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Friday, June 5, 1998 Published at 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK


Broadway's musicals hope to steal the show

The Tonys are Broadways's most prestigious accolades

The winners of the 52nd Tony awards, Broadway's answer to the Oscars, will be announced on Sunday, and in keeping with tradition, it is the high-profile musical shows that are likely to take centre stage.

The two frontrunners in the Best Musical category are Disney's The Lion King and Livent's Ragtime. Between them, they have bagged a further 22 nominations for musical and production awards.

Kevin Reyhac, spokesman for the Tony Awards, talks about Broadway today
But one thing is different this year. Both blockbusters were produced by large corporations. Walt Disney is backing The Lion King, a spin-off of its animated film success, and a large chunk of the finances for Ragtime has been put up by Hallmark, the greeting card giant. Hallmark has also made a substantial investment in another of this year's nominees for Best Musical, The Scarlet Pimpernel.

The two company's decision to make a stage version is seen by some as evidence of the changing face of Broadway.

Kevin Reyhac, a spokesman for the Tony Awards, admits that times have changed thanks in large part because of the huge costs associated with producing Broadway shows.

"For a hundred years, Broadway has been done pretty much the same way, in a kind of 'mom and pop' operation. Someone would put together the investors, then put together a show.

"The way economics have changed, maybe we need to come up with a new way to do things. Things are obviously much more expensive than the days when Broadway started out," he said.

We're in the money

[ image: Ragtime, the musical, is up for 13 Tony Awards]
Ragtime, the musical, is up for 13 Tony Awards
Not that Mr Reyhac rejects the mega-corporations move into theatre.

"The fact that Hallmark, and indeed Disney, are turning their attention to Broadway is a wonderful sign. They think it is important enough, that it can be profitable for them and that Broadway is still one of the main element of the country's cultural menu," he said.

But there is little doubt that the involvement of the big corporations has contributed to widening the gap between the costly, extravagant musicals and the smaller-scale plays on Broadway.

Massive international corporations have the liberty to spend more money on advertising and marketing than the Broadway producers of old. In promoting "The Scarlet Pimpernel", Livent has been able to afford giving away mini-CDs in newspapers as well as running TV commercials for the show.

It is this kind of heavy marketing has helped the two musical extravaganzas to two of the top spots of Broadway's biggest earners.

Applause time

[ image: Well-known British actor Richard Briers stars in The Chairs]
Well-known British actor Richard Briers stars in The Chairs
But all is not lost for those who pine for the Broadway of the past. Some smaller productions also have attracted attention and this year.

The pick of the drama comes from Britain and Ireland. Art, which opened in New York following tremendous success London, is tipped as favourite for the Best Play award. Another one of Art's leading men, Alfred Molina, is up for Best Actor in a play.

Mr Reyhac on the recent British successes on Broadway
Competing against Art are Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and the Royal Court's production of The Chairs, starring Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan. They are also up for best actor and actress respectively. Both plays have been nominated in a total of six categories.

Always the optimist, Mr Reyhac says that the smaller plays success proves that there is room for everyone on Broadway. After all, no matter who's paying, the show must go on.

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