Commentary: A few Tony Awards predictions won't spoil too much of the drama


Sunday brings forth Broadway's Tony Awards, which CBS is gallantly stepping to the plate to televise despite less than sterling ratings the past several sessions.

Those who do watch, however, will do so with great fervor, and the Eye deserves a deep bow of gratitude for giving theater devotees nationwide a chance to get a whiff of Broadway air.

Here's what one is most likely to see at Tony time:

-- Angela Lansbury winning her fifth Antoinette Perry award, this one for her delightfully daffy but deceptively artful performance in "Blithe Spirit";

-- Geoffrey Rush collecting the best actor in a play prize for his spectacularly loose and funny cavorting in "Exit the King," which is about as far afield of his serious, touching and Oscar-winning work in the 1996 film "Shine" as a performance could be;

-- Two other Oscar winners, Jane Fonda and Marcia Gay Harden, look to be the Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird of the best actress in a play division, Fonda for "33 Variations" and Harden for "God of Carnage." Fonda gets the edge in my book not only because of her superlative work but also for her courage in doing a Broadway play in the first place. She doesn't need Broadway, but Broadway certainly needs her, and one hopes she'll make many more returns and keep the Fonda name alive in the theater;

-- A definite shoo-in: Alice Ripley of "Next to Normal" as the champ in the leading actress in a musical category;

-- Look for "Carnage" to win best play and "Billy Elliot: The Musical" to win in a walk -- if not a dance -- as the year's best musical;

-- Don't be surprised if a fourth Oscar winner gets extra attention during Sunday's awards show. "Liza's at the Palace," the delightful Liza Minnelli show that knocked out even her most skeptical judges during its extended run during the winter at the Palace, has a good chance to win in the special theatrical event category.

Nothing's a sure thing until the envelopes are ripped open, except for the special Tonys that already have been announced. This year's quartet, all deserving: the exceptionally helpful and productive publicist Shirley Herz, actress and humanitarian Phyllis Newman, the musical theater's greatest friend Jerry Herman and the Signature Theatre of Arlington, Va., this year's recipient of the Regional Theatre Award.

On the schedule

The next Manhattan opening of note: The "Encores! Summer Stars" revival of "The Wiz," with Ashanti as Dorothy and LaChanze as Glinda, which begins a limited three-week run June 18 at the City Center. Thomas Kail ("In the Heights") directs.

Meanwhile, many likely will make the trek across the Hudson River for a look at the upcoming Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Terrence McNally's adaptation of "The Full Monty," which on June 14 begins a four-week run in Millburn, N.J.

The big pull is not necessarily the show -- or its music, lyrics, direction or muffins sold in the lobby -- but that Elaine Stritch will play the piano-playing Jeanette, a juicy but secondary role (though it's safe to bet that in Stritch's hands, the part will in no way be secondary).

Cabaret club

On Tuesday, the day after Michael Feinstein and Cheyenne Jackson began their two-man cabaret performances at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, there was good news: Instead of wrapping the show June 12 as originally scheduled, they have added three more dates (June 25, June 26 and June 27).

In between, Linda Eder does a one-nighter there June 13, Kathryn Crosby takes over for an evening June 15 with "My Life With Bing," and Barbara Cook is in for three nights from June 18-20.

After that, Feinstein's will continue its special summer series with a mix of names in for short runs, among them Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna (June 30-July 1), Davis Gaines (July 26-27) and Eric Comstock & Barbara Fasano (Aug. 20-21).

Meanwhile, Debbie Reynolds on Wednesday officially kicked off her New York cabaret debut at the Cafe Carlyle, where she'll remain for the remainder of the month.

A sad note

Joan Kobin, the much-respected singer and voice teacher who coached many Broadway and Hollywood performers (Cook, Carly Simon, James Earl Jones and Elizabeth Taylor were among her students), died May 30 in New York at 89.

Active to the end, she is the subject of "The Singing Teacher," a documentary feature by Rick McKay to be released next year.