NEW YORK (Reuters) - Broadway rolls out the red carpet on Sunday for the 68th annual Tony Awards, theater's top honors, in a star-studded ceremony at New York's Radio City Music Hall with Hugh Jackman returning to host the show for the fourth time.
Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper and Orlando Bloom will be among those appearing while Tony nominees Neil Patrick Harris and Idina Menzel are set to perform during the show, along with Sting, who will give a preview of his upcoming Broadway debut musical "The Last Ship."
The show will be broadcast live on the CBS television network.
Forty-four productions, ranging from "Act One," an adaptation of American playwright Moss Hart's autobiography, to "Rocky," the stage version of the Oscar-winning film, opened on Broadway during the 2013/2014 season.
"It's a very even playing field, which means there is a lot of great stuff out there," said Hal Luftig, the producer of last season's Tony winning musical "Kinky Boots."
"We had a lot more shows this season," he added in an interview. "Nobody has an edge, which I think is really great."
"A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder," a comedy of manners about a would-be heir and a family inheritance, leads the competition with 10 nominations, including two for best actor in a musical and best director.
It will go head-to-head against "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical," "After Midnight" and "Aladdin" for the top musical prize.
"Gentleman's" two stars, Bryce Pinkham and Jefferson Mays, who plays eight roles, will be vying with TV star Neil Patrick Harris for his role as a transsexual rock star in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," Ramin Karimloo in the revival of Victor Hugo's classic "Les Miserables" and Andy Karl in "Rocky."
Kelli O'Hara, a five-time Tony nominee, is hoping this will be her year to take home the best actress in a musical prize for her role in the recently-closed "The Bridges of Madison County."
But she faces stiff competition from newcomer Jessie Mueller playing singer/songwriter Carole King, Mary Bridget Davies for her portrayal of rock icon Janis Joplin and Tony winners Sutton Foster ("Violet") and Idina Menzel in "If/Then."
"All the Way," Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan's play about U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and its star, Bryan Cranston, best known for his Emmy-winning performance in television's "Breaking Bad," are in the running for best play and actor.
Double Tony winner Mark Rylance could increase his total to four statuettes if the British actor wins on Sunday for both "Richard III" and "Twelfth Night" in the all-male Shakespeare Globe productions.
And five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald could make history if she takes home the Tony for best actress for her role as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day At Emerson's Bar & Grill," becoming the first woman to win in all four Tony acting categories.
But she will be up against Tyne Daly in "Mother and Sons," LaTanya Richardson Jackson in "A Raisin in the Sun," Cherry Jones in "The Glass Menagerie" and Estelle Parsons in "The Velocity of Autumn."
The Tony Awards are presented by the theater industry association The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, a not-for-profit organization.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Ken Wills)