Sunday, June 6, 2004

Local theater experts predict Tony winners



By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

There are other Tony Awards to be distributed tonight, and plenty of them of interest to Cincinnati. Retreat from Moscow, nominated for Best Play, is part of Playhouse in the Park's 2004-05 season, and don't be surprised to see I Am My Own Wife, the likely winner in that category, on a local stage soon.

Best Musical Revival nominee Wonderful Town is on the Broadway in Cincinnati season and Best Musical contenders Wicked and Avenue Q won't be far behind.

I polled my favorite Tony voters for their predictions for tonight's awards.

Rick Steiner, the North Avondale native who took home a trophy in 2002 for The Producers and in 2003 for Hairspray doesn't have anything in the running this year and thinks most of the categories are a horse race.

Brad Broecker, founder of Broadway in Cincinnati and now a senior veep with Clear Channel's theatrical division, is well acquainted with Tony's huge voting bloc of tour producers. He thinks this year's awards are a horse race, too.

Here's what they agree on: Tony host Hugh Jackman. Is there anybody out there who doesn't think The Boy from Oz will be leaving the three-hour telecast with a mantel-worthy souvenir?

Retreat from Moscow was the early Tony front-runner - until the fascinating, fact-based one-man show I Am My Own Wife opened in late spring. "But I'm not that confident," adds Steiner. "Frozen opened strong."

Broecker believes Jefferson Mays, who plays many characters but primarily an East German transvestite who managed to survive the Holocaust and Communism, will win. Steiner abstains.

They're unanimous on Best Musical Revival. "My heart's with Big River," says Steiner, who brought home his first Tony for the Huck Finn musical, "but it's going to be Assassins-ated."

Assassins is Stephen Sondheim's look at the men and women who have attempted (and even succeeded) in taking the lives of American presidents. In a reportedly soon-to-be-legend production, it's making its Broadway debut a decade after its off-Broadway premiere. They give the Best Direction of a Musical nod to Assassins' Joe Mantello.

Broecker adds he'd like to see the directing award go to Jason Moore for the irreverent, puppet-and-people populated musical send-up Avenue Q "because I believe in encouraging young talent. I think he has a good shot."

So much for agreement.

With no clear front-runner this year, here's how Broecker and Steiner call some of the most popular categories:

Best Musical - "Bet the house on Wicked," Steiner says but Broecker isn't so sure. "I think Avenue Q has a big chance. It's a popular underdog and it's mounted an entire campaign. And it's going to tour, too."

Best Actress in a Musical - The question a lot of people are asking is, will Wicked stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel cancel each other out, opening the way for popular star Donna Murphy in Wonderful Town?

Broecker is going to go with Menzel anyway, who plays the green-skinned heroine in the emotionally satisfying re-thinking of The Wizard of Oz. Steiner says none of the above and picks Tonya Pinkins in Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change. "It's a good category for an upset," he says.

Best Actress in a Play - Steiner goes with Anne Heche in Twentieth Century, not only because he liked her performance but "she's married to a guy from Cincinnati."

"Tovah Feldshuh was spectacular" in the bio drama Golde's Balcony, says Broecker.

Best Revival of a Play - Steiner can't decide between Henry IV and King Lear, "but I'm going to give it to Shakespeare. He seems to have built quite a constituency..."

"Raisin in the Sun," Broecker rebuts. "It's such an emotional piece."

Broecker and Steiner agree that five is the top number of Tony Awards any show is going to go home with this year.

They just disagree on the show. Steiner is going with Wicked and Broecker with Assassins.

E-mail jdemaline@enquirer.com.




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