NEW YORK (Reuters) - The play "Red" and a revival of campy musical "La Cage aux Folles" are among the top contenders heading into U.S. theater's top honors for Broadway, the Tony Awards, that will be handed out on Sunday.
Among the well-known actors and actresses nominated for the awards being broadcast from New York's Radio City Music Hall on June 13 are Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christopher Walken and Jude Law.
Critics are split on whether Washington, 55, who has returned to Broadway in a hailed performance in the August Wilson play "Fences," or British actor Alfred Molina will win best actor, while Viola Davis is widely tipped to win best actress playing Washington's wife in "Fences."
Molina received strong reviews for his performance as abstract artist Mark Rothko in "Red," which is widely tipped to win best play after being transferred from London's West End. "Red" competes with "Next Fall", "Time Stands Still and "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play" for the Tony's top award.
But U.S. critics are split on their choice for best musical between rock band Green Day's "American Idiot," "Memphis," a romp that looks at the roots of rock 'n' roll, and "Fela!" a dance musical telling of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.
"Fela!" is the surprise critical hit of last season, and it picked up the most Tony nominations along with "La Cage aux Folles."
British stage veteran Douglas Hodge, who made his Broadway debut alongside Kelsey Grammer in "La Cage aux Folles" as a gay couple dealing with their son's impending marriage, has earned the most buzz for best musical actor, along with lesser odds for Sahr Ngaujah from "Fela!".
"La Cage aux Folles" is expected to win the best revival of a musical, competing with "A Little Night Music" which stars Catherine Zeta-Jones. Zeta-Jones appears even with "Memphis" star Montego Glover in the race for best actress in a musical.
This year's 64th annual Tony Awards will be hosted by "Will & Grace" star Sean Hayes, who is nominated for best actor in a musical with "Promises, Promises". Celebrity presenters will include Katie Holmes, Angela Lansbury, Cate Blanchett, Antonio Banderas and Laura Linney.
Hayes, a gay actor who was at the center of a recent controversy when a Newsweek magazine writer criticized his portrayal of a straight character in "Promises," told reporters in a conference call that he and co-star, Kristin Chenoweth, will perform at the Tonys, but he did not give away details.
He said that Tony producers had planned numbers from several shows and that Green Day would perform, but he did not elaborate or address the Newsweek controversy.
"My only goal is just to keep it moving and keep people excited and interested in the evening," Hayes said.
Hayes is just one of several Hollywood stars who have graced Broadway theaters this year, keeping with a trend of recent years that has seen more and more celebrities turn up on Broadway for brief stints and helping to boost box offices.
"The Tonys and the season has been very star-studded," said Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin, adding that while theaters have seen many celebrities starring in plays, the Tony's rewarded excellence on stage, not fame.
Other recent trends included "more diversity on Broadway than ever," St. Martin said.
She called "Fela!" a musical "as different as anything we have had on Broadway," and contrasted it to the more classical "Memphis" and to rock musical "American Idiot."
Broadway sales have stayed relatively strong despite harder economic times in the past year.
Box office grosses were up 1.5 percent in the 2009-2010 season, at $1.02 billion, while attendance was down by 3 percent, according to a report by the Broadway League.
St. Martin said even though attendance was slightly down, overall ticket sales were still positive as the larger shows continually sold out.
Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Bob Tourtellotte