'Billy Elliot,' 'God Of Carnage' Look Toward Tonys

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AP
"Billy Elliot" and "God of Carnage" were the biggest attractions in a Broadway season that finished with a flourish on stage and, despite the economic downturn, at the box office, too.

Expect the two shows' popularity to extend to Sunday night's Tonys, where the British musical and the Yasmina Reza play could score major wins.

"Billy Elliot," the story of a coal miner's son who dreams to dance, was expected to dominate the musical prizes, while Reza's satiric look at the collapse of middle-class propriety was the favorite for the best play crown.

Competing against "Billy" for the top musical prize: "Next to Normal," which examines a family fractured by a mother's mental illness; "Shrek," DreamWorks' tale of a cantankerous green ogre; and "Rock of Ages," a celebration of '80s music.

"God of Carnage" faces "reasons to be pretty," Neil LaBute's look at an unraveling relationship; "Dividing the Estate," Horton Foote's gently comic examination of a squabble over money; and "33 Variations," Moises Kaufman's drama about a dying woman's pursuit of a musical mystery.

"The diversity of offerings, the quality of the shows that were mounted, not to mention big stars, really centered the season," says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, an industry trade organization.

Broadway had a surprisingly robust 2008-2009 season.

And the spring was exceptionally busy, with stars such as Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, David Hyde Pierce, John Goodman, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney and Brian Dennehy all arriving in the last week of April.

Attendance during the 2008-2009 season slipped a bit (to 12.15 million from 12.27 million the previous year) but not as much as was feared because of the recession. And grosses for plays and musicals actually were a bit higher than a year earlier, setting a record of $943.3 million.

Forty-three shows opened during the season, the highest number of new productions since 50 opened during the 1982-83 season.

"This is not a year when I would have wanted to be a Tony nominator," says St. Martin.

Prominent performers who did not receive nomination included Kristin Scott Thomas, Daniel Radcliffe, John Lithgow, as well as Lane, Irwin and Goodman.

The awards were voted on in 27 competitive categories by more than 800 members of the theatrical community, including producers, actors and journalists.

The Tonys are presented by the League and the American Theatre Wing, a nonprofit service organization. The Wing founded the Tonys in 1947.