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In 2006, 'Boys' Ruled The Great White Way

"Mary Poppins" flew. Twyla Tharp and Bob Dylan did not.

But it was those lads from the Garden State in "Jersey Boys" and the guys from Britain in "The History Boys" who dominated what was new on Broadway in 2006.

The shows won Tony Awards for best musical and best play, respectively. Both also were rewarded where it really counts with producers: at the box office. "Jersey Boys," the show-biz saga of 1960s pop group the Four Seasons, regularly takes in more than $1 million each week.

"The History Boys," Alan Bennett's play about the pupils in a private British boys' school, played a six-month limited engagement and now has been released as a movie with its original theater cast.

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It wasn't the only British play to make waves on Broadway this year. There also was Tom Stoppard's mammoth "The Coast of Utopia," a three-part, nine-hour look at Russian intellectuals of the 19th century. The Lincoln Center production was huge, with more than 30 actors playing some 70 roles. Parts 1 and 2 arrived this year; the final installment shows up in February. For the truly hardy, there will be several dates starting in March when you can see all three parts in all-day marathons.

Unfortunately, 2006 was a year in which American plays were mostly missing in action on Broadway. There was no major, long-running hit such as "Doubt," which was the one serious play theatergoers wanted to see in 2005.

Yet "Rabbit Hole," David Lindsay-Abaire's drama about a couple dealing with the death of their child, was affecting — and its star, Cynthia Nixon, won a Tony for her portrayal of a mother shattered by grief. For comedy, "The Little Dog Laughed," Douglas Carter Beane's acerbic look at Hollywood and the closet, left audiences laughing, primarily because of Julie White's sensational performance as a savvy, viperish show-biz agent.

Film stars were treated less kindly. Julia Roberts and Julianne Moore came to Broadway, too, getting box office approval if not exactly critical kudos.

Those were reserved most emphatically for Christine Ebersole, who will be the actress to beat for the top musical-performance prize at the 2007 Tonys. Her quirky, affecting portrayal of "Little" Edie Beale in "Grey Gardens" delighted off-Broadway audiences last spring and then on Broadway this fall when the show moved to the Walter Kerr Theatre.

An eye-popping "Mary Poppins," a joint effort by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, reconfirmed Broadway's fascination with spectacle, delivering the world's most famous nanny in the most lavish of stage settings.

Broadway embraced an unusual assortment of other musicals in 2006, too. Besides "Jersey Boys," such diverse shows as "The Drowsy Chaperone," "The Color Purple" and a revival of "Sweeney Todd" paid back their production costs. John Doyle, director of "Sweeney Todd," had the actors play instruments. He used the same concept this fall for his chilly revival of "Company."

In terms of flops, the most conspicuous was "The Times They Are A-Changin'," Twyla Tharp's attempt to do for Dylan what she did for Billy Joel in "Movin' Out." It didn't work. This love triangle of a tale — father, son and the woman they both love — closed after 28 performances.

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