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'Billy Elliot' early winner at Broadway awards

"BILLY Elliot The Musical" was an early winner at the top US theater honors yesterday, picking up six behind-the-scenes Tony Awards for a Broadway season that defied recession with record ticket sales.

"Billy Elliot" is based on Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry's 2000 film about a ballet dancing schoolboy in a mining town in northern England. The show won 10 Drama Desk Awards and seven Outer Critics Circle Awards in the lead up to the Tonys.

"I have to thank Elton John. It was his idea to make this a musical in the first place," said Lee Hall, who won the Tony Award for best book of a musical. "He insisted we start with the music."

Hall and John, whose many hit songs include "Candle in the Wind" and "Rocket Man," are also nominated for best original score for "Billy Elliot."

Hundreds of people lined the street outside New York City's Radio City Hall, cheering nominees including singer Dolly Parton, comedian Will Ferrell, "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini and Oscar winners Liza Minnelli and Geoffrey Rush.

The Tony Awards were established in 1947 and are named for Antoinette Perry, whose nickname was Toni. Perry, who died in 1946, was an actress, stage director and philanthropist who was a founder of the American Theatre Wing.

Around 750 people from the theater industry -- from actors, to directors to journalists -- vote for the Tony Awards.

The Broadway League says the 39 theaters in the famous district contribute US$5.1 billion per year to the economy of New York, on top of ticket sales, and support 44,000 jobs.

During the 12-month Broadway season ending May 24, 43 shows opened -- the most in more than 25 years, said the Broadway League. There were 10 new musicals, eight new plays, four musical revivals, 16 play revivals and five special shows.

Broadway's paid attendance was 12.15 million tickets, down from 12.27 million the previous season, but gross takings rose US$6 million, or 0.6 percent, to US$943.3 million, beating the previous record set in the 2006/07 season of US$938.5 million.


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