. And I guess Philip is kind of a war horse in embryo."

In the leading-actress field, another breakout star and one more celebrated Brit -- "Venus in Fur's" Nina Arianda and "End of the Rainbow's" Tracie Bennett, respectively -- will compete against Cynthia Nixon, Stockard Channing and Linda Lavin. Other high-profile contenders include "Peter's" Christian Borle and "Salesman's" Andrew Garfield, both up for featured actor in a play.

But a familiar name didn't guarantee Tony nominators' love. Alan Rickman's lauded performance in the less widely praised "Seminar" went unacknowledged. Matthew Broderick, who got lukewarm notices in "Nice Work," didn't share in the show's bounty. Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett were, also predictably, overlooked for their work in the Olivier Award-winning "The Mountaintop," which earned less enthusiastic reviews here than abroad. And U2's Bono and The Edge weren't tapped for their score for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," though that critically savaged show is up for best scenic and costume design.

The 66th annual Tony Awards air live from New York's Beacon Theatre on CBS June 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT time delay.

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