Tony Awards: Thespians can make it to Hollywood

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Moving from Broadway to Hollywood comes naturally for theater artists with Tony Awards gracing their shelves. Kristin Chenowith, Sara Ramirez, Nathan Lane and Sam Mendes are just a few who did it -- and six-time-Tony-nominated choreographer-director Rob Marshall even morphed into an Oscar-nominated film director.

This year's list of Tony nominees is awash in future talent that should be on Hollywood's radar, including the single-named Stew and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who have both received multiple nominations as actors, writers and composers in "Passing Strange" and "In the Heights," respectively. "Heights," which received 13 Tony nominations, is a series of interrelated stories set in New York's Washington Heights barrio that combine rap with salsa and Latin pop; "Passing," which received seven Tony nominations, is an autobiographical journey that is at once rock concert and performance art.

Heavy favorite for best play is the Pulitzer Prize-winning "August: Osage County," a three-and-a-half-hour family drama (with comic elements) that takes dysfunctional familial relations to epic heights. The play, by Tracy Letts and launched in Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, was tapped for seven Tony nominations.

But no one knows just how the suits in Hollywood may react to the flash of Broadway -- at least not until after the show. Here's a talent shortlist they should take note of:

Deanna Dunagan
"August: Osage County"
Nomination: Best performance by a leading actress in a play
Why her? As monster mom from hell Violet Weston, Dunagan manages to be hilariously funny despite her extreme stridency and abusiveness.
Up next: "Osage County" led to two film auditions, she syas. "When this is over, I expect to go home and resume my life in Chicago the way it was before I left."

Adam Epstein
"Cry-Baby"
Nomination: Best musical
Why him? Producer Epstein creates crowd-pleasers, first with his Tony Award-winning "Hairspray" and now "Cry-Baby." A broad musical pastiche with wonderfully tacky songs, it's the old chestnut about an upper-crust good girl who falls for the sensitive bad boy, straddling the line between homage and send-up.
Up next: A revival of "Godspell" and a musical adaptation of "Ever After" for Broadway. He says, "My intention is also to produce movies -- both musicals and otherwise."

Raul Esparza
"The Homecoming"
Nomination: Best performance by a featured actor in a play
Why him? Esparza's Lenny is an uneducated, lower-class Brit pimp who's at once sinister and infantile. His chest puffed up and leading from his crotch, his walk was wonderfully vulgar, yet he was totally understandable.
Up next: Esparza is currently playing a killer in Wes Craven's latest for Rogue Pictures, "25/8," and has a recurring role on ABC's "Pushing Daisies." "I enjoy doing films, but they're not my first love," he says.

Tracy Letts
"August: Osage County"
Nomination: Best play
Why him? Not unlike Quentin Tarantino, playwright Letts has an uncanny ability to merge the horrific with over-the-top comedy. Like a white trash "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Osage County" presents a family suffering from emotional paralysis.
Up next: Letts says there have been no movie offers, "but I don't pursue them. I'm cynical about that end of the business."

Lin-Manuel Miranda
"In the Heights"
Nomination: Best performance by a leading actor in a play; best original score written for the theater
Why him? Refreshingly devoid of elbow-nudging irony even in the corniest moments, Miranda's ability to convey enthusiasm and faith in the future makes his performance so endearing. That exuberant spirit also marks the show's lyrics and music.
Up next: Miranda has written two songs for Stephen Schwartz's "Working," playing in Sarasota, Fla. "Since the Tony nominations, it has been an amazing whirlwind," he says. "I'm still trying to soak everything in!"

Kelli O'Hara
"South Pacific"
Nomination: Best performance by a leading actress in a musical
Why her? In addition to her exquisite soprano, O'Hara gives a multilayered performance that merges innocence with a darker soul.
Up next: "Over the last few years, my Tony nominations ('The Light in the Piazza' and 'Pajama Game') have definitely helped move me into TV and film in small ways," she says. "So here I'll stay, hoping to get lucky, not relying on Tony nominations, but knowing they can't possibly hurt."

Bartlett Sher
"South Pacific"
Nomination: Best director of a musical
Why him? While clearly a period piece, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific's" rousing and its views on racial relations still have disturbing resonance. The staging is exceptional. This is theater at its most engrossing thanks in large part to Sher.
Up next: Directing "Namaste Man" in Seattle's Intiman Theatre, where he serves as artistic director. Later this summer he will helm Charles Gounod's opera "Romeo et Juliette" at the Salzburg Festival in Austria. "I'm now getting some interest from Hollywood," he says. "I will be looking into it."

Stew
"Passing Strange"
Nomination: Best performance by a leading actor in a musical; best book of a musical; best original score written for the theater
Why him? "Passing Strange" and its creator-star are wholly original, with Stew as the most unlikely and endearing of Broadway stars. So, too, is "Passing," a rite-of-passage story that recounts Stew's hilarious journey through Europe's downtown scenes.
Up next: Recording an album of three new songs, directing a screenplay and "developing another music-theater piece, which would explore and create connections between rock concert and theater at an even deeper level than 'Passing Strange' does," he says. "It'll be something a little less narrative driven and more of a happening."

Matthew Warchus
"Boeing-Boeing"
Nomination: Best direction of a play
Why him? With its classic physical comedy and wonderfully dated views on gender relations, this door swinging mid-'60s farce about an American businessman juggling his three mistresses is just plain fun. Madcap comedy is not simple, and it's to Warchus' credit that "Boeing-Boeing" takes off.
Up next: He'll direct the first revival of Alan Ayckbourn's "The Norman Conquests" in October at London's Old Vic, and he says he'll either be involved in a film project or an international production of the stage production of "Lord of the Rings" by the end of 2008.



What to know about Broadway's biggest night

What: The 62nd annual Tony Awards
When: June 15, 8 p.m. (red carpet begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Where: Radio City Music Hall, New York
Host: Whoopi Goldberg, who earned her chops as an awards host by emceeing the Oscar telecast four times, makes her debut this year as the first solo Tony host since 2005. Along for the show are presenters such as Kristin Chenoweth, Glenn Close, Laura Linney, Liza Minnelli, Daniel Radcliffe, Brooke Shields and Marisa Tomei.
What to expect: Along with the usual snippets of Tony-nominated shows, there will be several performances, including one from "Rent," which will shutter Sept. 7. Original principal cast members (pictured, right) are expected to join the current company to commemorate the Pulitzer Prize-winning show.
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