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Whither the
musical? wonders Broadway

Whither the
musical? wonders Broadway

Broadway is abuzz with award fever before Sunday's Tony Awards, the culmination of a season of hits and misses that sparked talk of the death of the American musical and the triumph of the Anglo-Irish play. Organizers of the Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live on CBS television, have signed up a string of celebrity presenters from Oprah Winfrey to Julia Roberts--even though the latter failed to win a nomination for her Broadway debut.

Running neck and neck for best musical are two very different shows--the sing-along hit Jersey Boys, about 1960s pop music group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and The Drowsy Chaperone, a parody of 1920s musicals. Favored to win best new play is Alan Bennett's The History Boys, one of three plays from across the Atlantic in the running.

David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole, starring Cynthia Nixon as a bereaved mother, was the only American play to make the short list alongside the Irish pair of Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Conor McPherson's Shining City. Among the nominees for acting awards are out lesbian Nixon--best known from Sex and the City--Lynn Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Harry Connick Jr., Zoe Wanamaker, Chita Rivera, and Mark Ruffalo.

In an article summing up the season with the headline "The Day the Musical Died," New York Times critic Ben Brantley lamented that nearly all the "new" musicals of the year were inspired by "brand names" from books, movies, or music. "It can only be a matter of time before 'Ronald McDonald: The Musical' comes to town," he wrote.

Though Broadway sold a record 12 million tickets in the 2005-2006 season, the musical year was notable more for spectacular fiascoes than hits. Among the flops were Lennon, about the late Beatle, and Lestat, a big-budget Warner Bros. show with music by Elton John, which closed after a month.

The most original musical was The Drowsy Chaperone, which won 13 nominations. It is about a Broadway fan who settles down to listen to a cast recording of his favorite 1920s musical, only to have the show come to life in his apartment. Peppered with witty asides and digs at the state of modern musicals, the show starts with a voice in the dark uttering a prayer: "Dear God, please let it be a good show."

"It was in reaction to a kind of earnest big-budget show in the 1990s without wit and without humanity," said Bob Martin, who wrote and stars in the show. Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones called it "a two-way referendum on the future of the Great American Musical."

"Drowsy is a terrific and endlessly clever show--with, in a juicy piece of irony, an original score that actually pretends not to be one," Jones wrote. But he came out in favor of Jersey Boys, arguing it was time for critics to end the snobbery about using popular music. "Jersey Boys understands that jukebox songs both underscore pivotal life transitions and can function as dramatic catharses, if you don't send them up," he said.

The absence of a single big-name host for the Tonys has sparked sniping that nobody wanted the job--Winfrey had been rumored to be in the running despite a possible conflict of interest since she is a producer of the musical The Color Purple, which snagged 11 nominations. In the end organizers said they would celebrate the 60th annual awards show with 60 celebrity presenters, including Julie Andrews, Glenn Close, and Liev Schreiber. (Claudia Parsons, Reuters)

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