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Anticipating the Tony nominations

Which plays and musicals will garner theater's top awards?
/ Source: The Associated Press

Let the nail-biting begin.

From “Avenue Q” to “Wicked,” from “A Raisin in the Sun” to “I Am My Own Wife,” Broadway looks toward Monday’s 2004 Tony Awards nominations with anxious hope.

The Tonys are the awards most prized by the New York theater community because they count where it matters — at the box office. Win a Tony in the best-play or best-musical categories, and ticket sales most likely will bloom.

For established hits such as “Wicked” and “A Raisin in the Sun,” starring rap mogul Sean Combs, those nods would reaffirm their box-office success. Others really need those nominations, such as the struggling “Wonderful Town,” which grossed about $394,000 last week and played to less than 50 percent capacity, or “Frozen,” which opened recently with no advance sales and meager walk-in business.

“Those best-play and best-musical awards matter the most,” David Stone, the producer of “Wicked,” said Thursday. “The two revival awards (for play and musical) are somewhat meaningful. Any of those four awards on their own are great, but if you combine them with a star winning a leading performance prize, such as if ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ wins and so do a Sean Combs or a Phylicia Rashad, that helps the show even more. Sometime, one plus one equals three.”

But the nominations themselves?

“They are a great ego boost for the nominees, and the creative people think of them as an endorsement from the (theater) community, but they don’t have a measurable impact on the box office,” said David Richenthal, producer of “I Am My Own Wife,” a likely nominee this year for best play. “For that, we will have to wait until June 6.”

That’s the date of the awards show itself, which will be telecast live by CBS from Radio City Music Hall.

What makes a play Tony worthy?To get there, though, a show must first be nominated. And the 26 members of the Tony nominating committee, which include actors, journalists and other theater professionals, meet Sunday evening to vote. The nominations will be announced Monday morning.

“Wicked,” based on Gregory Maguire’s cult novel about the witches in “The Wizard of Oz,” has been the season’s most lavish and popular new show, grossing over a $1 million each week. Big and successful usually means a lot of Tony nominations.

“Wicked,” which has a score by Stephen Schwartz, most likely will pick up nominations for its creators, directors and performers, particularly Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel as well as for its sets, costumes and lighting.

“Raisin,” the highest grossing play on Broadway last week with a take of over $440,000, could be a strong contender in the play-revival category and in acting slots for its leading ladies, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald.

Yet it’s mainly Combs who is bringing in the customers to “Raisin,” many of them first-time visitors to Broadway. The rapper is unlikely to get a Tony nomination since his performance received widely varying reviews, and the category already is stacked with a lot of potentially strong nominees including Kevin Kline, Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella, Simon Russell Beale and Jefferson Mays, the solo actor in “I Am My Own Wife.”

Three other shows besides “Wicked” will be nominated in the best-musical category: “Avenue Q,” the naughty little puppet musical; “Caroline, or Change,” the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori tale of a black maid and the young son of her white employer; “The Boy From Oz,” Peter Allen’s life story starring Hugh Jackman; and “Bombay Dreams,” a Bollywood extravaganza.

The controversial Stephen Sondheim musical, “Assassins,” will most likely compete against “Wonderful Town,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Little Shop of Horrors” in the revival category.

It helps if a production is still running. Shows that already have closed won’t get television airtime on the CBS Tony telecast from Radio City Music Hall.

That hurts the chances of such departed shows as “Taboo,” the Boy George musical that was Rosie O’Donnell’s highly publicized debut as a Broadway producer, and “Never Gonna Dance,” the homage to Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie musicals of the 1930s.

Plays, too, have an advantage if they are still around. Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” already the winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for drama, has a lock on a nomination. The tale of a German transvestite who survived both the Nazis and the Communists, would appear to be the favorite to take the prize.

Yet “Frozen,” the chilling tale of a young girl’s disappearance; “Match,” Stephen Belber’s mystery reunion play; and “Anna in the Tropics,” last year’s Pulitzer winner, are other likely nomination prospects.

“If you get a lot of nominations, you are a serious contender,” Stone said. “But ultimately the rules are rewritten the morning after the awards themselves.”