The Stratford Shakespeare Festival's struggling New York production of Jesus Christ Superstar got some well-timed and much-needed good news Tuesday morning, in the form of two Tony Award nominations.
The Broadway transfer is up for best revival of a musical, while actor Josh Young – the show's handsome, youthful Judas – is up for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical.
The first nomination may help boost the middling box office, while the second will improve morale in a production that arrived in New York riding raves and high expectations and has been hit by mixed reviews and cast illnesses.
Now Jesus Christ Superstar is highly unlikely to actually walk away with the Tony for best musical revival on June 10. The Stratford production is the least nominated of the shows in contention, up against Diane Paulus's rejig of the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (10 nominations); a star-studded revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies (eight nominations); and Evita, another early Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, imported from the West End (three nominations).
But what the nomination means is this: the chance to showcase a number from Jesus Christ Superstar in front of seven million television viewers.
"It's a big deal, because you get an awful lot of people who are dedicated to the theatre tuning in," says Stratford artistic director Des McAnuff, who has yet to decide what song the cast will present.
If the Jesus Christ Superstar song hits it out of the park on live TV, the production's investors may have a chance of earning back the estimated $7-million (U.S.) it took to take the show to Broadway.
Since hitting a high of $904,660 during Easter week, the show's weekly gross has been on a downward arc. Last week, the show grossed just $626,676, 47 per cent of its potential at the Neil Simon Theatre.
That's more than twice as much as the revival of Godspell (shut out of the Tonys), but less than half of what Evita is pulling in thanks to the star power of (Tony snubbed) Ricky Martin playing Che.
(There, in a nutshell, is what a big name is worth on Broadway – about $800,000 a week. After all, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita are by the same composer/lyricist team and received roughly similar reviews; they are both ranked as a B on online critical aggregator, Stage Grade.)
Whether or not Jesus Christ Superstar is currently covering its bills is an open question – insiders have estimated the weekly costs for me at anywhere between $500,000 and $700,000, but the actual number is tightly kept secret.
As for Young's nomination, it is a pleasant surprise given that the 31-year-old was ignored by the less prominent awards (Drama Desks, the Outer Critics' Circle) that announce their nominees before the Tonys. "I expected for this not to happen," a clearly shocked Young said.
A native of Pennsylvania who has been at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for the last two seasons, Young arrived in Gotham with strong Tony buzz, but then was hit by a respiratory infection in the week before opening, meaning his understudy was reviewed by many critics.
Young croaked his way through opening night in order to be eligible for the Tonys, but then got sicker and had to leave show for a short spell. "It was so nice of the Tony committee to come see me when I was healthy," he says.
Young is up against Broadway regular Michael Cerveris, who plays Peron in Evita; Michael McGrath in the new Gershwin musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It; and two actors in an old Gershwin musical, Porgy and Bess, Philip Boykin and David Alan Grier. Here, the race is tighter with no obvious front-runner.
Winners will be announced on June 10 on CBS.
By the numbers: Highlights from the rest of the Tony nominations
11: Pack-leading number of nods for Once, Irish playwright Enda Walsh's superlative stage adaptation of the Oscar-nominated indie movie of the same name.
20: Nominations for musicals with songs by Ira and George Gershwin – 10 for Diane Paulus's revival of Porgy and Bess; 10 for Nice Work If You Can Get It, a new musical built around old hits.
4: Number of American scripts up for best new play – Clybourne Park; Other Desert Cities; Peter and the Starcatcher; Venus in Fur.
0: Number of British scripts up for best new play; despite the snub, British playwright Richard Bean's comedy One Man, Two Guvnors is nevertheless up for seven other awards.
2: Number of nominations for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (best scenic design; best costume design).
1: Number of nominations for Spider-Man – that is, Andrew Garfield, who plays the superhero in the upcoming movie and is currently starring in Death of a Salesman.
7: Total number of nods for Mike Nichols's revival of Death of a Salesman, including a best-actor nomination for Philip Seymour Hoffman.
0: Number of nominations for Evita's Elena Rogers and Ricky Martin; Follies's Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige; The Best Man's Angela Lansbury; and the Olivier-winning play about Martin Luther King, The Mountaintop.