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2008 Tony Awards: Old pros and new voices

A preview of the surprisingly hot competition for most of Broadway's coveted awards.

By christopher wallenbergContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / June 14, 2008



Last year's Tony Awards lacked drama in the major categories, with heavy favorites "Spring Awakening" and "The Coast of Utopia" nabbing best play and musical, respectively. This year – with the possible exception of the Tracy Letts play that has generated so much buzz – we're back to a world of uncertainty. Which outsider show will bring home the night's big prize for best musical: "Passing Strange" or "In the Heights"? And which beloved masterpiece – "South Pacific" or "Gypsy" – will nab the golden statuette in the surprisingly competitive best-musical-revival category? Here are our predictions for who will and should win trophies in eight of the major categories. Tune in to the 62nd annual Tony Awards telecast (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS) to find out what happens.

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Best Play

Will Win/Should Win: "August: Osage County"

Also nominated: "The 39 Steps"

If there's a sure bet at this year's Tony ceremony, it's Mr. Letts's "August: Osage County," which already won the Pulitzer Prize and stands as this season's runaway critical darling. The absorbing dysfunctional family drama combines the acid humor and ferociousness of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with the insidious secrets and self-deluding lies of Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece "Long Day's Journey Into Night." The bad behavior on display includes adultery, incest, pill-popping, and pedophilia, and despite the radioactive revelations, the play remains a relentlessly entertaining – and deeply moving – piece of drama. Tom Stoppard won this award last year for his epic "Coast of Utopia" trilogy, so it's doubtful he'll score a repeat with the lauded "Rock 'n' Roll." The young Irish writer Conor McPherson penned a sublime meditation on loneliness, self-loathing, and redemption with "The Seafarer," but his best plays are still ahead of him.

Best Musical

Will Win: "In the Heights"

Should Win/Could Pull Off an Upset: "Passing Strange"

Also nominated: "Cry-Baby," "Xanadu"

Both of the leading contenders for best musical, "In the Heights" and "Passing Strange," serve as beacons for the future of the musical form. Adventurous, underdog shows that originated off-Broadway, they're brimming with the kind of characters and music rarely seen or heard on the Great White Way. Set in the barrio and populated with a vibrant mix of working-class Hispanics, Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" deftly melds salsa, reggae, reggaeton, and, most encouragingly, hip-hop, into its standout score. While the show is a crowd-pleaser, the tissue-paper-thin book and sentimental dramatic conflicts keep it from stacking up against the sardonic humor, deep feeling, and wistful regret of "Passing Strange," about a young man searching for his artistic voice in a strange and sometimes hostile world. Written by and starring African-American musician Stew, "Passing Strange" at first feels like a glorified concert laced with rock and R&B grooves. But thanks to its indelible shape-shifting cast, incisive book, and poignant tale of the sacrifices an artist makes to pursue a creative life, the show stands as one of the freshest and most exhilarating pieces of musical theater since, well, last year's indie rock-infused Tony winner, "Spring Awakening."

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