Tough choices for the Tonys
A year of strong dramas, tragedies, and farce made for a tight race.
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"Billy Elliot," based on an unlikely hit film about a boy who secretly trades his boxing gloves for ballet shoes, is the heavy favorite. The show, up for a record-tying 15 Tonys and already a huge hit in London, is set in working-class northern England during the 1980s coal miners' strike, which places deep hardships on Billy's family. Still, the heart of this musical remains its tale of outsiders marching to the beat of their own drum.Skip to next paragraph
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If "Billy Elliot" has a streak of melancholy, "Next to Normal," an improbable underdog that has a shot at scoring an upset for Best Musical, is suffused with that bittersweet emotion. About a woman with bipolar disorder and the family who must learn to cope with her manic ups and downs, the show avoids devolving into a schmaltzy Lifetime movie-of-the-week and could capture the awards for Best Book (Brian Yorkey), Best Score (Yorkey and Tom Kitt), and Best Actress in a Musical (Alice Ripley).
In the Best Musical Revival category, the exuberant hippies of "Hair" should easily outpace the mildly affecting staging of "West Side Story." "Hair" captures the zeitgeist more profoundly, with director Diane Paulus finding the mournful and melancholic notes bubbling just below the show's euphoric celebrations of peace, love, and understanding.
The sheer strength of this Broadway season was underscored by the gripping productions that were completely shut out of the Tony race. The breathlessly acclaimed London import of Chekhov's "The Seagull" – with absorbing acting by Kristin Scott Thomas, Carey Mulligan, and Peter Sarsgaard – was one of the highlights of the season, yet garnered zero Tony nominations.
Also ignored was last fall's primal take on Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," helmed by envelope-pushing director Simon McBurney and featuring a trio of heart-wrenching performances by Dianne Weist, John Lithgow and Patrick Wilson.
In an unforgivable omission, Carla Gugino was shut out of the Best Actress in a Play race despite her smoldering performance in "Desire Under the Elms," a bold, soul-stirring production (with a foreboding farmhouse suspended over the stage) that also found no love from the Tony committee (even for perennial favorite Brian Dennehy).