Any lingering worries that Americans might not “get” the quintessentially English working-class screen-to-stage hit Billy Elliot are banished once and for all today as the Broadway transfer of the musical dominates the race for the 63rd annual Tony Awards. In the shortlists, announced this morning in New York, Billy Elliot has earned a whopping 15 nominations, more than any other production – its next closest rival, US suburban musical Next to Normal, clocks in with 11 nominations.

In addition to the most coveted prize of Best Musical, Billy Elliot is up for Best Book (by Lee Hall) and Best Original Score (by Elton John and Hall) and also receives nods for almost every member of the reunited London creative team: Best Direction of a Musical (Stephen Daldry), Choreography (Peter Darling), Orchestrations (Martin Koch), Scenic Design (Ian MacNeil), Costume Design (Nicky Gillibrand), Lighting (Rick Fisher) and Sound (Paul Arditti).

In the performance categories, there are five more Billy Elliot nominations. Briton Haydn Gwynne, who made her Broadway debut reprising her original UK performance as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, competes with her American co-star Carole Shelley for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. Two more co-stars – David Bologna and Gregory Jbara – go head-to-head for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical.

And, as in London - where three years ago, the musical triumphed at the Whatsonstage.com, Laurence Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle – the three boys who alternate in the title role (David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish on Broadway) have been jointly nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.

Based on the 2000 film by the same creative team and set against the North-eastern mining strikes of the 1980s, Billy Elliot recounts the tale of a motherless boy whose father wants him to learn to box but who instead discovers a love for ballet that leads him from secret lessons to a place at the Royal Ballet School. The musical had its world premiere in May 2005 at the West End’s Victoria Palace, where it’s still running. The production on Broadway, where a glossary of the vernacular is included in programmes, opened to critical raves on 13 November 2008 (See The Goss, 14 Nov 2008).


Meanwhile, London’s Donmar Warehouse and the Old Vic lead the plays field with their transfers of, respectively, Mary Stuart (first seen in the West End in 2005) and Alan Ayckbourn trilogy The Norman Conquests (which transformed the Old Vic auditorium last October). Both productions have received seven nominations apiece; they vie with one another for: Best Revival of a Play and Best Direction of a Play (Phyllida Lloyd versus Matthew Warchus, who’s nominated a second time in the same category for Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, another play first seen in London).

From the original Old Vic company of The Norman Conquests, all of whom transferred with the production, no fewer than four are also in Tony contention. Stephen Mangan and Paul Ritter compete for Featured Actor in a Play, while Jessica Hynes and Amanda Root battle each other for Featured Actress (where they’re in the running with, amongst others, veteran Brit Angela Lansbury for Blithe Spirit). The trilogy’s final nod goes to Rob Howell for Scenic Design.

In yet another in-production head-to-head, Mary Stuart’s British leading ladies, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter, who reprise their London performances as Stuart and Queen Elizabeth, are both nominated for Leading Actress in a Play. The Schiller revival is also in the running for Costume Design of a Play (Anthony Ward), Lighting Design of a Play (Hugh Vanstone) and Sound Design of a Play (Paul Arditti – which is in addition to his Billy Elliot nomination in the equivalent musical field).

The next nearest play rival is God of Carnage, with six nominations including Best Play. Though the Broadway premiere reunites the London creative team, led by Matthew Warchus, it’s been Americanised and recast with US screen stars - Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini (of The Sopranos fame). David and Harden are both nominated for Leading Actress in a Play, and Daniels and Gandolfini are up for Leading Actor in a Play. The production is tipped to transfer back to London with the American cast (See The Goss, 30 Mar 2009).

The West End revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus earns nominations for Lighting and Design, though nothing for its stars Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths. And Shrek, the first big musical out of Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions’ stable, which is another show tipped for a West End berth, is up for eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The 2009 Annual Antoinette Perry \"Tony\" Awards will be announced in a star-studded ceremony at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on Sunday 7 June 2009. For this year’s full shortlists, visit www.tonyawards.com.

- by Terri Paddock