"Million Dollar Quartet," the jukebox musical directed by Arlington’s Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, had a great morning on Tuesday when the Tony Award nominations for the 2009-10 season were announced. The show pulled three nominations and they were in some of the biggest categories the awards cover.
The show was one of four new musicals out of the 10 that opened this season to be nominated for the Best Musical of the Year Tony Award. It also drew a nomination for Best Book for a New Musical and Levi Kreis, making his Broadway debut in an explosive performance as Jerry Lee Lewis, was nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical.
Based on an actual incident — a day in 1956 when Carl Perkins ("Blue Suede Shoes,") Johnny Cash ("I Walk The Line,") Jerry Lee Lewis ("Great Balls of Fire") and Elvis Presley happened to be in the same recording studio in Memphis — the show tells its story crisply and cleanly in order to avoid distracting from the nearly three dozen historic rock ‘n roll hits that constitute the score. As such, the script, or to use Broadway’s lingo "the book," drew a Tony nomination for authors Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. Since all the songs in the show are well known hits from the 1950s it was not eligible for nomination in the other major category, Best Score for a Musical.
Schaeffer attended last year’s Tony Award ceremony along with Managing Director Maggie Boland to pick up the special Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. That award is always announced ahead of time, so there was no suspense as envelopes were opened. This year, three of those envelopes will be of special interest to him.
The competition for the Best Musical award comes from three very different shows. "Memphis" is a fictional tale of the early days of rock ‘n roll which can be expected to be drawing from the same demographic pool for its audiences as "Million Dollar Quartet." A somewhat younger audience is probably drawn to "American Idiot," a punk-rock musical based on the album by the band Green Day. The fourth show, "Fella!" is based on the career of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and is also competing with "Million Dollar Quartet" for the award for Best Book of a Musical.
The Tony nominations come in the wake of similar nominations for other New York theater awards including three for the Drama League Awards in the categories Best Musical and Best Performance for both Kreis and Lance Guest who plays Johnny Cash. Kreis was also nominated for Best Featured Actor in this year’s Outer Critics Circle Awards.
This is the second of the three musicals Schaeffer has directed on Broadway to draw attention from the Tony committee. George Hearn earned a nomination (but not the award) for his performance in the Schaeffer-directed "Putting it Together" in 2000.
The winners will be revealed on the national television broadcast on Sunday, June 13. Each of the four nominees for Best Musical will be given the opportunity to present a scene or song from their show.
"Million Dollar Quartet" is playing an open ended run at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street in New York. Tickets are $56.50 to $136.50.