'Elliot' competition has to be on their toes

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A story about a boy struggling to overcome dire economic circumstances and learning to dance is as good a metaphor as any for the current Broadway season, so it seemed preordained that "Billy Elliot: The Musical" would emerge Tuesday with the most Tony Award nominations.

The Lee Hall-Elton John musical adaptation of the Stephen Daldry film received a record-tying 15 bids, including best musical, best book (Hall) and best score (Hall and John).

In a twist, three actors were nominated as a single entry in the category of best performance by a leading actor in a musical: David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish. The boys, all under 15, have shared the title role since the show began previews Oct. 1.

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's "Next to Normal" figures to give "Elliot" the strongest competition. Their story of a housewife in the throes of bipolar disorder — another apt metaphor for Broadway's up-and-down season — received 11 noms. David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori's adaptation of the cartoon movie "Shrek" and the Diane Paulus-directed revival of "Hair" collected eight nominations each.

Among plays, the revivals of "Mary Stuart" and Alan Ayckbourn's "The Norman Conquests" lead the way with seven noms each, and Yasmina Reza's original "God of Carnage" and the revival of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" garnered six apiece. The directors of those shows were nominated as well: Phyllida Lloyd ("Mary Stuart"), Bartlett Sher ("Come and Gone") and Matthew Warchus (for "Carnage" and "Norman Conquests").

"Mary Stuart," "Norman Conquests" and "Carnage" also contribute to competitive acting races. "Mary Stuart's" Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter vie for best actress, just as they vie for the soul of Britain in their roles as the Queen of Scotland and the Queen of England. For "Carnage," the actors playing four bickering parents will scrap for two Tonys: Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini are among those competing for best actor, and Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden are in the running for best actress. In "Norman Conquests," which features six characters fighting for love, Stephen Mangan and Paul Ritter vie for best featured actor, and Jessica Hynes and Amanda Root compete for featured actress.

Roger Robinson, the featured actor nominee who played streetwise mystic Bynum in "Come and Gone," was the lone actor selected from that production.

The Tonys will be presented June 7 at Radio City Music Hall in a ceremony telecast on CBS.

When the stock market stumbled in mid-September, it looked as if it would be a bleak season for Broadway. But its fortunes began to turn on two factors: the number of straight plays that rushed to fill the void of faltering musicals, many of them populated by well-known and well-respected actors, and strong attendance during the normally bleak winter months.

Partly as a result, Broadway grosses are running about $25 million ahead of last year's pace.

Andrew Salomon is news editor at Back Stage.
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