NEW YORK -- For three actors, the Tony Award nominations are somewhat bittersweet.
Sweet, because they'd each gotten a prestigious nod. Bitter, because their shows were long gone.
"It's frustrating to all of us," said Keith Carradine, nominated for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical for "Hands on a Hardbody," which closed faster than any other new musical this season.
His show, based on a cult documentary about an endurance contest at a Texas car dealership, had a book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Wright and songs by Phish lead singer Trey Anastasio and stage veteran Amanda Green.
But despite that exciting pedigree, the musical lasted only 56 performances, although it earned three Tony nominations, including one for best original score.
"The bottom line is: We had the life that we had. It was an exquisite, bright, brief existence," said Carradine. "I felt as though we did everything right creatively. It's just the marketplace is so unfathomable."
Carolee Carmello can commiserate. Her show about an American evangelical leader, "Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson," lasted only four more shows than "Hands on a Hardbody," becoming a victim of dreadful reviews and poor ticket sales.
But the 24-member Tony nominating committee made up of theater professionals didn't forget her heroic attempt to make it work despite bad songs and a bombastic story by TV host Kathie Lee Gifford.
"It's so really nice to be remembered. I'm really so flattered," said Carmello, who earned a best leading actress in a musical Tony nomination, the show's solitary nod.
"It was a role of a lifetime. How often do you get that kind of stuff to sink your teeth into? So I'm grateful for that," she said. "Underneath that layer of gratitude is frustration because I wanted to be able to do it a little longer."
Robert McClure played the Little Tramp in "Chaplain," the first new show of the Broadway season. Critics thought McClure made a terrific Charlie Chaplin, even if they thought the story was terribly cliched. It managed to last 159 shows, but McClure got a best leading actor in a musical nomination.
The musical represented years of work for McClure, who first played the lead at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2006. He also played the role at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. It represented his first big lead part on Broadway, and he said he tried to find the "melancholy everyman" under the silly hat and mustache.
But as athletic and committed as McClure was -- he was in nearly every scene of the 2½-hour show, including roller skating and balancing on a tightrope -- the show failed to ignite much passion. Graciously, McClure said he viewed his nomination as a way to be an advocate for all the people who worked on the show over the years.
"That's the real honor for me. I know the work that they've put in and the heart they put in and we all know that none of us can do this alone," he said. "Truly, a nomination for me is a nomination for everyone who worked on it."
All three actors face stiff competition at the June 9 Tony Awards. Carradine faces off against Charl Brown from "Motown The Musical," Will Chase of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," Gabriel Ebert of "Matilda: The Musical" and Terrence Mann in "Pippin."
Carmello will compete against Stephanie J. Block in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," Valisia LeKae from "Motown: The Musical," Patina Miller in "Pippin" and Laura Osnes from "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella."
McClure must beat out Bertie Carvel in "Matilda The Musical," Santino Fontana from "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella," and both Billy Porter and Stark Sands from "Kinky Boots."
They might not be favorites -- and their shows might be forgotten -- but all three have proved they can shine -- even in uneven material. Plus, they each learned something, especially McClure. Asked what skills he learned, he lists: "how to walk a tightrope, how to play a violin, I had to roller skate blindfolded, and I had to run on a table that was built like a Lazy Susan and the top spun."