"The Book of Mormon" nabbed a leading 14 Tony Award nominations Tuesday, 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.
"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 Rory O'Malley, who won a nomination for best actor in a featured role for "Mormon."
As for the Mormons, the church would not add to the comment they first issued when the musical 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" for best musical. 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."
"It's a good morning," said Lindsay-Abaire. "I was already so thrilled and honored to be part of such an extraordinary season, to get Tony nominations is the cherry on the sundae."
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.
Falco next faces off in the featured actress category against Ellen Barkin for "The Normal Heart," Elizabeth Rodriguez for "The Motherf---- With the Hat," Joanna Lumley in "La Bete" and Judith Light for "Lombardi."
"I was hoping and praying for this, but you never know for sure," said Light, who earned a best featured actress nomination for playing the wife of football coach Vince Lombardi. "I feel so grateful and blessed to get to do the work that I so love."
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" as well as being its choreographer. "'Anything Goes' is one of those shows that is there to delight and entertain and transport the audience."
Foster will now face-off against Patina Miller for "Sister Act," Donna Murphy from "The People in the Picture and Beth Leavel for "Baby It's You!" Foster, who already has a Tony, found out she'd earned her fifth nominations by getting several text messages while still in bed. She has little time to enjoy the moment, though: Foster was preparing for Tuesday night's performance. "It never stops," she said, laughing.
Miller, who stepped into Whoopi Goldberg's role from the 1992 movie, said "Sister Act" is close to her heart. "It was meant for me," she said. "I hoped and prayed I would get the opportunity. So when the opportunity came, I just went with it."
Murphy got the good news only a few days after her show opened. "I am thrilled," she said. "To wake up to a lot of emails and call from friends and colleagues and ... being acknowledged for something I'm proud of is pretty good stuff."
The category for best actor in a play has Pacino, Brian Bedford in "The Importance of Being Earnest," Bobby Cannavale in "The Motherf---- With the Hat," Joe Mantello in "The Normal Heart" and Mark Rylance in "Jerusalem."
Bedford, who plays the fearsome Lady Bracknell in the Oscar Wilde comedy, had one small regret -- that he also didn't pick up a nomination for best director. "But that seems a bit greedy," he said with a laugh.
Instead, director nods went to Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris for "War Horse," Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe for "The Normal Heart," Anna D. Shapiro for "The Motherf---- With the Hat" and Daniel Sullivan for "The Merchant of Venice."
The best director nominations in a musical went to Rob Ashford for "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," Marshall for "Anything Goes," Nicholaw and Parker for "Mormon," and Susan Stroman for "The Scottsboro Boys."
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."
"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.
"I had no idea that it would be this big. The show continues to surprise even me with how well received it is," said Gad. The competition for best leading actor in a musical will pit Gad and Rannells against Norbert Leo Butz from "Catch Me If You Can," Joshua Henry from "The Scottsboro Boys" and Tony Sheldon, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical "
Sheldon's nomination was one of two that "Priscilla" picked up -- the other being for the lavish fantasy costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. "Just to be playing it on Broadway is reward enough without this sort of icing on the cake," said Sheldon.
The awards will be handed out June 12 at the Beacon Theatre, broadcast live by CBS.