Commentary: Two supergiant stars shine brightest in Tonys' intriguing galaxy of nominees

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For those who haven't seen many or any of the Broadway plays and musicals during the 2008-09 season, this year's Tony nomination list doesn't exactly stir the soul or make one feverish with anticipation over the June 7 awards ceremony.

There are two exceptions: Jane Fonda (for "33 Variations") and Angela Lansbury (for "Blithe Spirit"), both of whom deliver first-class work while possessing something ultra-rare in the theater today - - giant-sized star quality.

Still, much outstanding work -- if not an abundance of the va-voom factor -- is available among the nominees now on Broadway.

Acting doesn't get more delicious, delirious, inventive or hilarious than in Geoffrey Rush's performance in "Exit the King" at the Barrymore. Alice Ripley is sensational in "Next to Normal" at the Booth. (Although not nominated, Brian Dennehy and Carla Gugino do exceptional work in "Desire Under the Elms" at the St. James, their co-star Pablo Schreiber less so only because one can understand only about a fourth of what he says.)

Bottom line: The current list of worthwhile shows in town makes this one of the most varied and interesting theater seasons in years.

'Encores' away

Now that the nominations have been announced, no new Broadway entries are on the docket in the near future, but there will be a "Summer Stars Encores" musical at the City Center opening next month: "The Wiz," starring Ashanti.

This continues for a third year an "Encores" tradition that began in 2007 with a limited run of "Gypsy," with Patti LuPone, which led to a full-scale Tony-winning Broadway revival eight months later. Last year the City Center tried a summer musical again with a revival of "Damn Yankees," starring Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski. Result: no Broadway transfer, but a successful crowd-pleaser.

The biggest difference between the summer "Encores" editions and the regular winter-spring agenda is the length of the run. The usual musicals, including this coming November's "Girl Crazy" and February's "Fanny," play only four or five days, while musical revivals in the summer series play longer -- three weeks in the case of "Wiz," which is on display June 18-July 3.

Ladies of the night

Tonight, Tony and Emmy winner Tyne Daly makes her nightclub debut at Feinstein's at the Regency, directed by David Galligan, the man responsible for all those ace S.T.A.G.E. AIDS shows on the West Coast.

Daly, for those who don't have long memories and know her best from television dramas, was one of the terrific pre-LuPone Mama Roses on Broadway, in 1989; she also re-created another great, Ethel Merman, in an "Encores" edition of "Call Me Madam" a few years back.

In her latest turn, Daly will perform a collection of songs by Jule Styne, the Bergmans and Cy Coleman.

More to anticipate at Feinstein's: The man himself, Michael Feinstein, will team June 2-12 with one of the most employed actor-singers in the Broadway environs, Cheyenne Jackson (from "All Shook Up" to "Xanadu," plus "Encores" editions of "Damn Yankees" and "Brigadoon").

They will do a duo act they're calling "The Power of Two," part of the nightspot's 10th anniversary celebration.

Actually, it's bonanza time for cabaret-goers and night owls. The same evening the Feinstein-Jackson combo opens on Park Avenue, Debbie Reynolds makes her first nightclub appearance a few blocks east at the Cafe Carlyle, where she'll deliver what Debbie does best -- music and comedy -- through June 27.
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