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Tony Awards voters reach beyond Broadway

By Lawson Taitte

The Dallas Morning News

The Tony Awards are supposed to showcase the best of Broadway. More than ever before, though, the 2002 edition suggested that the biggest factor in who wins and who loses might be what voters think will play in Peoria.

Thoroughly Modern Millie, a stage adaptation of the 1967 movie, walked off with twice as many trophies as any other show -- including best musical and lead actress, Sutton Foster. Its six Tonys might not compare to the dozen The Producers gobbled up last year, but it's a more-than-respectable figure in a season in which most predicted that the awards would be spread around with an even hand.

Edward Albee has long been a pariah for Tony voters, with only one previous nomination in the last 35 years. But New York has been trying to make it up to the country's most honored living playwright for the last few years, so even the startling premise of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? -- an inter-species love affair -- couldn't deter the voters from naming the show best play.

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Early favorite Topdog/Underdog, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Suzan-Lori Parks earlier this year, won nothing at all on Sunday. And the season's best-reviewed play, Metamorphoses, netted a Tony only for Mary Zimmerman's direction.

In the musical categories, it helped, of course, that Thoroughly Modern Millie feels like a musical put together by a committee with eyes on the box office. Tour presenters made it clear that the blithely satirical runner-up, Urinetown: The Musical, wouldn't be welcome in their towns.

A year ago, most bets would have been on Mamma Mia! and the revival of Oklahoma!, both imported from London, to be the big winners at the ceremonies held Sunday at New York's Radio City Music Hall. But Mamma Mia!, the season's biggest musical hit, came up empty-handed. And Oklahoma! managed only one award, for Shuler Hensley's fresh take on the villain, Jud Fry.

The single biggest voting bloc, regional producers and presenters, might well have reasoned that Mamma Mia! needs no help to sell tickets when it tours, whereas Thoroughly Modern Millie is going to need all the help it can get.

Oklahoma!'s ship foundered the day after it opened on Broadway, when the New York critics felt they didn't like Trevor Nunn's production quite as much as they thought they had in London. Even so, Susan Stroman's choreography, maybe her most stunning achievement to date, seemed a shoo-in to win a Tony, which would have made it her third in a row. Instead, Millie's Rob Ashford beat out not only Ms. Stroman but John Carrafa, who had two nominations this year.

Similarly, Oklahoma! lost out to Into the Woods for best revival. Its Curly, Patrick Wilson, lost to a bigger star who can neither sing nor dance, John Lithgow.

The only other play with more than one win was the new version of Turgenev's Fortune's Fool, which garnered prizes for both its stars, Alan Bates for actor and Frank Langella for featured actor.

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