June 8, 2006

Broadway ponders future of musicals on eve of Tonys

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Broadway is abuzz with award fever
before Sunday's Tony Awards, the culmination of a season of
hits and misses that sparked talk of the death of the American
musical and the triumph of the Anglo-Irish play.

Organizers of the Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live
on CBS television, have signed up a string of celebrity
presenters from Oprah Winfrey to Julia Roberts -- even though
the latter failed to win a nomination for her Broadway debut.

Running neck and neck for best musical are two very
different shows -- the sing-along hit "Jersey Boys," about
1960s pop music group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and
"The Drowsy Chaperone," a parody of 1920s musicals.

Favored to win best new play is Alan Bennett's "The History
Boys," one of three plays from across the Atlantic in the

David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole" starring Cynthia Nixon
as a bereaved mother was the only American play to make the
short list, alongside the Irish pair of Martin McDonagh's "The
Lieutenant of Inishmore" and Conor McPherson's "Shining City."

Among the nominees for acting awards are Nixon, best known
from "Sex and the City," Lynn Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Harry
Connick Jr., Zoe Wanamaker, Chita Rivera and Mark Ruffalo.

In an article summing up the season with the headline "The
Day the Musical Died," New York Times critic Ben Brantley
lamented that nearly all the "new" musicals of the year were
inspired by "brand names" from books, movies or music.

"It can only be a matter of time before 'Ronald McDonald:
The Musical' comes to town," he wrote.


Though Broadway sold a record 12 million tickets in the
2005-06 season, the musical year was notable more for
spectacular fiascoes than hits. Among the flops were "Lennon,"
about the late Beatle, and "Lestat," a big-budget Warner Bros.
show with music by Elton John which closed after a month.

The most original musical was "The Drowsy Chaperone," which
won 13 nominations. It is about a Broadway fan who settles down
to listen to a cast recording of his favorite 1920s musical,
only to have the show come to life in his apartment.

Peppered with witty asides and digs at the state of modern
musicals, the show starts with a voice in the dark uttering a
prayer: "Dear God, please let it be a good show."

"It was in reaction to a kind of earnest, big-budget show
in the 1990s without wit and without humanity," said Bob
Martin, who wrote and stars in the show.

Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones called it "a two-way
referendum on the future of the Great American Musical."

"'Drowsy' is a terrific and endlessly clever show -- with,
in a juicy piece of irony, an original score that actually
pretends not to be one," Jones wrote. But he came out in favor
of "Jersey Boys," arguing it was time for critics to end the
snobbery about using popular music.

"'Jersey Boys' understands that jukebox songs both
underscore pivotal life transitions and can function as
dramatic catharses, if you don't send them up," he said.

The absence of a single big-name host for the Tonys has
sparked sniping that nobody wanted the job -- Winfrey had been
rumored to be in the running despite a possible conflict of
interest since she is a producer of the musical "The Color
Purple" which snagged 11 nominations.

In the end organizers said they would celebrate the 60th
annual awards show with 60 celebrity presenters, including
Julie Andrews, Glenn Close and Liev Schreiber.

A list of nominees can be seen at www.tonyawards.com.