NEW YORK "In the Heights," the little barrio musical that brought a fresh salsa and hip-hop beat to Broadway, dominated the 2008 Tony Award nominations this week, picking up 13, more than any other show.
But it was a day of other new faces, too, particularly in the best-musical category, where "Heights" will compete against diverse, high-spirited shows such as "Passing Strange," "Cry-Baby" and "Xanadu."
For Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and composer of "In the Heights," the nominations were a double treat. He received two (actor-musical and score) nominations for "Heights," a slice of life look at the Latino residents of Upper Manhattan. The musical began last year off-Broadway before moving to the big time.
"It's so much fun just doing the show eight times a week," Miranda said. "I'm doing what I love every day. So this is all just icing, gravy, whatever you put on the cake."
Yet Stew, author and star of "Passing Strange," the story of one man's journey through sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, did Miranda two better. He received four nominations for the same show actor, score, book and orchestrations of a musical. It's the first time that's happened since Elizabeth Swados received four nominations in 1978 for "Runaways."
"I would have been happy with whatever they gave us because this whole experience has been so unprecedented for us as rock musicians," said Stew, who is making his Broadway debut in "Passing Strange." "So we're just surprised that we actually walk to work every day and the show's still standing there. We're surprised anytime we go on stage."
Tradition was served by Lincoln Center Theater's elegant revival of "South Pacific." The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, first seen on Broadway nearly 60 years ago, received 11 nominations, including one for musical revival where its competition is "Gypsy," "Sunday in the Park With George" and "Grease."
As expected, "August: Osage County," already a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, received a best-play nomination and six others. Tracy Letts' play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma family faces "The 39 Steps," Patrick Barlow's spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock film favorite; Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer," a Yuletide tale of a devilish poker game; and Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll," a look at recent Czech history interspersed with a cavalcade of pop music.
There were a few starry names in the acting categories, most notably Patrick Stewart, Laurence Fishburne and S. Epatha Merkerson.
"There's never been an actor who has had greater, brilliant support than I do from our other 17 actors," said a jubilant Stewart, who plays the title character in "Macbeth," imported from England's Chichester Festival. "So in ... this fantastically creative environment, (director) Rupert (Goold) just set me free to explore this poor, sad, murderous madman and have as much fun with it as possible."
Said Fishburne, now playing Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the one-man show "Thurgood": "I am totally, completely shocked and amazed by all of this. More than that, I am grateful and truly blessed that every night I get to play one of the most compelling and extraordinary men from the 20th century."
Their competition for the actor-play prize include Ben Daniels, a scheming nobleman in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"; Mark Rylance, a mild-mannered visitor to Paris in "Boeing-Boeing"; and Rufus Sewell, an accidental Czech dissident in "Rock 'n' Roll."
"I started in the theater, so it's a real honor for me to get the recognition from the theater community because it's really where my roots are," said Merkerson of her portrayal of a lonely housewife in a revival of William Inge's "Come Back, Little Sheba."
Merkerson faces Eve Best, the sexually provocative wife in "The Homecoming"; Kate Fleetwood, Stewart's bloody helpmate in "Macbeth"; and two women from "August: Osage County," Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton, who play a combative mother and daughter.
Patti LuPone as a ferocious stage mother in "Gypsy" heads the list of nominees for the actress-musical prize. Others nominated include Kelli O'Hara as the sunny Nellie Forbush of "South Pacific"; Faith Prince, the unhappily married mother in "A Catered Affair"; Jenna Russell, the artist's lover in "Sunday in the Park With George"; and Kerry Butler, a roller-skating Greek muse in "Xanadu."
Besides Miranda and Stew, the actor-musical nominees are Paulo Szot, the French plantation owner in "South Pacific"; Daniel Evans, painter Georges Seurat in "Sunday in the Park With George"; and Tom Wopat, the resentful husband in "A Catered Affair."
Yet some big-name actors were left out of the Tony mix most notably Kevin Kline, Nathan Lane and James Earl Jones. Snubbed for a coveted best-musical slot were Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," Disney's "The Little Mermaid" and "A Catered Affair." Left without any nominations at all were the popular revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and the Mike Nichols-directed production of "The Country Girl."
A special lifetime achievement Tony will go to Stephen Sondheim, with a special Tony awarded posthumously to orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett, who died in 1981. The regional theater Tony will go to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
The winners in 26 competitive categories will be announced June 15 in a three-hour CBS telecast from Radio City Music Hall.