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Galloping away with the most Tony nods

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Monty Python's Spamalot, a madcap musical based on the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, came a step closer to finding the grail when it racked up a whopping 14 Tony Award nominations in New York yesterday.

Capping one of the strongest seasons for new musicals in recent years, the Arthurian spoof will compete against two shows with 11 nominations each - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, adapted from the 1988 movie about a couple of con men on the Riviera, and The Light in the Piazza, a musical with a score by Richard Rodgers' grandson, Adam Guettel, about an American mother and her mentally challenged grown daughter, who finds romance on an Italian vacation. Completing the category is an off-Broadway transfer, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with six nominations.

Although Spelling Bee could prove a spoiler along the lines of last year's upset winner, Avenue Q, the wildly irreverent Spamalot is considered the favorite. The show earned nominations for its book (by former Python Eric Idle), score (by John Du Prez and Idle), as well as five cast members (including lead actors Tim Curry as King Arthur and Hank Azaria as Sir Lancelot) and veteran director Mike Nichols.

The top two contenders for best play both deal with child abuse. John Patrick Shanley's Doubt pits a determined nun (Cherry Jones) against a young priest (Brian F. O'Byrne) whom she believes is guilty of child molestation. Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, set in a totalitarian state, concerns the interrogation of a writer (Billy Crudup) who may be responsible for the murders of children.

Both plays have already scored impressive awards. Doubt, which garnered eight Tony nominations, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. The Pillowman won the 2004 Olivier Award (the British Tony). Their competition consists of two plays that have already closed - Michael Frayn's Democracy and August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean.

In a season which the preponderance of male-dominated plays were dubbed "testosterone-laden productions" by The New York Times, the category of lead actor in a play offered a slew of potential nominees. Missing from the final list of five were Hollywood stars Jeff Goldblum, who depicts an interrogator in The Pillowman, and Denzel Washington, whose portrayal of Brutus in Julius Caesar drew mixed reviews and was widely regarded as a long shot.

The nominees for best play revival also came from a crowded field. Classics such as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and two Tennessee Williams revivals, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, were overlooked, as were Williams leading ladies Natasha Richardson and Jessica Lange.

Instead, the category is comprised of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond. The latter played a pre-Broadway run at Washington's Kennedy Center in October, starring James Earl Jones, who will compete for his third Tony after a 17-year absence from Broadway.

Nominations went to all four Virginia Woolf actors (including Kathleen Turner, a 1977 graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who was last seen in Baltimore starring in the Broadway tryout of The Graduate). In addition, Albee, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, will be honored with a Tony for lifetime achievement.

Although there have been some years when musical revivals have outnumbered new musicals, this was far from the case this season. Only three musical revivals - La Cage aux Folles, Pacific Overtures and Sweet Charity - opened in 2004-2005, and all were nominated.

Sweet Charity, which opened on the final day of eligibility, nearly didn't make it to Broadway. Plans were canceled after former Married ... with Children TV star Christina Applegate - who plays the title role of a dance-hall hostess - broke her right foot during an out-of-town tryout. The actress successfully fought to get the show back on track, however, and came away with a Tony nomination yesterday.

Ten of the designers nominated for Tonys have worked at Center Stage over the years, including all of the nominees for best lighting design of a play. Several nominated actors also have Center Stage credits, including Doubt's Jones, Spamalot's Christopher Sieber, Glengarry Glen Ross' Liev Schreiber and Dirty Rotten Scoundrel's John Lithgow, who directed The Beaux' Strategem here in 1972.

The musical adaptation of Little Women, which is coming to the Hippodrome in April, received only one nomination, for lead actress Sutton Foster.

The regional theater Tony Award will go to Minneapolis' Theatre de la Jeune Lune, a company founded in France that incorporates elements of circus, commedia dell'arte and vaudeville into its productions.

The 59th annual Tony Awards' ceremony will be broadcast live on CBS (WJZ, Channel 13) from Radio City Music Hall from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. Sunday, June 5. Hugh Jackman, host of last year's awards (and a 2004 Tony winner) will again serve as emcee.

Tony nominees

Nominees for the 59th Annual Tony Award announced yesterday:

Play: Democracy; Doubt; Gem of the Ocean; The Pillowman

Musical: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; The Light in the Piazza; Spamalot; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Book, musical: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Jeffrey Lane; The Light in the Piazza, Craig Lucas; Spamalot, Eric Idle; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Rachel Sheinkin

Original score: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, David Yazbek; The Light in the Piazza, Adam Guettel; Spamalot, John Du Prez and Eric Idle; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, William Finn

Best revival, play: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Glengarry Glen Ross; On Golden Pond; Twelve Angry Men

Best revival, musical: La Cage aux Folles; Pacific Overtures; Sweet Charity

Lead actor, play: Philip Bosco, Twelve Angry Men; Billy Crudup, The Pillowman; Bill Irwin, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; James Earl Jones, On Golden Pond; BrM-man F. O'Byrne, Doubt

Lead actress, play: Cherry Jones, Doubt ; Laura Linney, Sight Unseen; Mary-Louise Parker, Reckless; Phylicia Rashad, Gem of the Ocean; Kathleen Turner, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Lead actor, musical: Hank Azaria, Spamalot; Gary Beach, La Cage aux Folles; Norbert Leo Butz, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Tim Curry, Spamalot; John Lithgow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Lead actress, musical: Christina Applegate, Sweet Charity; Victoria Clark, The Light in the Piazza; Erin Dilly, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Sutton Foster, Little Women; Sherie Rene Scott, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Featured actor, play: Alan Alda, Glengarry Glen Ross; Gordon Clapp, Glengarry Glen Ross; David Harbour, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Liev Schreiber, Glengarry Glen Ross; Michael Stuhlbarg, The Pillowman

Featured actress, play: Mireille Enos, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Heather Goldenhersh, Doubt; Dana Ivey, The Rivals; Adriane Lenox, Doubt; Amy Ryan, A Streetcar Named Desire

Featured actor, musical: Dan Fogler, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Marc Kudisch, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Michael McGrath, Spamalot; Matthew Morrison, The Light in the Piazza; Christopher Sieber, Spamalot

Featured actress, musical: Joanna Gleason, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Celia Keenan-Bolger, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Jan Maxwell, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Kelli O'Hara, The Light in the Piazza; Sara Ramirez, Spamalot

Direction, play: John Crowley, The Pillowman; Scott Ellis, Twelve Angry Men; Doug Hughes, Doubt; Joe Mantello, Glengarry Glen Ross

Direction, musical: James Lapine, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Mike Nichols, Spamalot; Jack O'Brien, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Bartlett Sher, The Light in the Piazza

Choreography: Wayne Cilento, Sweet Charity; Jerry Mitchell, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Jerry Mitchell, La Cage aux Folles; Casey Nicholaw, Spamalot

Orchestrations: Larry Hochman, Spamalot; Ted Sperling, Adam Guettel and Bruce Coughlin, The Light in the Piazza; Jonathan Tunick, Pacific Overtures; Harold Wheeler, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Theatrical event: Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance!; Laugh Whore; 700 Sundays; Whoopi, the 20th Anniversary Show

Regional Theatre: Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis

Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre: Edward Albee

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