Once again this year, the Tony Award Nominees' brunch was held on Wednesday, which is a matinee day. Perhaps the theory is that the actors have to get up anyway, but the scheduling does make for some extra madness. At the 2002 brunch, held on May 15 in The View restaurant high atop the Marriott Marquis, the nominees claimed their framed certificates and ran the gauntlet of photographers and reporters before heading to their respective theaters for their respective shows.
John Lithgow and Brian d'Arcy James, nominees for Sweet Smell of Success, gathered items for J.J. Hunsecker's gossip column and rushed off--perhaps to report on the race for Best Musical, in which their show is up against Mamma Mia!, Urinetown, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. The bewitching Vanessa Williams of Into the Woods arrived and was immediately corralled for an interview by TV's Entertainment Tonight. Barbara Cook (Mostly Sondheim) and music man Harry Connick Jr. (Thou Shalt Not) were photographed together. Sam Robards (The Man Who Had All the Luck) admired this reporter's tie and remarked that his father was once asked to leave a restaurant "because his tie was too loud...though I suspect that it may have been my father that was too loud!"
Nominees from A to Z (Edward Albee to Mary Zimmerman) attended. Louise Pitre (Mamma Mia!) and Shuler Hensley (Oklahoma!) seemed like happy campers, as did Sutton Foster and Gavin Creel from Millie--all of them first-time nominees. Three of the sisters from Morning's at Seven--Frances Sternhagen, Elizabeth Franz, and Estelle Parsons--were aglitter and aglow, as were a sans-Spandex Judy Kaye (Mamma Mia!) and Oklahoma!'s up-to-date Aunt Eller, Andrea Martin. Norbert Leo Butz (Thou Shalt Not) looked as if his nomination were the best thing to have happened to him during the last five years.
Also among the throng: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Brian Murray (all up for The Crucible); Jeffrey Wright (Topdog/Underdog); Frank Langella and Alan Bates (Fortune's Fool); Katie Finneran (Noises Off), Gregg Edelman and John McMartin (Into the Woods); and choreographer John Carrafa, who is competing against himself for his work on Into the Woods and Urinetown. Suzan-Lori Parks, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Topdog/Underdog, was on hand; but Ivan Turgenev, whose Fortune's
Fool is up for Best Play, didn't show. I may have missed seeing all the nominees present, but I did speak to a few for TheaterMania.
The last time that Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman, nominees for Noël Coward's Private Lives, were together on Broadway was in Les Liaisons
Dangereuses in 1987, when both were nominated for portraying slightly more sinister types. "Why do you think Coward's work remains so popular?" I ask Lindsay Duncan. "Because he's a great writer," she replies. "Sometimes, his stuff is overlooked, because it's so accessible and very funny--a crowd pleaser. He has a lot more than just wit, and wit's hard enough to do well. Look at [Private Lives]. He writes so deceptively about people in intense relationships knowing how to get to each other. And, if they do, it's in spite of themselves, knowing that it's going to be disaster. He did that really, really well. Also, he has great heart. He constructs plays beautifully. He gives you wit, heart, and characters you can identify with, who may be just a step beyond most of our lives."
I ask Rickman if playing Coward is a great challenge. "God, yes!" he responds. "How about the text? Remembering it, number one; trying not to paraphrase it, number two; and getting your tongue around it, number three. One wrong word, and you feel it--the rhythm just falls away. He's so precise. We're not used of speaking that quickly, and with sentences that well constructed." Rickman says that he and Duncan and director Howard Davies (who also helmed Les Liaisons Dangereuses) approached Private Lives "with contemporary ideas and not as some old warhorse. There's been the thrill, really, of discovery--that this seemingly brittle, little comedy is actually wise and compassionate and melancholy, as well as incredibly funny."
Clutching two nominations for her work as both writer and director of Metamorphoses, the central feature of which is a large, shallow, onstage pool, Mary Zimmerman says that her biggest challenge with the show "was the water--controlling it, making sure it doesn't go all over the place, and figuring it out. For the actors, it can be dangerous." Asked if she is an avid fan of Ovid, Zimmerman laughs and replies "I am! But, actually, Ovid wasn't the impetus [for the show]; it was the stories themselves. But he's the one who has the best versions." What's up next for Zimmerman? "I'm in rehearsals for a new opera with Philip Glass. I did the libretto. I had to fly from Chicago last night to be here, and I'm turning around and flying right back."
Appearing in only her second Broadway show (following The Man Who Came to Dinner), Harriet Harris is delighted to be a nominee for her role of Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Her biggest hurdle, says Harris, "had to be that I was going to be singing in front of people. I'd really never done that. Even now, I'm a little terrified." However, she doesn't mind doing "Mammy" in Chinese. "I have, like, three phrases [in the number]. That's one of the fun things in the show, because I adore the guys I work with--Francis Jue and Ken Leung." Her favorite moment in the show "is something that happens after I leave the stage. Ken Leung says, in Chinese: 'I can't stand that woman!'" Was Harris concerned about the fact that Mrs. Meers is such an over-the-top character? "I don't know," she muses. "A director once told me that I was over the top. I thought: I'm over his top. My top is very high!"
Dressed better at the Tony brunch than he is in The Elephant Man, Billy Crudup says that "it takes a little bit of time" for him to come down following each performance, adding that, "typically, it takes longer getting up [for the role]. I spend a good amount of time preparing. I'm always a little bit grateful when the show is over--to be able to discard it for a couple of hours." When I ask Crudup if it was difficult for him to master the contortion of the muscles of his body and face without causing himself pain, he replies with a laugh: "I haven't mastered it. It's still painful! I get a lot of sympathy, which is nice. People keep sending me candles and water fountains that make soothing sounds, back massagers--all sorts of things." Committed to the production for seven months, Crudup says that he'd "be happy to do it as long as it runs."
Stephen Tobolowsky, nominated for his performance as Homer in Morning's at Seven, claims that the play's dialogue "is the most difficult that any of us has
ever had to learn. It doesn't sound it, but almost all the lines are written backwards. I have a line: 'What I am going to say to Myrtle when she gets up, I don't know. It will just about break her heart.' Myrtle [Julie Hagerty] has lines that seem to repeat themselves, but they
don't. 'I'm just about as happy now as any girl...' 'I don't have any right to be so happy.' 'I'm just as happy as any girl could be.' The lines are almost the same, but with slight variations. You have to learn them exactly, because there's a cadence." Tobolowsky says that he and Hagerty are very pleased to be in the cast of Morning's at Seven: "It's kind of like being a golfer: You never want to say any situation is as good or bad as it is. But we were saying the other day that this is the best ensemble we've ever been in. We feel so privileged to just be a part of it."
Two-time Tony winner John Cullum is pleased that Urinetown has brought him a fourth nomination. Previously, he's been in the running for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and the two shows for which he won: Shenandoah and On the Twentieth Century. "I don't know what direction I seem to be going in," jokes Cullum, "but I'm ending up in the toilet." I ask if he's seen the new TV commercials that are intended to make the musical's title more acceptable. "Yes," he replies. "It seems people do have a problem [with the title]. They seem to have the idea that this is some sort of dirty show. I tell people to bring their kids. It's a great show for anyone, from eight to 80."
As I interview Cullum, he pauses to say hello to a passing Kate Burton. "I've known her since she was a child," he explains; Cullum was a friend of her father, Richard Burton, with whom he worked in Camelot and Hamlet. He tells me that he greatly admired Burton and for years copied the Welsh actor's inflections and mannerisms. "He had a habit of turning his pinky ring," Cullum notes. "When I found myself doing that--without a pinky ring!--I knew it was time to stop."
A most attractive Spencer Kayden, who plays Little Sally in Urinetown, is delighted to be a Tony nominee for her first Broadway show. What would it mean if she won? "Wow! After reattaching my head to my neck...I don't know," she answers. "I still haven't really processed the nomination yet. It's so incredible to be recognized." She tells me that she has an affinity for her character "and also for Greg Kotis," book author and co-lyricist of the show. "I've known him for over 10 years." Did Kotis write the part for her? "Not technically," Kayden replies. "After he wrote it, he imagined I might play it."
"I'm thrilled out of my mind!" exclaims Kate Burton about receiving her first two Tony nominations in the same season--as Best Actress for Hedda Gabler and as Best Featured Actress in The Elephant Man. Did she prefer one to the other? "No! I feel so thrilled to have been involved with both of them. If one [award] happens, that's nice; if neither happens, that's okay. Whatever happens, I'm happy! I think it's an extraordinary group of actresses, this year--in my categories and every other category. It's been an incredible year. The only things I
haven't done are sing and dance." Well, I suggest, there's always next season. "I think I'll take a wee break," responds Burton. "But I look forward to doing The Royal Family [in the future] with Marian Seldes, and Nicholas Martin directing." She's very pleased that her husband, Michael Ritchie, will be accepting a Tony Award on June 2; he's artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which has been named as winner of the regional theater Tony this year.
Posing for photographers, a proud Burton holds up her two framed nominations. "I graduated from the Yale School of Drama, 20 years ago," she says, indicating the plaques. "Look: One for each decade!"
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At the Tony Brunch: John Lithgow
Vanessa Williams being interviewed by ET
John Cullum speaking with TheaterMania's Michael Buckley