NEW YORK – “Some Like It Hot,” a Broadway musical adaptation of the cross-dressing movie comedy that starred Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, waltzed away Tuesday with a leading 13 Tony Award nominations, putting the spotlight on a show that is a sweet, full-hearted embrace of trans rights.
With songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and starring Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee, who all got nominations, the show follows two musician friends who disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl band to flee Chicago after witnessing a mob hit. Like the movie, there are men in dresses trying to pass as women. But this time, the dress awakens something in Ghee’s character, akin to a transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
“The only thing we wanted to do was to be honest and we wanted to treat these characters with dignity,” said Matthew López, who wrote the Tony-nominated book with Amber Ruffin and has a Tony already for the play “The Inheritance.” “Sometimes the best way to treat a character with dignity is to let them be flawed and scared and funny and brave and human. So one of the things that was really, really important to us is just to create human-scaled characters going through some extraordinary experiences.”
The musical comes at a time when trans rights are under attack and its message of self-acceptance and respect for all was echoed across Broadway, from a revival of “Parade” to a Black actor-led “Death of a Salesman” to the new play “Ain’t No Mo’” and new musical “Kimberly Akimbo.”
“I think the pandemic put a lot of things in perspective, both in terms of improvements we needed to make in the community and also just the way that everybody’s feeling about the world and about being a human,” said Ben Platt, nominated for “Parade.” “The art people are making has a real urgency and a real purpose.”
Three shows tied with nine nominations each: “& Juliet,” which reimagines “Romeo and Juliet” and adds some of the biggest pop hits of the past few decades, “New York, New York,” which combined two generations of Broadway royalty in John Kander and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and “Shucked,” a surprise lightweight musical comedy studded with corn puns.
Betsy Wolfe, in her eighth Broadway show, earned her first nomination in “& Juliet,” playing Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife. The actor had just dropped her daughter, almost 3, off at ballet class on Tuesday morning. “I hope she addresses me properly now when I see her,” she joked.
In the musical, playwright David West Read took an original story using “Romeo and Juliet” as a launch pad and mixed in hits by Swedish super-producer Max Martin, including Brittney Spears’ “Oops! … I Did It Again,” Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.” The musical imagines a happier ending for Juliet after a journey of self-discovery.
“It’s a beautiful story about second chances, which honestly is what we’re all going through right now," said Wolfe. "We’ve all been given a second chance after this time we’ve all been through. And so to have a musical that allows us all to celebrate in each individual way that we need to celebrate is really, really special and timely.”
The critical musical darling “Kimberly Akimbo,” with Victoria Clark playing a teen who ages four times faster than the average human, rounds out the best musical category, and earned a total of eight nominations.
Clark, who was nominated for best lead actress in a musical, hopes to add a second Tony to her trophy case, having previously won one in 2005 for “The Light in the Piazza.” But more than that she hopes more attention will be paid to her show, which she calls a “little under the radar.”
“It’s a special event that celebrates our collective humanity,” she said. "It doesn’t say life is perfect. The show doesn’t say there aren’t going to be strange and horrible people in your life. It doesn’t say life is going to be easy. But it does say life is worthwhile. And I think that is a message that we need to get out there. Life is worth living."
In the best new play category, nods were distributed to Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt,” which explores Jewish identity with an intergenerational story, and “Fat Ham,” James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” set at a Black family’s barbecue in the modern South.
The rest of the category is made up of “Ain’t No Mo,’” the short-lived but critical applauded work by playwright and actor Jordan E. Cooper, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Between Riverside and Crazy” and “Cost of Living,” parallel stories of two caretakers and their respective patients.
“Ain’t No Mo,’” which earned six nominations, begins with the United States government emailing every Black citizen with the offer of a free plane ticket to Africa, and each scene explores how various personalities respond to the offer.
Cooper learned he's been nominated twice — as best playwright and as lead actor — while visiting his childhood home in Texas. He and his family learned of his triumph in the living room where, as a 6-year-old, he put on his first plays.
“It is a little bittersweet,” Cooper said. “We only got a chance to do about like 60 performances and this cast and this creative team were like some of the most talented you’ve ever seen. It was unfortunate that people don’t get a chance to experience it because we really felt like it was something special. Audiences felt like it was something special. And it’s just so beautiful to know that the work that we put in — that blood, that sweat and tears — are not in vain.”
“Parade,” a doomed musical love story set against the real backdrop of a murder and lynching in Georgia in pre-World War I, earned six nods, including for Platt, hoping to win a second Tony after his triumph in 2017 with “Dear Evan Hansen,” and rising star and first-time nominee Micaela Diamond.
Jessica Chastain, an Oscar-winner for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” got her first Tony nomination for a stripped down version of “A Doll’s House” and Wendell Pierce, who won a Tony for producing “Clybourne Park,” earned his first nomination as an actor on Broadway for a blistering revival of “Death of a Salesman."
When Pierce heard the news, he wept. The actor, best known for his role as Bunk on the HBO drama “The Wire,” said his emotions were “the culmination of years of work that can have an impact on people.” He added: “Getting that recognition from your colleagues, I did not know how profoundly moving it would be. And I burst into tears. But they were tears of joy.”
Pierce will face-off against both stars of Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog” — Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Corey Hawkins — as well as former “Will & Grace” star Sean Hayes from “Good Night, Oscar,” and Stephen McKinley Henderson, who earned his second nomination for “Between Riverside and Crazy,” having gotten one in 2019 for “Fences.”
Jodie Comer, the three-time Emmy nominated star of “Killing Eve” earned a nomination in her Broadway debut — although her play, “Prima Facie,” did not get a best new play nod — and Audra McDonald, who has won six Tony Awards can extend her reign if she beats Comer as best leading actress in a play for “Ohio State Murders.” The last slot in the category went to Jessica Hecht, staring in the play “Summer, 1976.”
Another show that closed quickly nevertheless picked up nominations — “KPOP,” which put Korean pop music on Broadway for the first time. “KPOP” got three — including best original score.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's frothy and widely panned “Bad Cinderella” earned zero nods, as did “A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical,” a stage biography of the singer-songwriter who has had dozens of top-40 hits. Hollywood's Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” were left off the list of nominees, but Samuel L. Jackson earned his first Tony nod for “August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson.”
Two well-received revivals from the late Stephen Sondheim — “Sweeney Todd” with Annaleigh Ashford and Josh Groban, and a star-studded “Into the Woods,” were recognized. “Sweeney Todd” received eight nominations including for Groban and Ashford, and “Into the Woods” earned six, including for Brian d’Arcy James and Grammy Award-winning Sara Bareilles, her third Tony nomination.
“Almost Famous,” the stage adaptation of Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical coming-of-age story, earned just one nomination — for music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Crowe and Kitt. And choreographer Jennifer Weber had two reasons to smile Tuesday: Weber earned nominations for “& Juliet” and “KPOP,” her first Broadway shows.
Among the haul for “Some Like It Hot” was a nomination for Ghee for best actor in a musical. Ghee and Alex Newell, who got a best supporting actor nod for “Shucked,” both became the first nonbinary actors nominated for a Tony. (Last year, composer and writer Toby Marlow became the first out nonbinary nominee, going on to win for “Six.”)
Ariana DeBose will host the June 11 awards celebration from New York City's United Palace theater live on CBS and on Paramount+. It is her second-straight stint as host.
Associated Press reporter John Carucci contributed to this report.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits