Tonys spotlight: Slew of new tuners among hopefuls

Ten productions eligible for Tonys consideration already have opened on Broadway this season. The cut-off for the Tony Awards is April 27 with these top theater kudos set to be handed out on Sunday, June 12.

Among this first wave of shows are two new musicals — "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" and "The Scottsboro Boys" — which transferred to Broadway after successful runs last season at non-profit venues in Gotham. These shows opened to strong reviews and could contend in a variety of categories at the Tonys.

The third new tuner — "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" — met with very mixed reviews. While it is running at a Broadway house, it is being presented by the non-profit Lincoln Center Theater which has a substantial subscriber base. That ensures the show at least a limited run.

A sure sign of the vibrancy of Broadway is that at least another half dozen new musicals are planning to open this season. Among them are four based on hit movies — "Elf" (Nov. 14), "Catch Me If You Can" (March 20), "Priscilla Queen Of The Desert" (April 10) and "Sister Act" (April 20) — and a fifth drawn from the comic strip "Spider-Man" and subtitled "Turn Off The Dark" (Dec. 21).

The only original American play to date is "Lombardi." Eric Simonson tackled the life story of the renowned football coach but failed to score a touchdown with critics. However, it is selling quite well. The three Brit hits which have come into town so far this season have met with mixed success. A stage adaptation of Noel Coward's 1945 film classic "Brief Encounter" adds music and multi-media effects to great effect to tell this story of star-crossed lovers. The production has already been extended by four weeks by the non-profit Roundabout Theater.

Tony-winning book writer Lee Hall ("Billy Elliot") penned "The Pitmen Painters," which tells the rousing true story of a group of miners who learned to paint. The play was a smash hit in the West End but is struggling on this side of the Atlantic. Also having a hard time is "La Bete." In its original 1991 run, this farce from David Hirson closed after just three weeks. However, it was a smash in London, winning the Olivier for Best Comedy. This time round, the production began in London with Tony champ Mark Rylance, Emmy and Tony winner David Hyde-Pierce and BAFTA honoree Joanna Lumley tackling those rhyming couplets.

Among the other plays to be revived along the rialto, two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones and Golden Globe champ Sally Hawkins headline the Shavian comedy "Mrs. Warren's Profession." While they both earned respectful reviews, the overall production was dismissed as lacking. However, the critics hailed the return of theater royalty Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones in the first Broadway staging of Alfred Uhry's 1987 comedy-drama "Driving Miss Daisy."  They were less kind to Sir Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight who appear in David Mamet's 1975 two-hander "A Life In The Theatre."

Photo: Cast of "The Scottsboro Boys" (Lyceum Theater)

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