- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

NEW YORK — Will it be a “Wicked” 2004 Tony Awards?Yes, with the lavish “Wizard of Oz” musical taking the biggest prize of all — best musical — and at least three other awards during tomorrow’s three-hour cere-mony from Radio City Music Hall. The program will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. on CBS.

The best-musical honor is the biggest prize because it counts where it matters most — at the box office. Despite sniffing from some critics, “Wicked” seems to have a lock on that invaluable commodity with grosses of more than $1 million each week.

If there’s an upset, look for “Avenue Q” to pull it off. The feisty little musical featuring puppets and twentysomething angst has been waging a cheeky public campaign for the top-musical prize.

Here are other predictions for winners of Broadway’s highest honor, but please understand — my crystal ball sometimes gets a little cloudy:

Play: A shoo-in. “I Am My Own Wife,” Doug Wright’s real-life tale of a German transvestite who outlasts both the Nazis and the communists already has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. So did another contender, “Anna in the Tropics,” but the Nilo Cruz play took the Pulitzer last year, and its Broadway run fizzled after some surprisingly lukewarm reviews.

Actor-Musical: The surest bet of all. If Hugh Jackman (who also will host tomorrow evening’s live telecast) doesn’t win the Tony for his juggernaut portrayal of entertainer Peter Allen in “The Boy From Oz,” demand a recount. Hunter Foster, Alfred Molina, Euan Morton and John Tartaglia, although wonderful, are there to fill out the category.

Actress-Musical: The Tonys’ toughest race. The contest seems to be between Tonya Pinkins, the embittered maid in “Caroline, or Change,” and Donna Murphy, the Ohio lass who tries to conquer New York in “Wonderful Town.” Look for Miss Murphy to squeak through, although a Pinkins win is not out of the question. The “Wicked” witches, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, will cancel each other out. The delightful, underrated Stephanie D’Abruzzo of “Avenue Q” will have to wait for another show — one that showcases her without a puppet.

Actor-Play: Another parade of worthy candidates. Broadway often likes to celebrate newcomers, and the least-known in this group, Jefferson Mays of “I Am My Own Wife,” will best a quartet of heavyweights: Kevin Kline, Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella and Simon Russell Beale.

Actress-Play: The revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” is the biggest hit play, old or new, of the season. Its strong-willed, plain-spoken matriarch, the usually chic Phylicia Rashad, is giving one of those perception-changing performances that win Tonys.

Original Score: This is the best chance for “Avenue Q” to triumph, with its songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx likely to beat Boy George and “Taboo,” Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner for “Caroline, or Change” and Stephen Schwartz for “Wicked.”

Book of a Musical: “Wicked.” Winnie Holzman, who reworked Gregory Maguire’s lengthy cult novel, should win, although Jeff Whitty’s revuelike tale for “Avenue Q” could stage an upset.

Revival-Musical: Another difficult decision. But the buoyancy of “Wonderful Town,” the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical, will lift the show over another strong contender, Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of “Assassins.”

Revival-Play: “Henry IV.” It has closed, but Lincoln Center Theater’s clearheaded and compelling condensation of two Shakespeare history plays is the one to beat.

Director-Play: Jack O’Brien, “Henry IV.” See above.

Director-Musical: Joe Mantello, “Assassins.” Mr. Mantello wasn’t nominated for “Wicked,” which he also directed, so look for him to get votes from supporters of both shows.

Featured Actor-Play: Brian F. O’Byrne should have been in the lead-actor category. His performance as a serial killer in “Frozen” is that chilling and that good.

Featured Actress-Play: Audra McDonald already has three Tony Awards. Now she will have a fourth, this time for her appealing portrait of the long-suffering wife in “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Featured Actor-Musical: Raul Esparza gave an extravagant performance as the narrator in “Taboo,” but that shouldn’t stop the well-liked actor from winning in this category.

Featured Actress-Musical: It’s hard to beat Judy Garland, and Isabel Keating masterfully portrays the legendary singer in “The Boy From Oz.” Her stiffest competition is Anika Noni Rose as the defiant daughter in “Caroline, or Change.”

Choreography: Look for Kathleen Marshall, who makes “Wonderful Town” conga, swing and kick up its heels to take the award.

Design awards: Big usually wins. “Wicked” will pick up two of the three prizes here, for sets (Eugene Lee) and costumes (Susan Hilferty), but the lighting award will go to Broadway veterans Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer for their stark, striking work on “Assassins.”

Orchestrations: “Assassins” will receive the prize for Michael Starobin.

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