Harvey Weinstein may have cracked the code to the Oscars, but not the Tonys. On Tuesday morning, it was revealed that Finding Neverland, the first Broadway show on which the movie mogul has served as a lead creative producer — and one that has had a rollercoaster of a ride to this point — was completely snubbed by the Tonys Nominating Committee. Not even its popular male stars, Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer, received invitations to the party on June 7 (although it’s fairly safe to assume that Weinstein will still push to have them perform a number from the popular show on the CBS telecast).
What went wrong? In short, bad chemistry. Broadway operates differently than Hollywood — and to some extent remains suspicious of the muscle of Hollywood productions and people displacing its own hardworking community and coarsening its audience — and by the time Weinstein, who is a New Yorker but embodies Hollywood, realized that, it was already too late.
The 63-year-old spent millions reworking the show — and unceremoniously dumping many of the original creatives associated with it — before it ever came to New York, which did not endear him to the rank-and-file.
When several critics who smelled blood reviewed it out of town, he aggressively challenged them. And while dumping ice on New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel may have felt cathartic, it made for one day’s headlines; the likes of Riedel get to write headlines daily.
Weinstein bought the show’s way onto last year’s Tonys telecast, before its Broadway run was even announced — something that is without precedent — and recruited someone who was never going to be affiliated with it, Jennifer Hudson, to perform one of its songs. That sort of throwing around of one’s weight and false advertising struck many in the theater community as unseemly.
Earlier this year, Weinstein had a very public parting-of-ways with prominent Broadway publicist Rick Miramontez, a fixture in the community whose company represented all four of last year’s best musical Tony nominees. (They have reportedly reconciled.)
Then, while the show was in previews, he landed on the front page of New York’s screaming tabloids. Even though the allegations made were never substantiated, and no charges were or will be filed, the episode cannot have been helpful.
And, most recently, during the run-up to the nominations, tactics of the sort that have long worked for him with the film Academy — i.e. recruiting notables, such as Helen Mirren, who happens to also be the star of his recent film Woman in Gold, to “endorse” Neverland, and announcing an upcoming road tour of Neverland without providing specifics — were quickly recognized for what they were — attempts to make the show seem more embraced by the community than it has been and to court the road show segment of the Tonys electorate, respectively — and may well have backfired. (To be fair, An American in Paris also put out a rushed tour announcement last week with similarly sketchy details.)
During the homestretch, Weinstein adopted a more humble approach, pulling back on advertisements and events while competitors roared ahead. But, by that point, opinions had already been formed and solidified. If Hollywood is a small community, Broadway is miniscule. And while ostentatious showmanship of the sort that Weinstein is famous for has been a staple here since the days of Ziegfeld, it tends to raise eyebrows coming from people who have not yet earned their stripes on the Great White Way.
(If you need proof that money can keep you in business but can’t buy you love on Broadway, consider the fact that Neverland, It’s Only a Play and Fish in the Dark — all stellar performers at the box office — generated a combined one nomination.)
Weinstein is as sharp, savvy and driven as anyone in show business. There is no question that he — like his team, which has worked incredibly hard to make Neverland a success — are disappointed by the decision of the several dozen people who serve on the Tony Nominating Committee. But he may yet have the last laugh: his show is doing tremendously well at the box-office, with advance sales through the roof. As a family entertainment with a familiar title and big-name stars (who can eventually be replaced by other big-name stars) on its marquee, there’s no reason why it can’t be very successful for a very long time, like more than a few other shows that got the cold-shoulder from the Tonys. Plus I suspect that he will be back before long, probably with an edgier show — perhaps a limited engagement — based on material that is more along the lines of what he tends to deal with in the world of film.
Weinstein emailed The Hollywood Reporter: “With 27 nominations today for Fun Home, The Elephant Man, The Audience and Wolf Hall, shows that we either co-invested or co-produced, we couldn’t be more thrilled. As for Finding Neverland, our passion for it remains unwavering. I could not be more proud of the magic created on our stage by Diane Paulus and the entire Neverland team night after night, which has made this show a smash hit.”
He might be jumping the gun a bit by declaring it a hit since, by Broadway industry standards, the big-budget show will need to continue selling tickets at its current rate for more than a year in order to recoup its investment. And there’s an important distinction in the shows cited: Only on Neverland is Weinstein a lead producer, while on the other nominated shows, Weinstein Live Entertainment is among a number of second-tier investor-producers.
Weinstein wasn’t the only prominent person excluded from Tuesday morning’s nominations.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who made a critically-acclaimed Broadway debut in Constellations, was snubbed — just months after also being denied an Oscar nom for Nightcrawler that many pundits had predicted — even as his costar in the two-person show, Ruth Wilson, landed a nom. Several other notable Broadway rookies — among them You Can’t Take It with You‘s Rose Byrne, Fish in the Dark‘s Larry David and Gigi‘s Vanessa Hudgens — were also left out in the cold.
A number of Broadway royals also woke up for nothing. Glenn Close, who has four noms (and three wins) under her belt, seemed like a decent bet to add to that tally this year for her return to Broadway after 20 years in A Delicate Balance, but she was snubbed, as was her entire show. It Shoulda Been You‘s Tyne Daly, You Can’t Take It with You‘s James Earl Jones and It’s Only a Play‘s Nathan Lane, all Tony winners too, didn’t make the cut. And Tony Danza, perhaps the best hope for an acting nom for the long-gone Honeymoon in Vegas, also failed to register.
Onwards and upwards.