UPDATED, Tue 16 May 2006 at 8.00pm: Further quotes and analysis of British success has now been added to this story.

Nominations for the play categories in this year’s 60th annual Tony Awards, announced today (16 May 2006) in New York, are dominated by British and Irish imports, with Alan Bennett’s National Theatre production of The History Boys and the Dublin Gate Theatre revival of Irishman Brian Friel’s Faith Healer leading the way.

The British stars of the two plays – Richard Griffiths (who won a hat trick of British Best Actor prizes for his performance as Bennett’s unconventional history teacher) and Ralph Fiennes respectively – are going head-to-head for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. As part of The History Boys six nominations, there are also acting nods for double Whatsonstage.com Award winner Samuel Barnett (Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play – in which he competes with Faith Healer’s Ian McDiarmid, who originally played the role of Teddy to Critics’ Circle Award-winning success, then also directed by Jonathan Kent, at the Almeida in 2001) and Frances de la Tour (Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play – who’s similarly up against a fellow Brit in Zoe Wanamaker, nominated for the US revival of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing!).

Elsewhere, The History Boys is nominated for Best Direction of a Play (for NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner), Best Lighting Design of a Play and Best Play. In the last field, three-quarters of the contenders are British or Irish: Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore (one of its five nominations) and Conor McPherson’s Shining City (both with US casts) join The History Boys along with the sole American play, David Lindsay Abaire’s Rabbit Hole.

There’s other British play interest in the form of Lynn Redgrave and Richard Burton’s daughter Kate, both nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play – for the same play, the US revival of Somerset Maugham’s English classic The Constant Wife.

The Almeida’s stage adaptation of Festen, which won numerous UK awards but opened to poor reviews with an American cast last month on Broadway, was overlooked in today’s nominations. Despite being one of New York’s hottest tickets, Hollywood actress Julia Roberts also failed to win a nomination for her performance in Richard Greenberg’s play Three Days of Rain.

In the musical categories, the strongest British entrant is John Doyle’s compact actor-musician revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which scores a total of six nominations. They are: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Doyle), Best Orchestrations (Sarah Travis), and for its US cast, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Michael Cerveris), Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Patti LuPone), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Manoel Felciano).

It’s slim pickings for other British-led musicals, with single nominations apiece for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White (Best Original Score), Elton John’s vampiric Lestat (Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Carolee Carmello) and Phil CollinsTarzan (Best Lighting Design of a Musical).

North American musicals dominated the musical categories, in particular: The Drowsy Chaperone with 13 nominations (the most for any production in this year’s race), The Color Purple with 11, and the revival of The Pajama Game, starring crooner Harry Connick Jr, with nine, and Franki Valli homage Jersey Boys with eight.

British producer Sonia Friedman, who is behind two of this year’s Tony Award nominees (Faith Healer with four nods and The Woman in White with one), attributes British dramatic success to two Americans, New York producers Bob Boyett and Bill Haber, and their first-look arrangement for transfer rights of all National Theatre productions. Since striking their deal with NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner three years ago (See News, 24 Sep 2003), Boyett and Haber have had Broadway successes with the NT’s Jumpers, Democracy, The Pillowman and now The History Boys.

Speaking to Whatsonstage.com today, Friedman commented: “Bill and Bob have opened that door for us and whetted the appetites of American audiences for bigger, stronger drama that would normally have been seen in the not-for-profit, Off-Broadway sector, if at all. Producers like myself have looked at what they’ve achieved and been more willing to take the risk. That’s why there seems to be this extraordinary explosion of British work now.”

The 2006 Tony Awards ceremony will be held in New York on Sunday 11 June 2006.

- by Terri Paddock