And the 2015 Tony Award Nominees Are …

And the 2015 Tony Award Nominees Are …

The good news for theatergoing visitors to New York City is that the top 13 Broadway plays and musicals, in terms of the number of Tony Award nominations garnered on April 28, the day nominations were announced, are all up and running with tickets available. Who doesn’t want to see a show that wears a laurel wreath and trails clouds of glory?

So, it’s standing ovations for the leaders of the pack, An American in Paris and Fun Home. Each has 12 nominations, and both are vying for the top gong: Best Musical. But we’re talking apples and oranges here. An American in Paris is a lighter-than-air, elegant confection with sublime choreography (from ballet to jazz) by Christopher Wheeldon and a lushly romantic George and Ira Gershwin score. Contrary to its name, Fun Home is anything but a house of mirth. Rather, it is a serious coming-of-age story about a lesbian (played by three actresses at three different stages in the character’s life), who discovers her deceased father was also gay.

An American in Paris may be très chic and Fun Home may push politically correct buttons, but Something Rotten!, with a second-place tally of 10 nominations, tickles the funny bone big time and gets my vote for Best Musical. Set in Shakespeare’s time, this is a totally original musical comedy about the world’s very first musical comedy. (For the record, An American in Paris is based on the 1951 MGM movie musical, and Fun Home is taken from Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name.) Something Rotten! is pure fun, inventive, shamelessly silly, tuneful and a laugh riot from overture to finale. A real crowd-pleaser.

Our runner-up for Best Musical? The Visit (5 noms), the darkly absorbing Kander and Ebb musical in which the richest woman in the world returns to her down-and-out hometown to exact revenge on her first and forever lover. Playing the grande dame is Chita Rivera, our pick for Best Actress in a Musical. Folks, Rivera is the very definition of star quality. Miss her performance, and you’ll miss the performance not only of the year, but of a lifetime. Rivera already has two Tonys, so let’s make it a hat trick, voters.

Best Play is a toss-up between The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (6 noms) and Hand to God (5 noms). Both deal with teenage boys coming to terms with grief. The American raunch of Hand to God wins out over the English cool of Curious Incident by a whisker in my book. But I recommend you see both, for their insight into the human condition and for the bravura Tony-nominated performances by their young leading men: Alex Sharp in Curious Incident and Steven Boyer in Hand to God. These guys are heading for the top, with a bullet.

Best Actress? Helen Mirren for The Audience (3 noms). Why? Because she’s the once, future and always queen (as in Elizabeth II). Still, the divine Carey Mulligan gives Mirren a solid run for her money as the quiet center of the season’s most compelling (read: Best) Revival of a Play, Skylight (7 noms). Playing Mulligan’s former lover is the kinetic Bill Nighy, nominated in the Best Actor category. Nighy is the most dangerously unpredictable yet totally in controld (no, that isn’t a contradiction in terms) Brit to grace Broadway since Peter O’Toole played Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (1987). Nighy gives a not-to-be-missed acting master class.

Major-league thumbs-up to On the Town (4 noms), too, for its sex, sass and sailor suits. But while I applaud the Tony Awards nominating committee’s choices, I also have a bone to pick with the committee over what it didn’t nominate. Shame on you, nominating committee: Not a single nod for Finding Neverland, the season’s cleverest and most sumptuous family-friendly musical? Give me a break. Matthew Morrison delivers a gleeful leading-man turn as J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. And cheers to Kelsey Grammer for his diabolically delightful Captain Hook. Good tunes, too. It Shoulda Been You also shoulda picked up a nom or two or three or seven. Fast, funny, touching, surprising, this small-scale sleeper of a musical comedy (with a plus-size performance from Lisa Howard) is a real deal that should definitely be on your radar, Tony recognized or not.

For Executive Editor Francis Lewis' Tony Award picks, see slide show below.