By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - "The Book of Mormon," a satirical show about Mormons from the creators of the TV series "South Park," looks set to sweep the Tony Awards on Sunday, aiming to be the most acclaimed show since "The Producers" with 14 nominations.
The Tony Awards, which honors Broadway's best musicals and plays and can help propel winning shows to commercial success, will be handed out at New York's Beacon Theater in a live televised event hosted again by actor Neil Patrick Harris, the Emmy-winning star of TV comedy "How I Met Your Mother."
This year is expected to feature less Hollywood winners than last year, although nominees include Frances McDormand who adopted a thick Boston accent for the best play nominee, "Good People" and Al Pacino for his turn as Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice," nominated for best play revival along with favorite "The Normal Heart."
"The Book of Mormon," go into Sunday's awards with the highest number of nominations, followed by "The Scottsboro Boys" with 12. The short-lived musical is on a 1930s case in which nine black men were unjustly accused of attacking two white women on a train in Alabama.
Two musical revivals follow. "Anything Goes" has nine nominations, led by best actress nominee Sutton Foster, and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" had eight, though its star Daniel Radcliffe, of "Harry Potter" fame, missed out on an acting nomination.
"The Merchant of Venice" is up for seven awards, while the play "War Horse," by Nick Stafford is tipped to win best play.
But it is "The Book of Mormon," by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, which is expected to win in several categories and aims to beat the record of the Mel Brooks musical comedy, "The Producers," which won 12 Tony Awards after it opened in 2001.
The show has been a smash hit, winning critical acclaim and sold-out houses with the story of Mormon missionaries in Africa, successfully skirting initial worries about racial and religious insensitivity.
Stone told Reuters in an interview when the show opened in March that he didn't want to be "presumptuous" in even thinking about any Tony awards and was more relieved that audiences understood the humor.
"People do seem to be getting the show," Stone said. "For us it's a deeper satisfaction that we have been working on this for seven years. To sit in the theater and put this kind of material in front of people and for them to essentially get it, is a really satisfying feeling."
Josh Gad, who is one of two favorites to win best actor in a musical along with Norbert Leo Burtz in "Catch Me If You Can," told Reuters he thought the show was successful because it straddles the line between poking fun at Mormons and entertaining audiences with catchy numbers and heart-warming undertones.
"You can get away with the vulgarity and some of the eyebrow raising numbers only if you have a large amount of heart, and they came with plenty to spare," Gad said of Stone and Parker. "At its core there is something very sweet and very genuine about this tale."
The show has also done well at the box office, pulling in more than $1.1 million for the week ending June 5, making it the third highest grossing Broadway show after long-running favorites "Wicked" and "The Lion King."
"I don't think anyone, especially myself, was prepared for just how much of an incredible response the show was going to receive," Gad said this week. "It's blown all of us away."
On his own nomination, he called it "the coolest experience of my life...Just because it's something I dreamed of as a kid."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)