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‘Urinetown,’ ‘Millie’ Battle at Tonys

June 3, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) _ The thoroughly old-fashioned ``Thoroughly Modern Millie″ and the edgy ``Urinetown,″ two very different musicals, battled Sunday to dominate the 2002 Tony Awards.

``Millie″ won for choreography (Rob Ashford), costume design (Martin Pakledinaz) and orchestrations (Doug Besterman and veteran jazz man Ralph Burns, who died in November).

The show’s Harriet Harris received the statuette for featured actress, playing the diabolical Mrs. Meers.

``My mother once said that my first words were `Tony Award.′ Being Texan, she was prone to exaggeration. I think it was something more like, `Give me Tony,‴ Harris cracked.

``Urinetown,″ the satiric little show about a city where everyone must pay to use toilets, received three major prizes _ for direction of a musical (John Rando), best book (Greg Kotis), and score of a musical (shared by Kotis and Mark Hollmann).

Featured acting awards for a play went to Katie Finneran, the nearsighted blond bombshell in ``Noises Off,″ and Frank Langella, who plays an extravagant fop in ``Fortune’s Fool.″

Shuler Hensley won as featured actor in a musical for his role as the brooding, despondent Jud Fry in ``Oklahoma!″

Mary Zimmerman who adapted and directed the myth-inspired ``Metamorphoses″ took the prize for direction of a play.

``I would like to thank every single person I’ve ever met in my life,″ said Zimmerman as she fought back tears.

``Private Lives″ won for best revival of a play.

Without a smash hit like last year’s ``The Producers,″ the 2002 Tonys were seen as a spirited horse race _ creating some real competition for prizes honoring the best of the Broadway season.

``Millie,″ based on the 1967 Julie Andrews movie, and ``Urinetown″ also squared off in the best-musical category. Their competition: ``Mamma Mia!″, a celebration of the Swedish pop group ABBA, and ``Sweet Smell of Success,″ based on the dark doings of a powerful New York gossip columnist.

For best play, ``The Goat or Who is Sylvia?″ _ to give its full title _ and ``Metamorphoses″ went against this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Suzan-Lori Parks’ tale of sibling rivalry, ``Topdog/Underdog,″ and ``Fortune’s Fool,″ written in 1848 by Russian playwright Ivan Turgenev but considered a new play because it has never been performed on Broadway.

Among the performers up for top acting prizes in ceremonies at Radio City Music Hall were Alan Bates, Liam Neeson, Billy Crudup, Alan Rickman and Jeffrey Wright in the best-actor category, and Lindsay Duncan, Mercedes Ruehl, Laura Linney, Kate Burton and Helen Mirren for actress.

Last year, ``The Producers,″ the Mel Brooks musical, took home 12 Tonys _ a Broadway record.

``This season was more evenly divided,″ says Jed Bernstein, head of the League of American Theatres and Producers. ``No play or musical got unanimous critical acclaim,″ despite the fact that there were more of them _ 35 productions, compared to 28 in 2000-2001.

Both grosses and attendance were down slightly from the previous season’s banner year, leaving industry leaders more relieved than dismayed. ``Broadway has rebounded,″ according to Bernstein, from the disastrous events of Sept. 11 and the aftereffects of a lingering economic downturn. ``We dodged a bullet.″

Business was shaky throughout the fall but gradually returned, even if a lot of the tourists didn’t, thanks to aggressive marketing campaigns, more theatergoers from the suburban New York area, discount ticket sales and a milder than normal winter.

Yet a sense of nervousness prevails. Advance ticket sales have faltered with audiences preferring to buy at the last minute or only a week or two in advance.

Still, at least eight shows recouped their investments including the $10 million ``Mamma Mia!″, ``Metamorphoses,″ ``Elaine Stritch at Liberty,″ ``Bea Arthur on Broadway,″ ``Dance of Death,″ ``Noises Off,″ ``Sexaholix″ and ``The Graduate,″ a starry stage version of the Mike Nichols movie that had the distinction of receiving no Tony nominations (a fact cheekily noted in its latest advertisements).

The Tonys are a joint presentation of the league and the American Theater Wing, which founded the awards in 1947. Nominees in 22 categories were chosen by the 27-member Tony nominating committee of theater professionals. Winners then were voted on by 731 theater professionals and journalists.

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