NEW YORK – "Wicked," (search) a lavish look at the "Wizard of Oz" witches, and "I Am My Own Wife," (search) a gender-bending tale of survival, were favorites for the top musical and drama prizes at the 2004 Tony Awards.
Yet neither was expected to dominate Sunday's ceremony honoring the best of the Broadway season.
"Wicked," the year's biggest musical hit, faced its stiffest competition from "Avenue Q," a cheeky little show that uses puppets, four-letter words and catchy, jinglelike tunes to tell the story of the lives and loves of youthful New Yorkers.
Also nominated for best musical were "Caroline, or Change," the story of an embittered black maid in a white household in 1963 Louisiana, and "The Boy From Oz," starring Hugh Jackman (search) as flamboyant entertainer Peter Allen.
Doug Wright's "I Am My Own Wife," already the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama, competed for best play against Nilo Cruz's "Anna in the Tropics," which took the Pulitzer in 2003; "Frozen," Bryony Lavery's tale of the disappearance and murder of a child; and William Nicholson's "The Retreat From Moscow," which chronicles the collapse of a marriage.
Among the actors up for prizes this year were Kevin Kline, (search) Phylicia Rashad, Christopher Plummer, (search) Tovah Feldshuh, Frank Langella, Swoosie Kurtz (search) and Jackman, who was tapped as host for the CBS telecast from Radio City Music Hall.
"The Tonys this year show exactly how diverse the kind of work that reaches Broadway can be," said Howard Sherman, executive director of the American Theatre Wing, which founded the Tonys nearly 60 years ago. "If you look in the musical category, you could not ask for four more different entertainment experiences.
"And the nominated plays are all serious works, dramas of real weight and real heft."
It was a busy year with 39 productions opening on Broadway during the 2003-2004 season, compared to 36 shows the previous 12 months. Grosses were up, too, from $721 million to $771 million, but so were ticket prices. Attendance reached 11.61 million, an increase from 11.42 million a year ago, but still not as high as the 11.89 million during the season before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
If there was no universally acclaimed, mega-musical such as "The Producers" (search) or "Hairspray," there were several high-profile successes. Besides "Wicked," audiences flocked to the revival of "A Raisin in the Sun," with hip-hop mogul Sean Combs the main box-office draw.
"Avenue Q" was the first musical of the season to recoup its investment, a modest $3.5 million (well, modest compared to the $14 million price tag for "Wicked") and theatergoers made such limited engagements as Lincoln Center Theater's two Shakespeare revivals, "Henry IV" and "King Lear," hot tickets, too.
The Tony winners in 21 categories were chosen by 735 theater professionals and journalists.
The Tonys, officially known as the Antoinette Perry Awards, were founded in 1947 by the Wing, which runs educational and charitable programs. The organization, which Perry headed during World War II, now oversees the Tonys with the League of American Theatres and Producers, an industry trade group.