Bring in 'da Tony Awards

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Many of us have never attended a Tony party. Unlike the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, or the finale of "Seinfeld," the show that fetes Broadway's best isn't exactly the kind of TV event that calls for hunkering down with a group of friends and a pot of chili. But that may be changing.

Often called the "classiest" of entertainment awards shows, the Antoinette Perry (Tony) awards are looking more and more like their film-industry counterpart.

Last year Tony producers tried a very Oscar-like approach: a three-hour broadcast, air time on not one but two networks (PBS and CBS), and a host with plenty of popular appeal (Rosie O'Donnell).

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Three hours, two networks, and one extremely likable host proved to be a winning combination. In fact, more people watched the Tonys last year than in the past 10 years. The broadcast "had dramatic ratings increases in both household and key demographics," says Leslie Moonves, president of CBS Television. So, it's encore time for this year's show, which will be broadcast live from New York's Radio City Music Hall on June 7.

Of course, vibrant shows like last year's best-musical contenders "Chicago" and "Candide" and this year's top contenders for the same prize, "Ragtime" and "The Lion King," no doubt help boost Tony viewership. Other nominees that might lure folks to tune in are "Cabaret," "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," "The Diary of Anne Frank," and "Art."

Tony winners will be chosen by 782 members of the theater world as well as journalists. Broadway productions that clinch the theater industry's highest honor often have a long life.

For instance, "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," which won four Tony Awards in 1996, is still getting plenty of buzz as it tours the country (Boston through June 14; Chicago, June 16-July 12; Dallas, July 14-July 26; Atlanta, July 28-Aug. 2).

Catch it if you can. Choreographer Savion Glover's hyper-athletic tap-dancing will take your breath away. Director George Wolfe calls him "a living repository of rhythm." Mr. Wolfe was inspired by Glover's talent as well as his own love of tap-dancing. "Only a great folk art form can tell all our stories - and tap is one of the greatest folk arts we have," Wolfe says. "I wanted to see how tap could not just tell stories, but how it could convey really complicated emotion."

And that it does. An emotional (though spotty) exploration of African-American history is played out not only with tap but also energetic drumming, sultry blues vocals, and some profound personal reflections from the cast.

Tony judged well with this one. We'll see how he does this year.

* For a complete list of this year's Tony nominees, visit the official Web site: www.tonys.org

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