Tony Awards 2009: Billy Elliot, Gods of Carnage, Who Will Win?

June 7, 2009–“Billy Elliot” and “God of Carnage” were the biggest attractions in a Broadway season that finished better than expected due to the economic depression.  Both compte tonight for multiple Tony awards, the most prestigious prize in the theater world.

The Tonys are presented by the League and the American Theatre Wing, a nonprofit service organization, which founded the Tonys in 1947.   The awards are voted on in 27  competitive categories by more than 800 members of the theatrical community, including producers, actors and journalists.

Expect the two shows' popularity to extend to Sunday night's Tonys, where the British musical, which I saw three years ago on the West End,  and the Yasmina Reza play could score major wins.

“Billy Elliot,” the story of a coal miner's son who dreams to dance, is expected to dominate the musical prizes.  The musical is based on the Oscar-nominated movie directed by Stephen Daldry.  Reza's play, which offers a satiric look at the collapse of middle-class propriety, is the favorite for the best play kudo.

Competing against “Billy Elliot” for the top musical prize: “Next to Normal,” which examines a family fractured by a mother's mental illness; “Shrek,” DreamWorks' tale of a cantankerous green ogre; and “Rock of Ages,” a celebration of 1980s music.

“God of Carnage” faces “reasons to be pretty,” Neil LaBute's intimate look at a troubled relationship; “Dividing the Estate,” Horton Foote's gently comic examination of a squabble over money; and “33 Variations,” Moises Kaufman's drama about a dying woman's pursuit of a musical mystery.

“The diversity of offerings, the quality of the shows that were mounted, not to mention big stars, really centered the season,” says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, an industry trade organization.

Broadway had a surprisingly robust 2008-2009 season.   And the spring was exceptionally busy, with stars such as Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, David Hyde Pierce, John Goodman, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney and Brian Dennehy all arriving in the last week of April.

Attendance during the 2008-2009 season slipped a bit (to 12.15 million from 12.27 million the previous year) but not as much as was feared because of the recession. And grosses for plays and musicals actually were a bit higher than a year earlier, setting a record of $943.3 million.

Forty-three shows opened during the season, the highest number of new productions since the 1982-83 season, which saw 50 shows.

Prominent performers who did not receive nomination included Kristin Scott Thomas, Daniel Radcliffe, John Lithgow, Lane, Irwin and Goodman.