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Tough choices for the Tonys

A year of strong dramas, tragedies, and farce made for a tight race.

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In the midst of the worst recession in decades, the Broadway theater industry faced a series of daunting financial challenges in early 2009. Box office grosses were down across the board, and nearly a dozen theaters had no tenants for the usually bustling spring season. So creative theater owners and producers sprang into action with a somewhat unlikely formula. Rather than assemble the usual raft of shiny, big-budget spectacles often adapted from famous film properties, they anticipated the mood of audiences and offered up a series of dark, serious dramas and pitch-black comedies, a number of which ruminate on alienation and death yet are shot through with illuminating wit.

To insulate themselves against losses, producers cast bold-face name stars (Oscar winners such as Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Rush, and Jeremy Irons; TV icons such as James Gandolfini, Allison Janney, and John Goodman; and cinema legends such as Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury). All were eager to stretch their acting muscles by bringing to life complex characters in classic dramas or whip-smart tragicomedies. Producers also employed a tried-and-true blueprint for Broadway success – importing hit productions from overseas (among this season's entries: Frederick Schiller's "Mary Stuart" and Alan Ayckbourn's farce "The Norman Conquests").

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