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It's U.S. vs. Britain for Tony

Could Miss Saigon NOT win the best musical prize at the 1991 Tony Awards? There is real competition between the highly publicized English musical and the American-made The Will Rogers Follies. And it's a horse race for best play, too, a battle between Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning Lost in Yonkers and Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare.

The results will be televised tonight during a two-hour special from the Minskoff Theater.

Traditionally, the odds favor Miss Saigon, a lavish retelling of Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, updated to the Vietnam War. Those big musical bundles from Britain haven't lost the best musical award, starting with Evita in 1980. Cats took the top prize in 1983. Les Miserables won in 1987, and The Phantom of the Opera picked up the honor the following season.

This year, it could be different. Despite some favorable reviews, including the all-important New York Times, and a $35-million advance sale, Miss Saigon has its vociferous opponents. The Will Rogers Follies, a Ziegfeld-like extravaganza directed by Tommy Tune, didn't get all raves from the critics either. But the show, which has a score by Broadway veterans Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, took best musical honors from the New York Drama Critics' Circle and the Drama Desk.

Once on This Island, a Caribbean fairy tale, and The Secret Garden, an adaptation of the classic children's novel, are considered long shots for the best musical prize.

The Actors' Equity battle over British actor Jonathan Pryce and whether he should have been able to re-create his role of the Eurasian pimp on Broadway also could hurt Miss Saigon. Pryce might be edged out by Keith Carradine, who plays the famed Oklahoma humorist and lariat-twirler in The Will Rogers Follies. Other nominees are Topol, who played Tevye in a revival of Fiddler on the Roof, and Paul Hipp, chosen for his portrayal of rock 'n' roll legend Buddy Holly in the recently closed Buddy.

A close contest also looms between Six Degrees of Separation, which opened last June in the small Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, and Simon's Lost in Yonkers.

The Guare play about a con man who dupes several wealthy New Yorkers received the best reviews of any new production last season. It transferred in November to the Broadway-sized Vivian Beaumont Theater in the Lincoln Center, a move which also made it eligible for Tony consideration.

This year Lost in Yonkers was a surprise winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Simon's first, and also captured the Drama Desk nod for best play. The New York Drama Critics' Circle gave their best play prize to Six Degrees. The other nominees are Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, about a group of convicts in Australia who put on a play, and Shadowlands, a drama about writer C.S. Lewis, which closed in April. Both have little chance of winning.

The other category with spirited competition is best actress, with Mercedes Ruehl of Lost in Yonkers going against Stockard Channing of Six Degrees of Separation. Ruehl, who won raves for her portrayal of an endearing, simple-minded aunt in the Simon play, might just edge out Channing, who plays a gullible East Side matron in Six Degrees. Their competition includes Julie Harris, who was Danish writer Isak Dinesen in the short-lived Lucifer's Child, and the little-known Cherry Jones, a tough female convict in Our Country's Good.

None of the nominees for best actor in a play _ Peter Frechette, Nigel Hawthorne, Tom McGowan and Courtney B. Vance _ is a household name, particularly beyond Shubert Alley. It boils down to a battle between Hawthorne, who played C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands, and Vance, the con artist of Six Degrees of Separation.

There's no contest for the best actress in a musical. Lea Salonga will triumph for her performance as Kim, the bar girl in Miss Saigon. Her competition: June Angela of Shogun, The Musical; Dee Hoty, The Will Rogers Follies; and gymnast-turned-actress Cathy Rigby for her athletic performance in a revival of Peter Pan.

Another question to be answered tonight is "How many Tonys will Tommy Tune win?" The director and choreographer already has collected seven Tonys during his career, including two last June for Grand Hotel. This season, he was nominated as director and as choreographer of The Will Rogers Follies and should add at least one more to his impressive total.

This year's nominations produced surprisingly little controversy among theater professionals. There are no obvious duds in the best musical competition. In the past, nominating committees have had to scrape up such now little-known shows as The Lieutenant, Blues in the Night, Leader of the Pack and Quilters to fill the category.

In the acting sweepstakes, only the omission of Nicol Williamson, who plays the ghost of John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet, raised some eyebrows. But the Tony nominating committee may have been swayed by Williamson's extra-theatrical flourishes. His antics included leaving the stage when he didn't have lines to say and swatting the young leading man with his sword, an action which caused the actor to walk out of the show.

The winners are picked by 624 members of the theatrical profession and journalists. The Tonys, first given in 1947, are presented by the League of American Theaters and Producers and the American Theater Wing. They were named after Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer and head of the Theater Wing.

TV PREVIEW

The Tony Awards will air tonight at 9 (locally on WTVT-Ch. 13) from the Minskoff Theater in New York. Co-hosts will be Julie Andrews and Jeremy Irons.

Want to keep track while you watch? Check out our Tony scorecard on 6F.

Your Tony Award scorecard

Here are the nominations for the 1991 Tony Awards, which will be announced tonight at 9 on CBS (locally, WTVT-Ch.13):

Lost in Yonkers, by Neil Simon

Our Country's Good, by Timberlake Wertenbaker

Shadowlands, by William Nicholson

Six Degrees of Separation, by John Guare

Miss Saigon

Once on This Island

The Secret Garden

The Will Rogers Follies

Fiddler on the Roof

The Miser

Peter Pan

Peter Frechette, Our Country's Good

Nigel Hawthorne, Shadowlands

Tom McGowan, La Bete

Courtney B. Vance, Six Degrees of Separation

Stockard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation

Julie Harris, Lucifer's Child

Cherry Jones, Our Country's Good

Mercedes Ruehl, Lost in Yonkers

Keith Carradine, The Will Rogers Follies

Paul Hipp, BuddyThe Buddy Holly Story

Jonathan Pryce, Miss Saigon

Topol, Fiddler on the Roof

June Angela, Shogun, the Musical

Dee Hoty, The Will Rogers Follies

Cathy Rigby, Peter Pan

Lea Salonga, Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg

Once on This Island by Lynn Ahrens

The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman

The Will Rogers Follies by Peter

Stone

Miss Saigon, composer Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyricists Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil

Once on This Island, composer

Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn

Ahrens

The Secret Garden, composer

Lucy Simon, lyricist Marsha

Norman

The Will Rogers Follies, composer Cy Coleman, lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Richard Jones, La Bete

Mark Lamos, Our Country's Good

Gene Saks, Lost in Yonkers

Jerry Zaks, Six Degrees of Separation

Graciela Daniele, Once on This Island

Nicholas Hytner, Miss Saigon

Eleanor Reissa, Those Were the Days

Tommy Tune, The Will Rogers Follies

Adam Arkin, I Hate Hamlet

Dylan Baker, La Bete

Stephen Lang, The Speed of Darkness

Kevin Spacey, Lost in Yonkers

Amelia Campbell, Our Country's Good

Kathryn Erbe, The Speed of Darkness

J. Smith-Cameron, Our Country's Good

Irene Worth, Lost in Yonkers

Bruce Adler, Those Were the Days

Hinton Battle, Miss Saigon

Gregg Burge, Oh! Kay!

Willy Falk, Miss Saigon

Daisy Eagan, The Secret Garden

Alison Fraser, The Secret Garden

Cady Huffman, The Will Rogers Follies

La Chanze, Once on This Island

Richard Hudson, La Bete

Heidi Landesman, The Secret Garden

John Napier, Miss Saigon

Tony Walton, The Will Rogers Follies

Theoni V. Aldredge, The Secret Garden

Judy Dearing, Once on This Island

Willa Kim, The Will Rogers Follies

Patricia Zipprodt, Shogun, the Musical

Jules Fisher, The Will Rogers Follies

David Hersey, Miss Saigon

Allen Lee Hughes, Once on This Island

Jennifer Tipton, La Bete

Bob Avian, Miss Saigon

Graciela Daniele, Once on This Island

Dan Siretta, Oh! Kay!

Tommy Tune, The Will Rogers Follies

A special Tony Award for continued excellence by a regional theater will be given to the Yale Repertory Theatre.

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