Brad Oscar
Brad Oscar
A TONY TIE-BREAKER

Last week, I pointed to Brad Oscar as an example of an understudy who replaced a sidelined actor on Broadway--in this case, Ron Orbach as the nutzy Nazi in The Producers. Yesterday, Oscar completed his Cinderella saga by joining his show's Gary Beach and Roger Bart as a contender for this year's Tony in the category of Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. Rumor has it that Oscar fell one vote short of this same distinction with the Drama Desk nominations. At any rate, his Tony nom pushed The Producers to an unprecedented 15; Company received 14 nominations in 1971.

You'd better believe that André De Shields, one of two Featured Actor in a Musical hopefuls not from The Producers (the other is John Ellison Conlee, De Shields' castmate from The Full Monty), will be headlining the 11th-annual concert and supper benefiting The Manhattan Plaza AIDS Project and The Manhattan Plaza Foundation at 7pm on Monday, May 21 at the Westside Theater (407 West 43rd). Historically, it has been good luck for a Tony nominee to do this event prior to the Tony telecast--and, besides, De Shields is a Manhattan Plaza resident. Joining him in the concert will be Janine LaManna and Michele Pawk (both of whom deserved Tony nominations for Seussical), Karen Mason (soon to be back on Broadway in Mamma Mia), columnist Linda Stasi, and radio commentator Mark Simone.

The President of The Shubert Organization, Philip J. Smith, will receive Manhattan Plaza's first-annual Rodney Kirk Neighbor Helping Neighbor Award at the event. If you didn't know that the lovely Mrs. Smith--Tricia Walsh-Smith--is an actress and playwright, you'll find her wearing both hats on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm if you head to 432 West 42nd Street, fifth floor, for a reading of three one-act plays ("The Psychoholic," "Take the High Road," and "Oh, Fickle Heart!") with Carol Higgins Clark and director Charles E. Gerber.

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TAKE HUMAN BITES!

The one-act play is also alive and well and being served on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at The National Arts Club (15 Gramercy Park South) from 1 to 2:15pm in the Food for Thought: Lunch Hour Theater series. Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson (Charly) will deliver his own work, "The V.I.P., Parts 1 & 2," this Wednesday. The next day, it's Patricia Neal, an Oscar- (Hud) and Tony- (Another Part of the Forest) winner, doing Tennessee Williams' rarely done "Portrait of a Madonna," plus Brenda Vaccaro and Stephen Yaffe doing their "Memorial." Williams' equally obscure "Talk to Me Like the Rain" is scheduled for May 21, and his "Lady of Larkspur Lotion" is set for May 24, June 11, and June 20. Peter Stone, Anton Chekhov, Warren Leight, Harold Pinter, LeRoi Jones, Susan Charlotte, and Tony Kushner are others who'll have their works read by the likes of Marian Seldes, Campbell Scott, Ally Sheedy, Barbara Feldon, and Bob Dishy. Tickets are $29 (all inclusive for the lunches, readings, and Q&A sessions afterward).

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HBO GETS ITS NICHOLS' WORTH

Director Mike Nichols appears to have his pick of Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces, and the perfect place to play them. Hot on the heels of his excellent rendering of Margaret Edson's Wit with Emma Thompson for HBO comes word that the cable company will bankroll his version of Tony Kushner's two-part, Tony-winning saga of gay life in these United States, Angels in America (previously pigeonholed as a feature project for Robert Altman). And in the Roy Cohn role that won Ron Leibman the Tony: Al Pacino

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Mary-Louise Parker and Ben Shenkmanin Proof(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Mary-Louise Parker and Ben Shenkman
in Proof
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
IF MORE PROOF IS REQUIRED

Speaking of Pulitzer Prize-winners: The Proof is in the playing. All four cast members of David Auburn's new Pulitzer honoree are in the running for Tony Awards, namely Mary-Louise Parker, Ben Shenkman, Johanna Day and Larry Bryggman. This kind of thing seems to be a trend lately: all three of the actors in Dirty Blonde were nominated last year and, in 1998, the quartet of players in The Beauty Queen of Leenane was so honored. (It's worth noting that three of those four nominees waltzed off with awards.)

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COME AND MEET THOSE DANCING FEET

The 20th-annual TDF Astaire Award ceremonies will be directed and choreographed by one Tony-winner (Scott Wise) and hosted by another (Karen Ziemba). Coincidentally, Ziemba and Randy Skinner, a Best Choreographer contender for 42nd Street, were together once upon a time in a production of Babes in Arms directed by Ginger Rogers--and, one year, Skinner had the job of escorting Rogers to the Astaire Awards. In 42nd Street, he had a spectacular canvass to work with: the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and 76 dancing feet. He makes the max of it, so look for Skinner to cop the Astaire (to say nothing of the Tony and Drama Desk Awards) over strong competition from The Full Monty's Jerry Mitchell and The Producers' Susan Stroman (last year's Tony-winner for Contact).

Follies' Carol Bentley is running for the Astaire for Best Female Dancer against Tony-contending Cady Huffman of The Producers and Kate Levering of 42nd Street. Two other 42nd Street hoofers--Michael Arnold and David Elder--are rivaling André De Shields for Best Male Dancer honors. Choreographer-director-current Follies headliner Donald Saddler will be honored for his Lifetime Achievement when the Astaires are passed out May 18 at the Hudson Theater.

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NEW FACES OF 2000-2001

Juliette Binoche of Betrayal and Kathleen Freeman of The Full Monty are the only Tony contenders to make the Theater World Awards list of best Broadway or Off-Broadway debuts this year. All of the men on the list are New York theater virgins: Macaulay Culkin of Madame Melville, Raul Esparza of The Rocky Horror Show, Deven May of Bat Boy The Musical, Chris Noth of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, Joshua Park of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and John Ritter of The Dinner Party. The other women are Janie Dee of Comic Potential, Reba McEntire of Annie Get Your Gun, Rosie Perez of The Vagina Monologues and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (how's that for a combustible combo), and Joely Richardson of Madame Melville.

This is the 56th batch of theatrical newcomers so honored. They'll pick up their prizes on Monday, May 14 at 3 p.m. at Studio 54. For the past 45 years, Theater World has been edited by John Willis. Wasn't it nice of the Tony folks to come up with a special award for this indispensable theatrical annual?