PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, May 8-14: Witches and Puppets

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, May 8-14: Witches and Puppets
The 2004 Tony Award nominees were announced May 10 from an unfamiliar stage (The Hudson Theatre, substituting for the traditional forum, Sardi's) by an odd assortment of quite familiar faces, including a pop singer (Cyndi Lauper), a football player (Tiki Barber) and a shoemaker (Kenneth Cole). There were even a few actors at the podium, such as Jane Krakowski and John Leguizamo.

The champion musical of the day was, big surprise, the box-office champion of the season: Wicked with a round 10 nominations. The challenger in the Best Musical category was, again a big surprise, the critical hero of the season: Avenue Q with six. And therein lies this year's version of the age-old Tony battle between commerce and quality. Call it the Lion King-Ragtime syndrome. Or the Thoroughly Modern Millie-Urinetown situation. Which kind of success to reward-monetary or artistic? (Carpers will say Wicked has its critical advocates. Yes, but not as many as Avenue Q. Still more will point out that Avenue Q has made money. True, but not as much as Wicked will rake in in the long run.)

The strongest contests of the year look to be in the acting categories, where, in many cases, there is not an out-and-out favorite. Best Leading Actress in a Play (with Eileen Atkins of The Retreat from Moscow, Tovah Feldshuh from Golda's Balcony, Anne Heche of Twentieth Century, Swoosie Kurtz from Frozen and Phylicia Rashad of A Raisin in the Sun) is a horse race. Leading Actress in a Musical (Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel of Wicked, Tonya Pinkins of Caroline, or Change, Donna Murphy of Wonderful Town and Stephanie D'Abruzzo from Avenue Q) could go any number of directions. So could Best Actor in a Play (Simon Russell Beale of Jumpers, Kevin Kline from Henry IV, Frank Langella of Match, Jefferson Mays of I Am My Own Wife and Christopher Plummer from King Lear). And as for Leading Actor in a Musical....well, OK, that's just Hugh Jackman, plain and simple.

Other shows that did well in the nominations include the revivals of Assassins and Fiddler on the Roof, the new musical Caroline, or Change, Lincoln Center's Henry IV and Jackman's vehicle The Boy from Oz.

Others didn't do as well, of course, and impact was quickly seen. Prymate, nomination free, closed immediately. Match, with only one nod for Langella, announced a close date by week's end. (For an organization meant to give a big boost to Broadway, the Tonys sure do turn the lights out on a good many theatres.) Little Shop of Horrors only got a single nomination, for star Hunter Foster. And wouldn't you know it!—Foster up and left the show almost immediately after collecting the honor, announcing he would fill Roger Bart's shoes in The Producers. But this is actually good news for the struggling revival. Stepping in as Seymour will be former boy band heartthrob Joey Fatone, who did wonders for the flagging Rent a couple seasons back. Bombay Dreams, meanwhile, only picked up a trio of minor nominations. So far, no former boy band-er or "American Idol" contestant has stepped up to dance in the famous fountain.

Former Best Musical Tony winner Thoroughly Modern Millie decided nomination week was the best time to illustrate to the new crop of naive nominees that success is fleeting. It will close on June 20, after two years, and not having recouped its investment.

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