NEW YORK -- Who says Broadway won't take a risk? "The Book of Mormon" and "The Scottsboro Boys" -- two very different musicals with very different fates -- have emerged with the most Tony Award nominations this season.
"Mormon," which induces giggles with its diarrhea jokes and songs about body parts, and "Scottsboro," a searing look at a racial injustice that featured a graphic whipping, clearly pushed the boundaries of traditional Broadway fare. One paid off, the other did not.
"People are excited when they sit down in those seats because they don't know what's going to happen," said Rory O'Malley, whose turn in "Mormon" earned him a nomination for best featured actor in a musical. "This is dangerous in the best sense."
That also could sum up the sentiment created by John Kander and Fred Ebb's "Scottsboro," based on the real story of nine black teenagers wrongly put on death row in the 1930s for allegedly raping two white girls. It closed abruptly in December after playing just 49 performances and 29 previews.
The musical frames the story as a minstrel show -- that deeply racist storytelling device performed by whites in blackface -- and then immediately subverts it by having an all-black cast. Some performances of the show even drew protesters who claimed the musical was actually embracing the minstrel convention.
"It was a subversive piece, and a piece that was going to push buttons, stir hearts, but we also knew that it was the truth," said Joshua Henry, who won a best leading actor nomination for playing the lead Scottsboro boy.
"Mormon" received 14 nominations, and "Scottsboro" 12.