Scouting the San Diego connections in an off year for locally bred shows at the Tony Awards
Both the Old Globe Theatre and the crosstown La Jolla Playhouse have lugged home loads of Tony Awards since the Playhouse-bred “Big River” became the first show to leap from San Diego to Broadway 34 years ago.
But those two local powerhouses won’t be needing to clear out more room in their trophy cases for the 2019 edition of the annual Broadway theater honors, taking place tonight at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
That’s because there are no San Diego-originated shows in the running this time around — a relatively rare state of affairs.
What the 2019 Tonys field does include, as is almost always the case (even in an off year for the local theaters), are individual nominees with strong ties to our town.
And several of the most prominent are connected with three of the most-nominated musicals this time around: “Hadestown,” which earned a leading 14 nods; “Ain’t Too Proud,” in second with 12; and “The Prom,” whose seven nominations were fifth-most behind “Tootsie” (11) and “Beetlejuice” (eight).
As James Corden — a Tony winner himself for “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012 — returns to host tonight’s show for the first time since 2016, here are seven locals to look for:
Des McAnuff: The two-time La Jolla Playhouse artistic director, and the man who led the company’s rise to national prominence starting in 1983, is nominated this year for directing “Ain’t Too Proud,” the musical about the R&B sensations the Temptations. (The show is also nominated for best musical.)
It’s McAnuff’s sixth Tony nomination for direction, with two previous wins, for “The Who’s Tommy” and “Big River.” Both “Big River” and the McAnuff-directed “Jersey Boys” also were named best musical. His Playhouse-launched staging of “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” earned two acting nominations last year.
Casey Nicholaw: The Clairemont High School graduate came up through San Diego Junior Theatre and the Old Globe, and now he’s one of Broadway’s most in-demand directors; twice in recent years, he has had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.
This year, Nicholaw is nominated for directing best-musical nominee “The Prom,” a show about four faded Broadway stars who get involved in the furor over a Midwestern high schooler’s determination to take her girlfriend to her prom.
It’s Nicholaw’s 11th nomination, for both direction and choreography; his one win so far came in 2011 for co-directing “The Book of Mormon.”
Patrick Page: The veteran Broadway actor, known for roles from Scar in “The Lion King” to the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” is an associate artist of the Old Globe. At one time about a decade ago he was a regular at the Balboa Park theater, with memorable turns in “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “Twelfth Night” and more.
This year, Page is nominated as featured actor for “Hadestown,” writer-composer-lyricist Anaïs Mitchell’s folk-opera re-envisioning of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. (Director Rachel Chavkin was at the Globe in 2014 with “The Royale.”)
It’s Page’s first Tony nomination, and one that’s been a long time coming.
Robert Brill: The set designer, a University of California San Diego grad and co-founder of the groundbreaking San Diego company Sledgehammer Theatre, has been a frequent collaborator of McAnuff’s over the years, and is a former La Jolla Playhouse resident artist. He received his third Tony nomination this year for “Ain’t Too Proud.”
Jack O’Brien: The longtime artistic chief of the Old Globe left the theater in 2008 after 25 years, and he has long since become one of Broadway’s most esteemed directors. His eight Tony nominations include three wins.
O'Brien is not nominated individually this year, but his production of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” earned nods in three categories, including best revival of a play.
Annette Bening: The four-time Academy Award nominee is a graduate of San Diego’s Patrick Henry High and also attended San Diego Mesa College. She’s Tony-nominated this year for O'Brien’s production of “All My Sons”; her sole previous nomination was for “Coastal Disturbances” in 1987.
In a Union-Tribune interview last month, O'Brien said he and Bening first crossed paths when she auditioned at the Globe some 30 years ago, before she became a film star. One of the plays the Globe was getting ready to stage was “Romeo and Juliet,” and as O'Brien recalls it: “I said to the director, ‘You’ve got to read her as Juliet. You just have to. Because she’s obviously a genius.’
“And she didn’t know (the material) very well, but she galloped apace. And I can still hear it. It was one of the greatest auditions I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Bartlett Sher: Three decades ago, Sher was on the vanguard of political theater in San Diego, launching two maverick companies here. He has since joined the Broadway elite; the resident director of New York’s Lincoln Center Theater has been Tony-nominated nine times, with a win in 2008 for his revival of “South Pacific.”
This year, he’s nominated for directing “To Kill a Mockingbird,” writer Aaron Sorkin’s new adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel; the play earned nine nominations overall, although not one for Sorkin himself.
The 73rd Annual Tony Awards
When: 8 p.m. today (tape-delayed on the West Coast)
Where: KFMB-TV Channel 8
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