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Broadway Gearing up for Tony Awards Ceremony - 2004-06-04

Broadway is getting ready for the biggest live theater event of the year, the 58th Antoinette Perry Awards, known as the Tonys. From VOA's New York Bureau, Barbara Schoetzau takes a look at some of the top contenders for the most prestigious prizes in American theater.

The musical Wicked has dominated pre-award theater talk with 10 Tony nominations. The story of the unlikely friendship between the Good Witch Glinda and the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West is one of the few big hits of the year, filling one of the largest theaters on Broadway to capacity every night.

Producer David Stone said the unconventional friendship between the witches is part of the show's success.

?They are not what we expected them to be,? he said. ?Don't judge a witch by her color.?

Wicked is receiving some tough competition from two other unconventional musicals, including Avenue Q, a musical with puppets. Avenue Q producer, Kevin McCollum, sums up the plot.

?It is a puppet meets puppet, boy loses puppet, boy gets puppet back story,? he explained.

The third show considered a strong contender for best musical is Caroline or Change, a serious look at race relations in the United States in the 1960's, written by well-respected playwright Tony Kushner. Some Broadway watchers think it may be too serious a topic to win in the musical category, but David Cote of Time Out New York magazine thinks the show resonates with audiences.

?Caroline is a play that deals with class and race and anger,? he noted. ?Everyone in America understands that.?

Critics narrow the musical revival category to two shows with music by two Broadway legends. Leonard Bernstein wrote the music in the 1950s for Wonderful Town, the comic story of two small town sisters who come to New York seeking fame and fortune. It was thought to be a sure thing until a late season production of Stephen Sondheim's dark musical Assassins, about nine people who have attempted to kill American presidents, won rave reviews. In the early days of his career, Mr. Sondheim worked with Leonard Bernstein. David Sheward of Back Stage, a weekly newspaper for actors, gives Assassins the edge in the race.

?Whatever metaphor you want to use, Assassins has it dead on target,? he said. ?It is really a brilliant, brilliant production.?

The best play category is a tight race between Frozen, about a mother confronting the killer of her child, and this year's Pulitzer Prize winning play, a one-man tour-de-force, I Am My Own Wife.

Theater critic Patrick Pacheco expects the best actor award to go to Jefferson Mays, who plays almost three-dozen diverse roles in I Am My Own Wife. Based on a true story, the play tells the story of a German transvestite who survived the Nazis and the Communists. Here is an excerpt.

MAYS: ?We were not supposed to exist. We were persona non-grata.?

PACHECO: ?I would think that it would be Jefferson Mays because of the protean performance and very convincingly going from a German transvestite to an American GI.?

MAYS: ?Still I think you may well be the most singular eccentric individual the Cold War ever birthed.?

Mr. Mays faces tough competition from one of Broadway's most popular stars, Kevin Kline as Falstaff in a stunning revival of Shakespeare's "Henry the Fourth."

KLINE: ?If to be fat be to be hated then pharaoh's lean cows are to be loved.?

David Sheward says the play, which combines parts one and two of Henry IV, will take home the award for best revival of a play despite some strong competition.

?I do think that Henry IV deserves to win,? he said. ?It really was a brilliant production combining two mammoth Shakespearean plays into one evening, three and a half hours long and the audience was into it every second.?

The Tony Awards are voted on by members of theatrical organizations, theater professionals and regional producers. The awards ceremony will take place Sunday.