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TV Preview: Critic tucks in some favorites in his picks to win

Friday, May 31, 2002

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

What to do about the Tony Awards? It's Broadway theater that's traditionally labeled the "fabulous invalid," but it's really the Tonys that are sick, stuck in formulas that inhibit their significance and popular effect.

Tony Awards

WHEN: Sunday, 8-9 p.m. PBS; 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Live coverage of star arrivals starts at 6:45 p.m. on www.tonys.org.


The main problem is the awards' limitation to certain large theaters in midtown Manhattan. But for all its glitter, it's the telecast that's truly cramped, pulled by the competing claims of awards show, celeb fest and infomercial. The moguls insist on parceling out TV time without regard to audience interest, so the feudal baronies bicker and compromise, and the show suffers.

As is, the Tony show is too "in" for popular effect but not "in" enough for the industry and die-hard fans. Putting a third hour on PBS has relieved some of the pressure, but the CBS show should re-create itself as a showcase built around substantial musical and dramatic excerpts, properly rehearsed and shot, with a few awards just for spice.

OK, now for the immediate debate: Who will win?

As always, there are three considerations: Rooting interest, quality and strategic guesswork -- who I want to win, who deserves to win and who is most likely to win.

Our local interest centers on "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Oklahoma!," which each have a half-dozen Pittsburghers in their companies, led by "Millie" choreographer Rob Ashford (Point Park) and Patrick Wilson (CMU), Curly in "Oklahoma!" Pittsburgh CLO has money in "Millie," while the Symphony has a rooting interest in "Sweet Smell of Success" and its score by pops director Marvin Hamlisch.

There are 94 nominations in 22 categories, of which I happen to have seen 90 percent. I'm pretty clear on who I want to win and who deserves to (often the same), but I don't have any certainty about who actually will, and the bellwether awards (Drama Desk, N.Y. Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle) provide conflicting clues.

So here goes.

Special Theatrical Event: Let's start with a sure thing: Elaine Stritch.

Musical : "Mamma Mia!" is the popular hit, but it's mainly feel-good reunion concert. The Manhattan favorite is "Urinetown: The Musical" (to distinguish it from what?), but it's "Millie" the rest of the country would vote for. The Outer Critics picked "Urinetown" and the Drama Desk, "Millie," while the N.Y. Critics passed. I'd pass, too, on quality. But I'm rooting for "Millie," and I'll guess it will beat the in-town favorite.

Play: Three deserving candidates: Suzan-Lori Parks "Topdog/Underdog," won the Pulitzer; Edward Albee's "The Goat" won the N.Y. and Outer Critics; and the Drama Desk had a tie between "The Goat" and Mary Zimmerman's (and Ovid's) "Metamorphoses." I'd be happy to see any of the three win, but I'll guess "Metamorphoses."

Book of a Musical: "Urinetown" -- book and direction are the best things about it.

Original Score: "Millie's" score is a mix of new and old, so I suspect "Urinetown" will win here, too.

Revival of a Play: Again, three deserving contenders: "The Crucible," "Morning's at Seven" (Drama Desk) and "Private Lives" (Outer Critics) are each wonderful in their ways. Though I'd choose "Private Lives," "Morning's" will probably win.

Revival of a Musical: The deserving "Into the Woods" (Drama Desk) has the buzz, but I'll go for "Oklahoma!" (Outer Critics), my favorite.

Leading Actor in a Play: All are deserving, especially three Brits -- Alan Bates, Liam Neeson and Alan Rickman. Does that give an advantage to Jeffrey Wright or Billy Crudup? Preliminary awards went to Bates. My favorite is Rickman, but I'll guess Neeson.

Leading Actress in a Play: Lindsay Duncan (Drama Desk) and Mercedes Ruehl (Outer Critics) are more deserving than Laura Linney, Kate Burton or Helen Mirren. (What a great category!) Ruehl is my favorite and my pick.

Leading Actor in a Musical: Most deserving are John Lithgow and Patrick Wilson. I'm rooting for Wilson, but Lithgow will win.

Leading Actress in a Musical: Sutton Foster's Millie.

Featured Actor in a Play: By virtue of getting downsized in order not to compete with co-star Bates, Frank Langella will win.

Featured Actress in a Play: Katie Finneran won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics, but I didn't think she's as good as others I've seen do the bimbo in "Noises Off." Of the "Morning's" trio, I'd pick Estelle Parsons, but Elizabeth Franz has the flashier role. Could Kate Burton ("Elephant Man") get help from her other nomination? No, I think Finneran will win.

Featured Actor in a Musical: Shuler Hensley's Jud in "Oklahoma!," on all three counts.

Featured Actress in a Musical: It ought (in both senses) to come down to Harriet Harris (Drama Desk) in "Millie" and Spencer Kayden (Outer Critics) in "Urinetown." My friend Michael Grossberg says he dreamed Harris would win; that omen aside, I'll pick Kayden.

Sets: I loved Tim Hatley's wedding cake hotel in "Private Lives," Douglas Schmidt's bookish forest in "Into the Woods" and John Lee Beatty's clapboard nostalgia in "Morning's," but I'll choose (on all counts) Daniel Ostling's magic pool and sky for "Metamorphoses."

Costumes: Martin Pakledinaz's rainbow-busting design for "Millie."

Lighting: David Hersey's sunrise, sunset design for "Oklahoma!" (Outer Critics) is my bet, though I admired the varying murk of the other three nominations.

Choreography: No one ever beats Susan Stroman ("Oklahoma!"), right? Rob Ashford's "Millie" deserves to, but she'll win.

Direction of a Play: Mary Zimmerman, "Metamorphoses."

Direction of a Musical: My preference and bet is John Rando, "Urinetown."

Orchestrations: Why not "Mamma Mia!"?

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