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Nominees for Tony Awards Get Mixed Reviews - 2003-06-04


Broadway is getting ready for the theatrical event of the year on Sunday, June 8, the Antoinette Perry Awards, known as the Tonys. From VOA's New York Bureau, Barbara Schoetzau has this preview of the United States' most prestigious live theater awards.

It was not a good year for original plays on Broadway. Most of the last year's hit shows are either revivals, plays based on popular movies or, in one case, an opera classic.

Hairspray, the comic musical based on a 1960s cult movie, dominated the ceremony announcing the Tony nominees, winning 13 nods, including best musical and best actor for Harvey Fierstein, who plays a Baltimore housewife.

"The thing about Hairspray is that we have not had a chick [female] show in a long time," explained Mr. Fierstein. "In this show, the male characters are secondary. It is us chicks out there who are running the show, that are running the world and it is so exciting."

Hairspray, opened to unanimous critical acclaim in August, and continues to play to full houses. So far, Hairspray and Mr. Fierstein have swept all other theater awards.

But late in the season movie star Antonio Banderas stole some of Mr. Fierstein's thunder in a revival of the musical Nine, based on Federico Fellini's classic film 8 ˝, which opened to rave reviews in April.

Mr. Banderas' nomination for best actor in a musical is one of eight nominations for the show, including best musical revival, making this one of the most competitive races this year. Vying for the honors will be a well-received revival of Gypsy, starring Broadway veteran Bernadette Peters.

Another contender is La Boheme, film director Baz Luhrmann's updated and shortened staging of the Puccini opera La Boheme, which is nominated in six categories.

The most acclaimed drama of the year is a star-studded production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, a play some critics consider the greatest American drama. All four principles, Brian Dennehy, Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Sean Leonard and Philip Seymour Hoffman, were nominated for their roles in what one reviewer called "a mighty cast." The drama is viewed as a thinly veiled autobiographical look at O'Neill's disintegrating family, with Ms. Redgrave portraying the morphine-addicted mother.

Leonard: What's all the fuss about? Let's forget about it.

Dennehy: Yes, forget. Forget everything and face nothing. That is a convenient philosophy if you have no life if you have ambition in life except...

Redgrave: James, do be quiet.

Interestingly, Ms. Redgrave and her four rivals for the leading actress award are all British or Irish.

Movie actor Paul Newman will also be in the running in the best dramatic actor category for his role in a limited engagement earlier in the year of another American classic, Our Town.

In the new play category, Take Me Out, a drama about a homosexual professional baseball player, is heavily favored to win. Take Me Out has won just about every other award given this year for original drama.

One of the most talked about performances in the previous year was actress Linda Emond's almost 60-minute monologue in the off-Broadway sold-out hit Homebody-Kabul. This year, Ms. Emond has created a stir again, this time on Broadway where she is favored to win the best supporting actress award, portraying a browbeaten wife at a disastrous dinner party in Life Times Three.

"I don't agree at all," said Ms. Emond. "You'll probably laugh but what is the difference? My husband snickers and sighs every time I open my mouth. Our relationship is going down the toilet. We may as well admit it."

Of course, there will be surprises. One of the contenders to watch is Movin Out, the dance play directed by renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp to Billy Joel music. Movin Out received mixed reviews but won 10 nominations and is drawing in audiences.

One certainty is the lifetime achievement award which will be given Cy Feuer, the producer of legendary Broadway shows such as Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying.