Hairspray star Marissa Jaret Winokur wins Peter Filichia’saward for the Happiest Looking Nominee(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Hairspray star Marissa Jaret Winokur wins Peter Filichia’s
award for the Happiest Looking Nominee
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
"All hotel guests, this way," says the pretty young woman who's directing foot traffic on the mezzanine level of the Marriott Marquis. Hotel guests glare as they're shunted to the back elevators. On this Wednesday morning, the express elevators are reserved for those attending the 2003 Tony Awards Nominees' Press Reception.

Up we zoom 48 floors to get to The View, where they just have to hold the opening night party for the inevitable revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. The restaurant's revolving floor is still for this party; but even if it had spun out of control, several nominees wouldn't have noticed, for they seemed to be floating on air.

Fourteen TV stations have reporters in attendance, as do 14 radio outlets, 31 newspapers, 22 photographers, and four websites. Also present -- though Lord knows how it got in there -- is a sparrow, flying around and landing at will. Publicist Bob Fennell is delighted to see it come near Man of La Mancha's Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. "Just like in the show," he coos, then launches into a lovely rendition of "Little bird, little bird." I'm hoping that the bird comes anywhere near Melanie Griffith so I can see if she's a chip off the old block -- for her mother Tippi Hedren had a major aversion to birds, at least in one movie in the early '60s.

Yes, Griffith is here. Even though she doesn't open in Chicago for a couple of months, she's wearing a dress that suggests one from the flapper era -- one that Roxie Hart would have been thrilled to wear. Maybe Griffith, who's much taller than I expected her to be, is making an effort to let us know that she isn't there just as Mrs. Antonio Banderas and that this isn't just a case of "theater by marriage," as Celeste Holm says in All About Eve. Her hubby, meanwhile, is at the photo station, hugging and posing with Chita Rivera in a nice display of Latino power.

The photo station is, of course, the place to be. Photographers are assigned seats, with The New York Times, New York Post, and Daily News in the first row and such outlets as Grace Magazine, Star Pix, and Wire Image in the second row. Every Tony nominee gets his picture snapped, be he Brian Dennehy (the first celeb to arrive, by the way) or an associate associate producer of a long-closed show. One photographer confides to me that at least 80% of the pictures they all take are just out of politeness, for they know that no one will every need a picture of an associate associate producer -- "unless," he says, "he winds up killing someone someday."

Bernadette Peters(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Bernadette Peters
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Waiting his turn to be snapped is Harvey Fierstein -- not in drag, but looking more like an au courant university professor in his green corduroy jacket, yellow tie, blue jeans, Nike sneakers, and graying temples. He's approached by a reporter who starts asking questions. "Umm," Fierstein says nicely, "I'm just about to go up there for my picture," to which she immediately responds, "I just have two questions." In fact, she has eight before a Tony honcho eventually tells Fierstein it's his turn. He starts off to his right, only to be told, "No, this way," causing him to retreat to the left. It may be a harbinger of Tony night: After Fierstein picks up his Best actor in a Musical award, he'll probably start walking off one way, only to be told, "No, the other way," as happens with almost every winner.

Fierstein soon runs into Bernadette Peters, and they hug warmly. Peters instinctively and erotically lifts up her left leg when he kisses her. Who would have thought that Harvey Fierstein has the music that makes her dance? (To all those who are snorting, "Oh, sure, Bernadette shows up for this," I have to say that Peters did look to me as if she were recovering from an illness.) Peters strikes myriad poses for the photographers and stays there until castmate Tammy Blanchard's turn. I'm hoping for at least one photographer to borrow a line from the show -- "Hey, Gyps, show us some of your talent!" -- but no one does. Still, Blanchard is a pretty girl, mama!

Surrounding everything, set up on the perimeter by the windows, are booths for media outlets ranging from Entertainment Tonight to Playbill, where interviewer Robert Viagas is alone when I come up to him. "You interviewing Harvey?" I ask, and he answers that he already has, assuming I mean Fierstein. "No, Harvey the rabbit," I say -- and Viagas, a terrific guy, laughs and puts a welcoming arm over a section of air.

I'm introduced to Matthew Barber, who wrote Enchanted April. He tells me that he loves to drop in on the show before the curtain goes up on Act II; you see, the first act takes place on a virtually bare stage, when the characters are in dull old England, but the second act is set in a wisteria-covered villa in sunny Italy. When the Italian set is revealed, "the audience goes 'Ooooooooooh!" Barber says with a broad smile. He is also happy that all of the nominees are given a box of Godiva chocolates as they leave because he's on his way to Penn Station to pick up his visiting parents ("They haven't seen the play yet"). Now he has a warm, welcoming, albeit second-hand gift to show how happy he is that they've arrived -- though he does add, "Thank God they're only staying for 36 hours."

Bernadette Peters(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Bernadette Peters
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Meanwhile, a press agent is trying to eat his mini-spring vegetable frittata with one hand while holding his cell phone to his ear with the other. (There are lots of fruits and veggies on the groaning boards. We learned this season that you can't stop the beat, but you can stop the meat at the Tony brunch: There's virtually none to be seen.) One reporter is having a pleasant chat with Gerry Schoenfeld, but once Schoenfeld leaves, the reporter looks at me, gives a thumb-thrust towards the departing mogul, and says, "He tried to get me fired three times."

Hey, Mr. Producer! Filichia with Eric Krebs(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Hey, Mr. Producer! Filichia with Eric Krebs
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Also overheard are such lines as "We've had our run-ins" and "Has anybody said anything interesting?" David Henry Hwang gives me a cordial welcome even though he knows I didn't admire the first act of his Flower Drum Song. John Dossett and Eric Krebs reminisce about the time the former starred in The King of Schnorrers, which was produced by the latter. But now it's two hours after the party began, and Krebs, who is Bill Maher's producer, is still hoping his star will make an appearance.

The winner for Happiest-Looking Nominee goes to Marissa Jaret Winokur. It's only been a few years since the biggest thing on her résumé was saying "You are so busted" in American Beauty; now, here she is, bursting with happiness and pride. Did she ever believe that, in 2003, her director on that movie wouldn't be nominated for a Tony but she would? As Comden and Green wrote in Fade Out-Fade In, "Democracy and fame can come to all girls."

The runner-up for Happiest-Looking Nominee is a tie among the three guys in The Play What I Wrote, but the Most Bored-Looking Nominee trophy has to go to the person to whom it goes almost every year: Producer Liz McCann. She and Winokur are both dressed in pink-and-white, but nobody here would ever mistake one for the other. "I'm going for the food," McCann drones as she passes me.

I have to laugh when she runs into Take Me Out's playwright Richard Greenberg. While McCann could have said "Congratulations on your nomination" or "How nice that you won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award yesterday!" she instead says, "So, you're opening the Biltmore." She's referring to Greenberg's new play, The Violet Hour, which will reopen the long-shuttered showplace in October. Ah, Liz. The finishing touches aren't yet in place for the 2002-2003 season, but you're already looking at 2003-2004!

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]