Nowadays, however, Broadway borrows from studio vaults, turning both celluloid hits and misses into stage shows. This year at least two of the likely four contenders for best musical first came to light in a darkened multiplex.
Mel Brooks -- one of only 10 people to win all four major awards (Tony, Oscar, Grammy, Emmy) -- got his three Tonys for adapting "The Producers" seven years ago. While that show won a record 12 Tonys, his new one, "Young Frankenstein," will be lucky to just make it into the races. Though the cast is full of past Tony- winners -- Roger Bart, Sutton Foster, Andrea Martin and Shuler Hensley -- and the same creative team from "The Producers" put this tuner together, critics found the sum less than the parts.
Two screen-to-stage musicals that previewed in California are coming into town with good buzz.
First up is "Cry-Baby," hoping to repeat the success of another John Waters' movie spun into musical gold "Hairspray," which won eight Tonys in 2003 and just swept the Oliviers in London. The Tony-winning writers of that show, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, adapted the 1990 film, which starred Johnny Depp as a bad boy who won over good girls by shedding a single tear.
"A Catered Affair," a low-key show based on a 1950s film about a Bronx family's struggle to pay for their daughter's wedding, marks the return of Tony-winner Faith Prince as the mother of the bride. With words and music by cabaret vet John Bucchino and a script by co-star and Tony favorite Harvey Fierstein, this musical could hit just the right note with critics and voters when it opens next month.
Disney's latest toon-to-tuner, "The Little Mermaid," which floundered with critics, is destined to suffer the same fate as did "Tarzan" two years ago. That show slipped off the vine clutching only a single technical Tony nod for lighting.
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If there is a guaranteed nominee, it is "In the Heights," a gritty look at life among the Latino community of Washington Heights. Like last year's best musical, "Spring Awakening," this show began off Broadway and marks the debut of a new talent. Critics hailed the efforts of composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda ,who also stars as the narrator. The cast won a special ensemble award from the Drama Desk last year, and several actors, including theater vet and Tony-winner Priscilla Lopez could feature in this year's acting races.
And "Passing Strange," a downtown art-house hit that moved uptown to a Broadway house, also did well with the critics. However, this quasi-autobiography of indie musician Stew may be a little too avant garde for the mainstream Tony voters.
In the nearly 90 years of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, only seven musicals have won. Two of them, "South Pacific" (1950) and "Sunday in the Park with George" (1985), return to the Rialto for the first time, while the most recent, "Rent" (1996), is due to close June 1 after a 12-year run.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" is the only show in Tony history to take all four acting awards ( Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza, Juanita Hall, and Myron McCormick). The current cast, which just began previews, includes Tony nominees Kelli O'Hara, Matthew Morrison, and Danny Burstein as well as opera star Paulo Szot.
Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George" won only two technical Tonys back in 1984 ("La Cage Aux Folles" was the big winner with eight Tonys). This production features Olivier winners Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell. Last year, another Sondheim tuner, "Company," took home the Tony for best revival, but it had won the best musical prize in 1971.
Sondheim wrote the words to Jule Styne's music for "Gypsy," which is having its fourth revival since the show debuted in 1959 with the incomparable Ethel Merman as the mother of all stage mothers. All of the actresses to play the part have been at least Tony-nominated, with Angela Lansbury (1974) and Tyne Daly (1990) winning. Now, Tony-winner Patti Lupone ( "Evita") takes her turn as Rose.