Tony talk reaches new ‘Heights’

Miranda production a front-runner for best musical

Is it too soon to predict who’ll win the Tony for best musical?

Well, certainly. “Cry-Baby” is barely open, and nobody knows much at all about still-previewing “Glory Days.”

But that hasn’t stopped legiters from placing their bets on “In the Heights.”

Among those inclined to talk early and often about the annual Tony Award horse race — which is to say, pretty much everyone — the tuner about life in uptown Manhattan looks like the show to beat.

It comes from new blood (in the form of 28-year-old Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer-lyricist who is also the lead actor), a fact that pleases those who believe Broadway could always use some rejuvenation. But unlike the loose rock-concert vibe of fellow newcomer “Passing Strange,” “Heights” has just enough old-fashioned structure to please traditionalists.

Among other candidates, likely nominee “A Catered Affair” recently earned a mixed bag of reviews, and “Xanadu” is generally thought a possibility for a nom but an unlikely winner. The big-budget fall offerings, “Young Frankenstein” and “The Little Mermaid,” are not much on awards-watchers’ radars, although “Frankenstein” picked up a surprising 10 noms from the Outer Critics Circle last week. (“Heights” was ineligible this season because it was considered last year in its original Off Broadway stint, which picked up the OCC kudo for Off Broadway tuner.)

As one industry insider says of “Heights”: “I don’t see what’s stopping it.”

As for play, Tracy Letts‘ Pulitzer-winning family drama “August: Osage County” looks like a no-brainer. It’s the revival categories that are the head-scratchers.

For musical revival, you’ve got rapturously received new stagings of “South Pacific” and “Gypsy” going head to head — a competition complicated somewhat by darkhorse candidate “Sunday in the Park With George.”

As for revival of a play: Who knows?

With three high-profile outings left to open (“Boeing-Boeing,” Roundabout’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and Manhattan Theater Club’s “Top Girls”) and “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “The Homecoming” and “Macbeth” each seeming like potential nominees, that category looks like anybody’s game.

Speaking of early Tony buzz, London smash “Billy Elliot” has long been viewed as the 800-pound gorilla of the 2008-09 season.

The tuner, which has been playing on the West End since 2005 and recently launched a hit Australian incarnation, rolled out its upcoming American staging last week, with a group sales event that had Elton John introducing the three boys who’ll tackle the uber-challenging title role on the Rialto.

Presentation played up the universal kid-with-a-dream storyline while cannily downplaying the show’s backdrop of Thatcher-era politics, likely to resonate less strongly with U.S. crowds than it did with Brits.

Not that group sales vendors need much convincing. The tuner is already selling well enough that when the beginning of Rialto previews was unexpectedly pushed back by a couple of weeks to Oct. 1 (due to helmer Stephen Daldry‘s film commitments), juggling was required to re-sked buyers’ previously purchased seats for those dates. (Box office for individual ticket sales opens in June, although American Express cardholders can buy ducats now.)

Group sales mavens, judging solely from the brief song-and-dance performed last week by the three U.S. Billys, are already trying to figure which of the trio will be considered the “best Billy.”

 

Lincoln Center Theater has skedded a developmental reading in early May of the untitled new tuner that reunites the legit nonprofit with director-choreographer Susan Stroman (“The Producers”) and book writer John Weidman (“Assassins”), the team behind LCT’s Tony-winning “Contact.”

That show had no original music, but the new one has a score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, the songwriting duo from “Grey Gardens.”

The first project to come out of LCT’s Bernard Gersten Commission Endowment, the musical centers on a group of people caught on a subway train under unusual circumstances. Norbert Leo Butz, Debra Monk, Horatio Sanz and Jennifer Laura Thompson are among the thesps involved in the reading.

No production timeline has yet been determined.

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