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Schwartz, Sondheim, Shakespeare Top Drama Desk Nominations

Two tuners by musical theatre titans—composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who with book writer Winnie Holzman brought Broadway the backstory of "The Wizard of Oz" in "Wicked," and composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who with book writer John Weidman took aim at presidential "Assassins"—topped the list when the nominations for the 49th annual Drama Desk Awards were announced on Thurs., April 29.

"Wicked," a commercial production, received 11 nods, the most of any show this season. "Assassins," arriving on Broadway for the first time ever courtesy of the not-for-profit Roundabout Theatre Company, scored seven.

Also receiving seven nominations, the most for any play this season, was the Lincoln Center Theater revival of Shakespeare's "Henry IV." Directed by Jack O'Brien and starring Kevin Kline, Ethan Hawke, and Audra McDonald, the revival opened to near-unanimous acclaim and quickly sold out its limited run.

"Wicked," which has been hovering around the $1-million-a-week mark at the box office since it opened last fall, captured a best musical nod; two for best actress in a musical (Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel); one for director of a musical (Joe Mantello); one each for music, lyrics, and book (two for Schwartz for the former, one for Holzman for the latter); one for orchestrations (William David Brohn); and one each for set, costume, and lighting design (Eugene Lee, Susan Hilferty, and Kenneth Posner, respectively).

Mantello, in particular, is flying high: He was also nominated for directing "Assassins." The Sondheim show was also recognized with a nod for best musical revival; featured actor (Marc Kudisch); orchestrations (Michael Starobin); set design (Robert Brill); lighting design (Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer); and sound design (Dan Moses Schreier).

Award-winning performers Mary-Louise Parker and Tony Roberts took turns announcing the nominations at the New York Friars Club, after introductions from William Wolf, president of the Drama Desk, and Randie Levine-Miller, director of special events.

As reported two weeks ago in Back Stage, Roy A. Somlyo, the former president and CEO of the American Theatre Wing, which co-produces the Tony Awards, will serve as executive consultant to the Drama Desk Awards. Somlyo recently announced that NYC-TV and Channel 36 in Los Angeles have each agreed to a delayed airing of the awards this year, which will be hosted by Harvey Fierstein and commence Sun., May 16 at 9 pm at the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

"Wicked" not only dominated the Drama Desk decisions in terms of overall nominations, but it put its competitors on Broadway and beyond into tight contentions. Its fiercest competitor for an Outstanding Musical win would have to be "Caroline, or Change," the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical that recently transferred from the Public Theater to Broadway. The show took noms for best actress in a musical (Tonya Pinkins), featured actress (Anika Noni Rose), director of a musical (George C. Wolfe), music (Tesori), book (Kushner), or six in all, fourth place among all shows. Rounding out the category is "Johnny Guitar," an Off-Broadway entry based on the '50s-era cult-classic film, and "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical," a satire of the self-same that ran earlier in the season.

The revival of "Wonderful Town," too, scored six nods, including musical revival, actress (Donna Murphy), featured actor (Raymond Jaramillo McLeod), choreography and direction (each for Kathleen Marshall), and set design (John Lee Beatty).

Among plays, things seem less clear-cut. With the exception of "I Am My Own Wife," which enjoyed its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons before transferring to Broadway (and winning, among other things, the Pulitzer Prize in Drama), all the contenders are Off-Broadway shows. They include Amy Freed's "The Beard of Avon"; Neil LaBute's "The Distance From Here"—also cited by the Drama Desk nominators for outstanding ensemble work; Charlotte Jones' "Humble Boy"; Julian Rad's "Moby Dick," an extremely rare citation of Off-Off-Broadway work; and Martin Moran's "The Tricky Part."

Play and musical revivals balanced work from Broadway and beyond more evenly. Irish Rep's mounting of Dion Boucicault's 1860 play "The Colleen Bawn" began the list, followed by the Mint Theater Company's production D.H. Lawrence's 1911 "The Daughter-in-Law." Then came the aforementioned Lincoln Center Theater "Henry IV," Watermill Theatre's version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" seen very briefly at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Worth Street Theatre Company's 20-year-anniversary production of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart," and the newly opened Broadway revisit of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun."

Speaking of which, the Drama Desk nominations were as notable for their omissions—perhaps more so—as for what the nominators (in their wisdom) elected to include. For example, while Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald were cited for Outstanding and Featured Actress in a Play, respectively, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and co-star Sanaa Lathan were overlooked. Eileen Atkins was cited for her work in "The Retreat From Moscow," a Broadway outing from earlier this season, but co-stars John Lithgow and Ben Chaplin were ignored as well as director Dan Sullivan.

(Although Lithgow did pick up a nod for his work in A.R. Gurney's "Mrs. Farnsworth," currently running at the Flea Theater. And the Flea, in addition, earned one of the three special awards the Drama Desk chose to hand out this year.)

Perhaps the most surprising omissions were those of Swoosie Kurtz, the star of the play "Frozen," which is attempting a late-season transfer to Broadway and who received rhapsodic notices; Jennifer Westfeldt, Donna Murphy's co-star in the revival of "Wonderful Town"; and Simon Russell Beale in a highly-lauded performance in the revival of Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers."

Unlike the Tonys, the Drama Desk Awards consider Broadway, Off-, and Off-Off-Broadway productions equally. This year, 27 categories generated 140 nominations—one category more yet six nominations fewer than 2003.

Of all the nominations, 69 were for Broadway shows—nine fewer than last year's 78—although if one counts nods based on transfers to Broadway from Off-Broadway, that number rises to 80. Of the rest, the vast majority of nominations yet again this year went to Off-Broadway shows. However, in a sign that the nomination committee might be paying better attention to the Off-Off-Broadway community than it has been known to do in recent years, there were some surprises in the roster.

For example, there were five nods for "Ramayana 2K3," which ran at La MaMa E.T.C. last fall, three for Works Productions' "Moby Dick," two for the Transport Group's revival of the Michael John LaChuisa musical "First Lady Suite," and two for the Adam Rapp play "Blackbird."

Six actors are up for Outstanding Solo Performance: Barbara Cook (for the second consecutive year, this time for "Barbara Cook's Broadway"), Ben Gazzara ("Nobody Don't Like Yogi"), Sarah Jones ("Bridge and Tunnel"), Jefferson Mays ("I Am My Own Wife"), Martin Moran ("The Tricky Part"), and Will Power ("Flow"). And three works are up for Unique Theatrical Experience: "Ramayana 2K3," "Todd Robbins' Carnival Knowledge," and "Toxic Audio in Loud Mouth."

Finally, the Drama Desk voted to present three special awards. The first goes to Dakin Matthews for this adaptation of the Bard's "Henry IV." The second, as previously mentioned, goes to the Flea Theater. And third goes to the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

Following is a complete list of 2004 Drama Desk nominees:

Play: "The Beard of Avon," "The Distance From Here," "Humble Boy," "I Am My Own Wife," "Moby Dick" (Works Productions)," "The Tricky Part."

Musical: "Caroline, or Change," "Johnny Guitar," "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical," "Wicked."

Revival of a Play: "The Colleen Bawn," "The Daughter-in-Law," "Henry IV," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Normal Heart," "A Raisin in the Sun."

Revival of a Musical: "Assassins," "Big River," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Finian's Rainbow," "First Lady Suite," "Wonderful Town."

Actor in a Play: John Michael Higgins ("Big Bill"), Kevin Kline ("Henry IV"), Frank Langella ("Match"), Brian F. O'Byrne ("Frozen"), Christopher Plummer ("King Lear"), Paul Sparks ("Blackbird").

Actress in a Play: Eileen Atkins ("The Retreat From Moscow"), Shannon Cochran ("Bug"), Viola Davis ("Intimate Apparel"), Lizan Mitchell ("Trojan Women"), Phylicia Rashad ("A Raisin in the Sun"), J. Smith-Cameron ("Sarah, Sarah").

Actor in a Musical: Hunter Foster ("Little Shop of Horrors"), Tyrone Giordano ("Big River"), Hugh Jackman ("The Boy From Oz"), Michael McElroy ("Big River"), Alfred Molina ("Fiddler on the Roof"), Euan Morton ("Taboo").

Actress in a Musical: Kristin Chenoweth ("Wicked"), Judy McLane ("Johnny Guitar"), Idina Menzel ("Wicked"), Donna Murphy ("Wonderful Town"), Elaine Paige ("Sweeney Todd"), Tonya Pinkins ("Caroline, or Change").

Featured Actor in a Play: Ned Beatty ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), Michael Berry ("Moby Dick"), Andre De Shields ("Prymate"), Aidan Gillen ("The Caretaker"), John Lithgow ("Mrs. Farnsworth"), Corey Stoll ("Intimate Apparel").

Featured Actress in a Play: Jayne Houdyshell ("Well"), Mikel Sarah Lambert ("The Daughter-in-Law"), Margo Martindale ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), Jan Maxwell ("Sixteen Wounded"), Audra McDonald ("A Raisin in the Sun"), Mary Louise Wilson ("The Beard of Avon").

Featured Actor in a Musical: Joel Blum ("Golf: The Musical"), Jeffrey Carlson ("Taboo"), Raul Esparza ("Taboo"), Mitchel David Federan ("The Boy From Oz"), Marc Kudisch ("Assassins"), Raymond Jaramillo McLeod ("Wonderful Town").

Featured Actress in a Musical: Lovette George ("The Musical of Musicals: The Musical"), Isabel Keating ("The Boy From Oz"), Alix Korey ("Listen to My Heart"), Anika Noni Rose ("Caroline, or Change"), Jennifer Simard ("The Thing About Men"), Mary Testa ("First Lady Suite").

Director of a Play: Hilary Adams ("Moby Dick"), Dexter Bullard ("Bug"), Edward Hall ("A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Moises Kaufman ("I Am My Own Wife"), Kenny Leon ("A Raisin in the Sun"), Jack O'Brien ("Henry IV").

Director of a Musical: Jeff Calhoun ("Big River"), Pamela Hunt ("The Musical of Musicals: The Musical"), Joe Mantello ("Assassins"), Joe Mantello ("Wicked"), Kathleen Marshall ("Wonderful Town"), George C. Wolfe ("Caroline, or Change").

Choreography: Stephen Hues ("Ramayana 2K3"), Kathleen Marshall ("Wonderful Town"), Jerry Mitchell ("Never Gonna Dance"), Anthony van Laast and Farah Khan ("Bombay Dreams").

Music: RaRa Avis and Andrew Yeater, et al. ("Ramayana 2K3"), Boy George ("Taboo"), Eric Rockwell ("The Musical of Musicals: The Musical"), Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked"), Martin Silvestri and Joel Higgins ("Johnny Guitar"), Jeanine Tesori ("Caroline, or Change").

Lyrics: Joanne Bogart ("The Musical of Musicals: The Musical"), Boy George ("Taboo"), Sean Hartley ("Cupid and Psyche"), Joel Higgins ("Johnny Guitar"), Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked").

Book of a Musical: Winnie Holzman ("Wicked"), Tony Kushner ("Caroline, or Change").

Orchestrations: Paul Bogaev ("Bombay Dreams"), William David Brohn ("Wicked"), Michael Starobin ("Assassins"), Harold Wheeler ("Never Gonna Dance").

Set Design of a Play: John Lee Beatty ("Twentieth Century"), Scott Bradley ("The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci"), Ralph Funicello ("Henry IV"), David Korins ("Blackbird"), Andrew Lieberman ("Wintertime"), Derek McLane ("I Am My Own Wife").

Set Design of a Musical: John Lee Beatty ("Wonderful Town"), Robert Brill ("Assassins"), Eugene Lee ("Wicked"), Tom Pye ("Fiddler on the Roof"), Mark Thompson ("Bombay Dreams").

Costume Design: Jess Goldstein ("Henry IV"), Susan Hilferty ("Wicked"), Robert A. Prior and Lisa Leighton ("Ramayana 2K3"), Jenny Mannis ("Animal Farm"), Mark Thompson ("Bombay Dreams"), Catherine Zuber ("Intimate Apparel").

Lighting Design: Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer ("Assassins"), TJ Gerckens ("The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci"), Donald Holder ("The Violet Hour"), David Lander ("I Am My Own Wife"), Brian MacDevitt ("Henry IV"), Kenneth Posner ("Wicked").

Sound Design: Mark Bennett ("Henry IV"), Scott Jennings ("Ramayana 2K3"), Brian Ronan ("Bug"), Dan Moses Schreier ("Assassins"), David Van Tieghem ("The Stendhal Syndrome").

Solo Performance: Barbara Cook ("Barbara Cook's Broadway"), Ben Gazzara ("Nobody Don't Like Yogi"), Sarah Jones ("Bridge and Tunnel"), Jefferson Mays ("I Am My Own Wife"), Martin Moran ("The Tricky Part"), Will Power ("Flow").

Unique Theatrical Experience: "Ramayana 2K3," "Todd Robbins' Carnival Knowledge," "Toxic Audio in Loud Mouth."

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