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Busy year means a lot of competition for Tonys

‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ ‘Jersey Boys’ shoo-ins for best musical nod
/ Source: The Associated Press

When the 2006 Tony Awards nominations are announced Tuesday, there are going to be some unhappy faces on Broadway. More than a few are going to be left out, although we are not taking bets on Harry Connick Jr. — or Julia Roberts, for that matter.

It’s been a busy season, particularly with a rush of shows this spring (six productions in the first 10 days of May alone). And busy means a lot of competition for nominations particularly in the best musical category, where 12 shows will be vying for four slots.

Let’s start with the most likely nominees. “Jersey Boys,” the backstage story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is a cinch. Good reviews and boffo box office means a certain nomination. Ditto for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” that daffy celebration of one musical theater fan’s favorite 1920s show, and winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best musical.

Then things get interesting. Eight other musicals opened on Broadway during the 2005-2006 season. Some can be discounted immediately. No need worrying whether “In My Life” or “Lestat” will get best-musical nods. They won’t.

But for the two remaining slots, would the Tony nominators deny “The Color Purple” and risk offending its most famous producer, Oprah Winfrey? Her appearance on the show most likely would add viewers to the perennially low-rated Tony telecast. And what about “Tarzan,” Disney’s latest lavish musical offering, or “The Wedding Singer,” a celebration of the 1980s and based on a popular film?

Plays are easier to predict. Certainly, there will be a nomination for “The History Boys,” Alan Bennett’s critically praised London success about a group of young men trying to get into Oxford or Cambridge and the teachers who inspire them. The play has already won the Drama Critics’ prize for best play.

And two other foreign works, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” Martin McDonagh’s comic splatterfest about a crazed Irish terrorist, and “Shining City,” Conor McPherson’s ghost story set in present-day Dublin, should make the cut.

That would leave two American plays battling for the final spot. “Rabbit Hole,” David Lindsay-Abaire’s look at a suburban couple attempting to deal with the death of their young son, and “Well,” Lisa Kron’s autobiographical mother-daughter comedy. “Rabbit Hole” already has closed and “Well” ends a disappointedly short run Sunday.

In the performance categories, the Tonys have five nominees, so Roberts, the movie star who came to Broadway, has a chance to slip into one of the actress-play slots. While her performance in Richard Greenberg’s “Three Days of Rain” was not exactly embraced by the critics, the show is a big hit and Roberts has scored points by taking on the challenge of live theater.

Among her possible competitors: Cynthia Nixon, the distraught mother in “Rabbit Hole”; Judy Kaye in “Souvenir”; Frances Sternhagen in “Seascape”; Jill Clayburgh in “A Naked Girl on the Appian Way”; and Kate Burton in “The Constant Wife.”

Connick would seem to be a shoo-in for his Broadway debut in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of “The Pajama Game.” His main competition for the actor-musical prize appear to Michael Cerveris, the bloody barber in “Sweeney Todd”; John Lloyd Young, who portrays crooner Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys”; Bob Martin, the co-author and narrator-star of “The Drowsy Chaperone”; and Stephen Lynch, the lovesick hero of “The Wedding Singer.”

Kelli O’Hara, Connick’s co-star in “The Pajama Game,” would seem to have a lock on a Tony nomination for actress-musical. So would Patti LuPone, the industrious pie-maker in “Sweeney Todd.”

Other possibilities include LaChanze, the beleaguered heroine of “The Color Purple”; Maria Friedman, the dutiful sister in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Woman in White”; and the legendary Chita Rivera for playing herself in “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.”

The actor-play candidates could include Ralph Fiennes who plays the title character in Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer”; Richard Griffiths, a beloved teacher in “The History Boys”; Brian F. O’Byrne, a tormented therapist in “Shining City”; and Antony Sher in “Primo,” a concentration-camp memoir about famed Italian chemist Primo Levi.

Who takes home Tonys will be settled June 11 at Radio City Music Hall, when the winners will be announced in a three-hour telecast, beginning 8 p.m. EDT on CBS-TV.