NEW YORK — "The Book of Mormon" nabbed a leading 14 Tony Award nominations Tuesday morning, earning the profane musical one nod short of the record for most nominations and putting it in the driver's seat when the awards are handed out next month.
An unlikely hit about two Mormon missionaries who find more than they bargained for in Africa, the musical was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of Comedy Central's irreverent "South Park," and Robert Lopez, co-creator of the equally irreverent Tony Award-winning musical "Avenue Q." All got nominations.
"The Book of Mormon" has been a critical and box-office darling even without big-name stars and has tapped into a decidedly un-Broadway vein with songs about AIDS and one man's loud lament about having maggots in his scrotum.
"This is a brand of humor that very much existed in our culture — on television and films," said Andrew Rannells, who won a best leading actor in a musical nomination. "It was just not reflected on Broadway. Obviously, there's a huge audience for this so why shouldn't it be a musical?"
On the animated series "South Park," about a group of potty-mouthed school kids in Colorado, Parker and Stone have lampooned everything and everybody from Jesus to Saddam Hussein to Barbra Streisand to Scientology to Tiger Woods to New Jersey. And they've mocked The Church of Latter-day Saints on the Comedy Central TV show, too, mostly by showing Mormons as relentlessly cheery.
As for the Mormons, the church issued a statement when the musical first opened: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."
The second-highest nominations went to "The Scottsboro Boys," a searing tale of 1930s injustice framed as a minstrel show. Though it closed abruptly after playing just 49 performances and 29 previews, it received 12 nominations, including best musical, best book of a musical, best original score as well as a leading actor and two featured actor nods. It marked the final collaboration of songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb.
"Mormon" and "Scottsboro" face competition from "Catch Me If You Can" and "Sister Act." The plays that were nominated include the heartwarming human-puppet hybrid "War Horse," David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People," Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem" and Stephen Adly Guirgis' "The Motherf---- With the Hat."
Among individual actors who earned nominations were Al Pacino, who played Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice," Vanessa Redgrave in "Driving Miss Daisy," Edie Falco in "The House of Blue Leaves" and Ellen Barkin in "The Normal Heart."
"I am deeply honored to have been acknowledged in this way — for theater in New York City — this is a very big thrill for me," said Falco, who found out she had been nominated while waiting for a book fair to begin at her son's school.
"I was hoping and praying for this, but you never know for sure," said Judith Light, who earned a best featured actress nomination for playing the wife of football coach Vince Lombardi in the play "Lombardi."
"I feel so grateful and blessed to get to do the work that I so love."
She faces competition from Ellen Barkin in "The Normal Heart," Edie Falco in "The House of Blue Leaves," Joanna Lumley in "La Bete," and Elizabeth Rodriguez, "The Motherf---- with the Hat."
Some notable snubs included James Earl Jones in "Driving Miss Daisy," Daniel Radcliffe in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and Aaron Tveit from "Catch Me If You Can."
The Cole Porter comedy "Anything Goes" was nominated for nine awards, including best revival, best leading actress for Sutton Foster, a best featured role nomination for Adam Godley, best scenic and costume design.
"I'm very happy. I'm thrilled for our show," said Kathleen Marshall, who picked up her career sixth and seventh nominations for directing "Anything Goes" and its high-kicking choreography. "'Anything Goes' is one of those shows that is there to delight and entertain and transport the audience."
"The Book of Mormon" won nominations for best direction, and Casey Nicholaw won a best choreography nomination and shared honors with Parker for best direction of a musical. "Mormon" also earned its two missionaries — Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells — acting nominations, as well as Nikki M. James for featured actress, best book of a musical and best original score.
"The show continues to surprise even me with how well received it is," said Gad. "This is dangerous in the best sense. People are excited when they sit down in those seats because they don't know what's going to happen," said Gad.
With 14 nominations, "The Book of Mormon" takes its place among Broadway musicals with the most Tony nominations, just below "The Producers" and "Billy Elliot," which each won 15 nominations.
"I never expect to be honored for anything, and it's extremely humbling to get so many nominations for this show," said Lopez. "The way it's been received has boggled my mind."
"Priscilla Queen of the Desert" earned two nominations — one for the lavish fantasy costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, and one for Tony Sheldon, who won a nod for best leading actor in a musical. "I'm very proud to be an ambassador for 'Priscilla,'" said the Australian actor. "Just to be playing it on Broadway is reward enough without this sort of icing on the cake."
Of the 42 new productions this season, there were 14 musicals — 12 new ones and two revivals — and 25 plays, a whopping 16 of them brand new. The last time there were 16 new plays produced in a single season was 1986-87.
It is also shaping up to be a lucrative time for Broadway, with total box-office grosses already at more than $987,057,484, or 3.6 percent more than the same time last year. Attendance this season is at over 11.4 million, up 3 percent from this time last year.
The awards will be handed out June 12 at a new location: the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan after producers lost their long-term space at Radio City Music Hall. It will be broadcast live by CBS.