And the prize goes to... (it had better be Sondheim or I'll shoot)

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Raise your voices: "Tonight, tonight / Won't be just any night..." And with a thank you to lyricist Stephen Sondheim - more of him later - welcome to Radio City Music Hall and the biggest night on Broadway, the Tony awards.

Raise your voices: "Tonight, tonight / Won't be just any night..." And with a thank you to lyricist Stephen Sondheim - more of him later - welcome to Radio City Music Hall and the biggest night on Broadway, the Tony awards.

Tonight really will be a night for star-gazing, and we're not talking astronomy. Hollywood's favourite hunk Hugh Jackman of X-Men fame is not only hosting the ceremony, he's the absolute dead cert for Best Actor in a Musical playing 1970s singer-songwriter Peter Allen, the, er, erstwhile husband of Liza Minnelli (you know what that means) in the bio-musical The Boy from Oz. Proof of his new Broadway stardom: rather than put an understudy on during his holiday, for the first time in history the producers simply closed the show.

Oz, however, won't win Best Musical. That will go to Wicked, the Wizard of Oz back-story about the battle between Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West. It isn't the smartest new musical (step forward the anarchic Avenue Q, a satirical Sesame Street-style show in which puppets sing about sex) but it's an engineered family crowd-pleaser and that suits Tony voters. These are industry awards which means merit comes a poor second to the Triumph Of The Will It Play In Peoria? Of the 700-odd Tony voters, the majority are out-of-town producers looking for product to take on the road. The result? A numbing "safety first" policy.

That's why although Brían F O'Byrne will pick up Best Featured Actor for his quietly riveting performance as a serial killer in British writer Bryony Lavery's emotional tour-de-force Frozen, (exquisitely directed by nominee Doug Hughes) the play's subject matter - facing up to the murder of a child - will probably prove intimidating to nervous producers. They'll hand the prize for Best Play to Doug Wright's altogether flimsier I Am My Own Wife.

The latter, unaccountably already the Pulitzer winner, is little more than the playwright fashioning his discovery of an extraordinary figure - an East German gay man who survived the Nazis and the Stasi living a secret life as a woman - into a solo turn. But for all the immensely engaging subtlety of his actor, Jefferson Mays, (either he or the dazzling Simon Russell Beale in the National Theatre's transfer of Jumpers will bag Best Actor) Wright's writing lacks depth and dramatic weight.

You'd never level that charge at Tony Kushner. His R&B musical Caroline, Or Change about Sixties black civil rights is wholly admirable in ambition but doggedly earnest in execution. Yet it boasts likely winners in its lead and features performers Tonya Pinkins and Anika Noni Rose.

Indeed, this may be the year when black performers receive more than the odd token award. After his helpless stab at A Raisin in the Sun, no one would give Sean Coombs aka P Diddy another stage role, let alone a Tony. However, Phylicia Rashad (once the wife on the Bill Cosby Show) shows magnificent dignity and strength as his down-trodden mother and Audra MacDonald could well nab her fourth Tony as his determined wife.

And Sondheim? If his jet-black Assassins, a stunning (and superbly lit) exposition of the American dream as viewed through the actions of those who attempted to kill successive Presidents, fails to win Best Revival of a Musical I'll shoot the voters myself.

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