The 41st annual Tony Awards will air tonight at 8 p.m. on Channel 9, and new executive producer Don Mischer, who has produced nine Kennedy Center Honors events for television, says the show will have a "more theatrical" feeling than in years past, with excerpts from nominated plays sharing the spotlight with numbers from the big musicals.

Since several of the contenders for this year's major awards -- "Les Mis'erables," "Me and My Girl" and "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" -- are British productions featuring British performers -- Colm Wilkinson, Frances Ruffelle, Robert Lindsay and the Royal Shakespeare Company -- it seems a good time to raise a question on imported talent. How long can foreign actors work in this country?

"We'll talk in terms of the production contract, which covers Broadway and all touring companies," said Alan Eisenberg, executive secretary of Actors' Equity, the New York-based actors union. "Alien performers may work in the U.S., and if they are stars of international stature, they can stay as long as they want," he said.

"Of course, there are some obvious disputes as to who is a star of international stature," he went on, acknowledging Peter O'Toole and John Mills, both currently in "Pygmalion," as examples. "Often application is made for individuals who are clearly not stars and then the turmoil begins."

Actors' Equity, under Eisenberg's urging, has developed the concept of "exchange" -- a fair trade, basically -- "providing comparable work for a performer of comparable stature at a comparable venue."

"See, you never heard of Colm Wilkinson, Robert Lindsay or Frances Ruffelle before these shows were hits, so it was agreed that they come in on the exchange program. For instance, for Colm we sent Steve Barton to England for 'Phantom of the Opera,' and Steve Hannon for 'Cats.' Both shows are playing in London's West End. "The length of the stay for the visiting artist is negotiable; usually not less than six months, which makes it commercially viable, never more than nine months to a year."

If you're planning a theater trip to New York, note that Lindsay will be replaced in "Me and My Girl" by Jim Dale June 16; the RSC is staying on till Sept. 6.