The Tony Awards are fast approaching — or, Oscars Lite as I like to call the event. Normally not a red carpet full of household names, the Tonys aren’t as much about the winners receiving the awards as they are about the work itself – celebrating the year’s best and the artists who bring theatre to life. The glamour of other awards programs is traded in for live performances from nominated shows, and a more subdued recognition of achievement is the tone of the night. Last year, about 7 million people tuned in, compared with 41 million people who watched this year’s Oscars ceremony. But the 2010 Tonys, on June 13, might just be a little fancier. Producers learned a while ago that bringing Hollywood names to Broadway shows is a good business move, and it seems like each passing years ups the celeb quotient by a big percent. I can’t argue with that logic: famous people bring in audiences. And there have recently been a lot of celebs on the Great White Way.

In the 2009-2010 season, the following stars played on Broadway: John Stamos (Bye Bye Birdie), Catherine Zeta Jones (A Little Night Music, Broadway debut), Daniel Craig (A Steady Rain), Hugh Jackman (A Steady Rain), Jude Law (Hamlet), Julia Stiles (Oleanna, Broadway debut), Bill Pullman (Oleanna), Sienna Miller (After Miss Julie, Broadway debut), David Alan Grier (Race), James Spader (Race, Broadway debut), Kerry Washington (Race, Broadway debut), Liev Schreiber (A View From the Bridge), Scarlett Johansson (A View From the Bridge, Broadway debut), Alicia Silverstone (Time Stands Still), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still), Abigail Breslin (The Miracle Worker, Broadway debut), Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, Broadway debut), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane), Justin Bartha (Lend Me a Tenor, Broadway debut), Tony Shaloub (Lend Me A Tenor), Nathan Lane (The Addams Family), Kelsey Grammer (La Cage Aux Folles), Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises, Broadway debut) and Denzel Washington (Fences).

Sure, a lot of those people have careers that span both coasts and sure, several have been on Broadway before. But that’s still a hefty number of famous folks abandoning Hollywood for an 8-show-a-week lifestyle. Here’s the kicker – these performances have actually been, by and large, impressive. The audacity! And these actors are proving their prowess with Tony nominations, to boot. This year’s Tony nominees include several of these stars, beating out Broadway regulars and normal shoo-ins for a coveted spot on the list.

The Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play category includes five well-known men: Jude Law, Alfred Molina, Liev Schreiber, Christopher Walken and Denzel Washington. Other nominated names are Laura Linney, Sean Hayes, Kelsey Grammer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Alan Grier and Scarlett Johansson. Is everyone after an EGOT?!

I am disappointed that several deserving actors and actresses were omitted from the nominations this year (the cast of Next Fall was unfairly snubbed). I have to wonder if celebs weren’t ever-so-slightly favored by Tony voters, given that we tend to expect less from debut performances and are pleasantly surprised when people impress us unknowingly. I’m sure the awards ceremony producers are thrilled – maybe numbers will be even higher this year given the star power of the contenders.

It will be interesting to see what happens on June 13, and in subsequent years too, as the lines between New York and Los Angeles blur even further. More power to the actors and actresses who can excel on both stage and screen – it’s a rare talent to succeed at both and many fantastic movie stars flop under the intimate, un-editable lights of Broadway. I just hope the level of talent remains high, because the day I see Matthew McConaughey’s name in lights is the day I find a new career.

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