Tony nominee Frank Langella (Match)(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Tony nominee Frank Langella (Match)
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Zoe Donovan made the best entrance at the celebrity-packed Tony Award nominees brunch, held yesterday at the Millennium Hotel. Named for four-time Tony winner Zoe Caldwell, the very young beauty arrived in the arms of a three-time Tony honoree -- her lovely mother, Audra McDonald (up for A Raisin in the Sun).

Among the many other nominees present were Hugh Jackman (The Boy from Oz), who will host the awards ceremony for the second consecutive year; Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife); Tovah Feldshuh (Golda's Balcony); Swoosie Kurtz and Brían F. O'Byrne (Frozen); Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan (A Raisin in the Sun); Stephanie D'Abruzzo and John Tartaglia (Avenue Q), the latter seen stuffing one of his co-stars -- a puppet -- into a suitcase; Tonya Pinkins and Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, or Change); Margo Martindale (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof); Michael Cerveris (Assassins); and Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt (Wonderful Town).

While Hunter Foster is happy to be in the running for the Best Actor in a Musical award, he admits that "It's kind of weird" to be the sole nominee from Little Shop of Horrors and the only holdover from the show's unsuccessful Florida tryout. "I'm a very guilty person by nature," he says. "I felt guilty when I was the only one left from Florida and I feel a little guilty now that I'm the only nominee from the show. I think it deserves better, but that's the business." Foster heard that he was nominated while "in the bathroom. As soon as I walked in, Jane Krakowski started to read the nominations, and my name was first. Luckily, I have TiVo, so I just rewound it." The challenge of playing Seymour in Little Shop, he observes, "is that so many people have played the role in school and regional productions. I come out the stage door and there are a hundred Seymours! The challenge was to make it fresh and new. The biggest compliment I've been paid is that someone said, 'I've never seen a Seymour like you.'"

"We consider ourselves awfully lucky and we're very happy," enthuses Jeff Marx, who with partner Robert Lopez, received a nomination for the Avenue Q score (the team's Broadway debut). The team heard about their good luck while Marx was in a hotel room with his parents and Lopez was on the phone with Marx and their agent. "We're in a dream state," adds Marx, "and it's hard to wake up from it." Both he and Lopez write words and music; their method, explains Marx, "is that we sit and write something and then we cross it out." "We start in a restaurant and everyone can hear us," interjects Lopez, "then we take it to a piano and flesh it out. When we were writing 'Everyone's a Little Bit Racist,' we were on a subway and people were looking at us kind of funny." Marx tells me that that they're now working on a musical "with the guys from South Park -- Matt Stone and Trey Parker." And, says Lopez, they also have a movie musical for Universal in the works. They believe that, eventually, there will be a TV version of Avenue Q.

The women from Oz:Beth Fowler and Isabel Keating(Photo© Michael Portantiere)
The women from Oz:
Beth Fowler and Isabel Keating
(Photo© Michael Portantiere)
Beth Fowler and Isabel Keating, nominated for playing Peter Allen's mother and mother-in-law (respectively) in The Boy From Oz, were on hand. Previously nominated for her role of Mrs. Lovett in the revival of Sweeney Todd, Fowler hopes that "it's not another 15 years" before her next nomination -- and she'd like to be recognized for her work in a play. "They assume that since you sing well, you don't act," Fowler notes. "Gwen Verdon used to say, 'What do you think I'm doing in-between the songs?'" The only real challenge in playing her role, Fowler claims, "was the dreadful challenge of having to play opposite Hugh Jackman, the entirely gorgeous and lovable movie star. Once I got over that, it was fine!" The actress was with her husband, former actor Jack Witham, "on our patio when the phone rang on Monday morning. I let the voice-mail get it. Then I wondered who would be calling at that time. I did not anticipate the nomination." Fowler looks forward to staying with the show "until at least September [when Jackman exits] and then we'll see what happens."

Keating had what would seem to be an intimidating task in playing a true show-business legend. "Nobody will ever approach what Judy Garland was," she says flatly. "I just decided to do it little, teeny bits at a time and approach it as I would another character." She worked on the Garland look "with a great deal of help from [costume designer] William Ivey Long and from Paul Huntley's wig," and she found tapes of Garland's TV shows (the 1963-64 CBS series) to be most helpful. News of her nomination came by way of the show's publicist: "I was on the way back to bed when I heard Joe Perrotta on my answering machine, shouting, 'Wake up, wake up.'" On Broadway only once before (she replaced Molly Ringwald in Enchanted April), Keating is happy to have her Main Stem musical debut receive recognition.

An effusive Daphne Rubin-Vega, up for Anna in the Tropics, is delighted to add a Tony nomination for a play to the one she received for Rent. She says that she was in bed when she learned of her latest nod: "My husband Tommy told me, and it was announced by Jesse L. Martin [her former Rent colleague], who's a very, very good friend." Her challenge in playing the Anna character "was the poetry in the words and the passion in the woman -- and playing with an accent without being too-too." Rubin-Vega has a new project in the wings but won't divulge what it is; "It's a surprise!" she says.

Denis O'Hare (Assassins) withRaúl Esparza (Taboo)(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Denis O'Hare (Assassins) with
Raúl Esparza (Taboo)
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Raúl Esparza thought that he was "having a heart attack" when he heard his name read as a first-time nominee for Taboo. "And it was Jesse [L. Martin] who announced it; we went to school together, so that was wonderful. I had vowed that I would try to sleep through the announcements, but that was impossible." According to Esparza, playing Philip Sallon in Taboo "was about not censoring anything because the character is an outrageous, unique human being. He has no fear." The actor says that his current show, the Worth Street Theater revival of The Normal Heart at The Public Theater, will transfer to Broadway in the fall. "We have a theater available," he says. "I think it's a great idea to keep it downtown for the summer; Broadway would be very hard during tourist time." (Esparza tells me that the horrific scream his character emits at the end of the play is not in the script. "It happened by chance in rehearsals," he says. "I was thinking about a friend of mine who killed himself.")

Frank Langella, a two-time Tony winner (for Seascape and Fortune's Fool), says that the challenge of his nominated role in Match "was playing a man who's alive and well. That was new for me. You have an obligation to the person, though you do go off in your own world with the characterization." Omar Metwally, nominated for his Broadway debut in Sixteen Wounded, was in bed when the nominations were announced "and then the phone started ringing." He says that he did a lot of research for his role of a terrorist: "I tried to make him as human as possible so the audience could go on the journey with him instead of judging him." Sixteen Wounded is already closed, having lasted only 12 performances on Broadway; while waiting to see what's next in store for him, Tony nominee Metwally says, "I'm just basking in the moment."

Denis O'Hare, last season's Best Featured Actor in a Play (Take Me Out), is in the running for this year's Best Featured Actor in a Musical award (for Assassins). "It's weird," O'Hare muses. "I always try to do my best. Sometimes a role fits an actor in a way that gets noticed. I don't know that I'm a better actor than I was last year or the year before, but it's nice to be recognized." Since he didn't think he'd be nominated, he slept in on Monday morning. "Finally, my cell phone rang," he relates. "It was Todd Haimes [head of the Roundabout] saying congratulations." I ask O'Hare if, when he arrived at work the following night, any of his fellow assassins greeted him with guns in hand. "This is truly a tight cast," he replies. "Everyone is so supportive."

Jerry Mitchell and Karen Ziemba (Never Gonna Dance)(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Jerry Mitchell and Karen Ziemba
(Never Gonna Dance)
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Karen Ziemba wasn't awake for the announcement of the nominations and the friend who told her that she was recognized for her work in Never Gonna Dance asked if she knew Jesse L. Martin, because he smiled when he said her name. "We appeared together last summer in The Threepenny Opera at Williamstown," Ziemba explains. A nominee for Steel Pier and a winner for Contact, this marks her third time at the plate. "I took to Mabel [her character in Never Gonna Dance] very quickly because she had a big heart," says Ziemba, "and I loved singing the Jerome Kern tunes." Her next role will be Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse (June 2-July 18).

"It's kind of overwhelming," states Kathleen Marshall, a double nominee for her direction and choreography of Wonderful Town. "My previous nomination was for choreography for Kiss Me, Kate," she reminds me. Marshall is working on tours of Wonderful Town and Little Shop of Horrors (which she choreographed), not to mention a TV-movie of Once Upon a Mattress with Carol Burnett as the Queen. Who's playing Winifred, the role that made Burnett famous on Broadway? "We don't know yet!"

Playwright Doug Wright, a Broadway debutant, is happy indeed that his I Am My Own Wife is a Best Play nominee. He, too, was in bed when the nominations were announced "and it caused me to leap out pretty quickly! We're thrilled to be at the Lyceum. We thought Charlotte [the play's main character] would be lucky if she played a few church basements." Wright is working on "a musical-theater piece, an adaptation of the notorious documentary, Grey Gardens, and I'm currently writing a movie thriller for Reese Witherspoon. That's paying the proverbial mortgage while I indulge in the happy avocation that is the theater."

As all of the assembled actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and producers finish scurrying from camera to microphone, another Tony nominees brunch bites the proverbial dust (and the literal bagels and croissants). You probably don't need to be reminded to watch the CBS telecast of the 2004 Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday, June 6, 8pm-11pm.