Do the Tonys have an impact on Utah?

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 7 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Martin Vidnovic (as Max von Mayerling), Benjamin Eakeley (as Joe Gillis) and Lynne Wintersteller (as Norma Desmond) in “Sunset Boulevard” at Pioneer Theatre Company.

Pioneer Theatre Company

Enlarge photo»

NEW YORK CITY — What effect do the Tonys have on the plays selected for production in Utah theaters?

The theater equivalent to an Oscar can dramatically increase a show’s ticket sales, and some producers will keep a money-losing show onstage in the hope that Tony love will turn its fortunes around.

Also, for theater observers, the Tonys are a parlor game to remark on the snubbed shows and performers. Case in point: After his 2009 “Hair” nomination, Utah native Will Swenson was overlooked for his performance this year. (But he’s in good company: James Earl Jones, Robin Williams and Chris Rock got the cold shoulder from Tony this year; and for Daniel Radcliffe, this is his second Broadway snub.)

With Tuesday’s nominations, it’s a good time to check in with Utah’s largest theater companies — Hale Orem, Hale West Valley, Pioneer Theatre and Utah Shakespeare Company, alphabetically — and review if a Tony honor will add a production to the short list of plays to be considered for local production. The question posed to area creative directors generated some interesting responses, along with notable tidbits of the companies’ plans for upcoming seasons. So with the Tonys in mind, here’s a look at four Utah theater-production companies.

For the Pioneer Theatre Company, a Tony “tremendously adds to the name recognition a new title receives,” explained Kirsten Park, PTC’s director of marketing. “While our current Tony-award-winning musical ‘Sunset Boulevard’ needs no introduction to most people, next year’s selection, ‘Next to Normal,’ would probably be unknown to the average Utahn and be more of a challenge to market.”

Enthusiasm is high for the regional premiere of “Next to Normal,” which in addition to the Pulitzer Prize also earned 11 nominations and three Tonys.

“I saw ‘Next to Normal’ in New York just before the Tonys were awarded and was just blown away by the strength of the production,” artistic director Charles Morey said. “I knew that when the show became available, it was a musical that I really wanted to see presented at Pioneer Theatre.

“It’s nice to have the Tony imprimatur on a show,” Morey added. “Although with the exception of the shows that go stratospheric with all the publicity of a huge megahit and multiple critical awards, a Tony is not really in the common vocabulary anymore like it was when everyone in the country read Time or Newsweek and was aware of the currently running Broadway shows.”

PTC helped “Sunset Boulevard” cast member Martin Vidnovic celebrate his daughter Laura Benanti’s Tony nomination this year. (Critical darling Benanti earned a Tony award for her performance in the 2008 “Gypsy” revival.)

Next season’s “Man of La Mancha” won five statues and is a clear favorite of Utah audiences.

“The Tonys are a good indicator of what’s hot at the moment,” said Utah Shakespeare Festival artistic director Brian Vaughn. “We do watch the trends in New York, and especially the revivals that are produced.

“We are dedicated to the entire Shakespeare canon, but we also read a slew of plays throughout the year, and we’re also actively creating our own adaptations of literary works,” he explained.

USF’s current summer season includes “The Music Man,” winner of six 1958 Tonys, and the 2012 eight-play season promises a Tony-winning musical, “a knockdown comedy, a prominent literary adaptation and one surprise production,” he said.

Vaughn called out one nominee, “War Horse,” as a contender for a future season at the Cedar City theater. “It is a major theatrical event with a beautiful, very moving story.”

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