By EW Staff
June 05, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

ART Yasmina Reza’s dazzling disquisition on art and male friendship pulled in three Tony nominations, for best new play, best director (Matthew Warchus), and best actor. With a cast of three terrific performers (Alan Alda, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina) it’s tough to honor just one of them, but from the minute Molina bursts on stage with a tour de force monologue, he’s a magnetic force field of energy. A — Lisa Schwarzbaum

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE Martin McDonagh’s hysterical — then harrowing — play about a mother and daughter living too close for comfort in rural Ireland hit the big time after a brief run Off Broadway. Currently residing at the Walter Kerr, it’s neck and neck with another import, Art, for the best-play title. My bet’s on Beauty, with its artful performances by the four-member (all nominated) Irish cast. A — JC

CABARET This sexy, sleazy incarnation of the 1966 John Kander-Fred Ebb musical boasts 10 nominations and is the front-runner in the best-revival category. Other favorites are Natasha Richardson as a vulnerable Sally Bowles (just as memorable as Liza Minnelli’s brasher turn) and Alan Cumming as the hip-thrusting Emcee. Nominated codirectors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall (who’s also nominated for choreography) make the show at once dark and exhilarating. A — William Stevenson

THE CHAIRS Director Simon McBurney’s funny-creepy update of Eugene Ionesco’s 1952 absurdist play is surprisingly absorbing (even if you don’t usually like this sort of thing), thanks largely to the performances of nominees Geraldine McEwan and Richard Briers. As the oddball, heartbreaking Old Woman and Old Man, they bicker and flirt nonsensically, filling the myriad title characters with imaginary guests, valiantly postponing death. B+ — JC

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK If you’ve seen Linda Lavin only in the sitcom Alice, her haunting, Tony-nominated performance as Mrs. Van Daan will come as a revelation. It’s a shame that this production’s original Anne, Natalie Portman (she’s been replaced by All My Children‘s Nathalie Paulding), and others in the excellent cast were passed over for nominations, although this fine reworking of the 1955 drama is nominated for revival of a play. A — WS

FOREVER TANGO This colorful Argentinean revue received one nomination, for the choreography by the show’s skillful dancers, whose flashy costumes and perfectly synchronized, lightning-quick steps are captivating. Only when the orchestra performs alone does the evening begin to drag. B — WS

FREAK John Leguizamo’s zippy, moving autobiographical one-man show is up for a best-new-play Tony, which is a bit goofy, since it’s hard to imagine anyone but Leguizamo (also up for best actor) as its star. The play does, however, deserve to be extended — and it has been, until July 4. B+ — JC

GOLDEN CHILD From the pen of David Henry Hwang (a 1988 Tony winner for M. Butterfly) comes an engaging, deeply intelligent meditation on the rewards and bitter costs of freedom and individuality. But don’t let that scare you: It’s also a tantalizingly suspenseful family melodrama, set in 1918 China, where a wealthy man’s three wives fight a war of wills while trying to dodge (or embrace) a dawning century of progress that’s about to flood their doorstep. Gorgeously staged, designed, and acted, Hwang’s work richly deserves both its best-new-play nomination and a far larger audience. A- — Mark Harris

HIGH SOCIETY At least the 1956 movie-musicalization of The Philadelphia Story had Grace Kelly; this stage version is wholly graceless. To pad out the lean Cole Porter score of the slight comedy about a spoiled heiress skittering between her cloddish fiance and her caddish ex-husband, the producers have scotch-taped other Porter tunes into unfailingly inappropriate places, sometimes with brand-new lyrics (well, did you evah?). Performances range from valiant (notably Tony nominee John McMartin’s drunken Uncle Willie) to not. C — MH

HONOUR It’s a pleasure to see Jane Alexander back on stage, though this predictable, puny 80-minute drama about a woman whose marriage disintegrates when her husband (Falcon Crest‘s Robert Foxworth) falls for an ambitious young journalist (The Truman Show‘s Laura Linney) feels more like a warm-up acting exercise than a play. Alexander’s weary, acerbic turn and Enid Graham’s portrayal of her seething daughter both won Tony nominations, but they can’t compensate for an undernourished script that telegraphs every one of its non-surprises. C — MH

THE LION KING No, not even innovative director Julie Taymor can keep the first act from dragging in places. But oh, the artistry and innovation at work here — the puppetry and the visual poetry, the memorably breathtaking ”Circle of Life” opening number, the great lanky giraffes, the lovely music by Elton John (among others), and the magnificent vocal stylings of featured-actress nominee Tsidii Le Loka as Rafiki, the baboon mystic. Besides its booty of Tony nods, a special award should go to Disney for making prepubescent audiences fall in love with theater. If only more of them could get tickets. A+ — JC

RAGTIME With 13 Tony nominations (the most of any show) and a Drama Desk award for best musical, Ragtime could very well take the same honor from the mouth of The Lion King on the big night. It’s a deserving contender: Ragtime‘s richly talented ensemble (including nominees Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Peter Friedman) and its beautiful score (by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens) rest solidly on nominee Terrence McNally’s fleet adaptation of the E.L. Doctorow novel — all in all a phenomenal accomplishment. A — JC

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL There’s only one reason to see this otherwise lazy new musical (and dark-horse contender): nominee Douglas Sills as the titular English aristocrat who sings mightily, prances hilariously, swaggers handsomely, and outfoxes wittily some French revolutionaries. C — JC

1776 A long shot for best musical revival (against Cabaret), but don’t count it out. Director Scott Ellis’ staging of the 1969 Sherman Edwards-Peter Stone show about the signing of the Declaration of Independence is the most enjoyable history lesson ever. A — JC

THE SOUND OF MUSIC Director Susan H. Schulman’s earnestly bland take on the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (a very long shot for best revival) fails to add much to the definitive 1965 film version — with the exception of an inexplicably busy set. The familiar hum-worthy tunes (”Do-Re-Mi,” etc.) are nicely sung by the talented Rebecca Luker, though the Von Trapp tykes are too precious by half. C- — Kipp Cheng

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE Anthony LaPaglia’s blazing performance as Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone earned him a Tony nod for best actor, one of four given to this elegant revival of Arthur Miller’s 1955 drama. The impeccable Allison Janney, playing Eddie’s Linda Loman-esque wife, is in the running for best actress. B+ — LS

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