The Producers backlash notwithstanding, expect Mel Brooks' mighty musical to make off with an even dozen Tony Awards--oh, I'm sorry. That was my column two weeks ago. You read it here first. Of course, it wasn't the hardest horse race in history to call....
The prognosticators' darling, The Producers did indeed prance off with a Tony in every category for which it was eligible. The total was 12. Count 'em--12. It was the bad luck of Matthew Broderick, Brad Oscar, and Roger Bart to be up against other Producers folk, but the outcome didn't seem to faze any of the "losers." A day after the awards, Oscar was spied in the theater district, wearing shades and a silly expression. "I thought I'd be down after the Tonys, but I'm not at all," he says. "It has just been a great ride." When Brooks met the press Sunday night after his multi-wins, he was singing the praises of that previously unknown actor who stepped into the role of the demented Teutonic playwright Franz Liebkind when a leg injury sidelined Ron Orbach during the Chicago tryouts. "You gotta talk to Brad Oscar," Brooks insisted. "That's a story in itself. He was just a standby, an understudy. He was a swing. Anybody broke a leg, he would be in. The right guy broke a leg."
In the wake of the juggernaut, two of The Producers' competitors for Best Musical--Jane Eyre and A Class Act--will close on Sunday. As will Bells Are Ringing, which was nominated for Best Revival but lost to 42nd Street.
IT'S NOT ALL TONYS, Y'KNOW
Terrence McNally, who won four Tonys for the four scripts that he had on Broadway in the past eight years (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!), was properly braced and buffered for the probability of losing the award this year for The Full Monty to The Producers. The day after the Tonys, he got a helluva consolation prize: The Oscar Hammerstein Award, at a York Theater Gala at Laura Belle. It was presented to him by his friend and highly amusing muse, Nathan Lane, who was still basking in Tony glory. "I'm here because I love Terrence McNally," he said, "and because, after last night, I thought it was the least I could do." There was laughter, then a humble postscript: "The pendulum swings. You saw my sitcom. The pendulum swings."
Lane recalled the first time he ever laid eyes on McNally, on the steps at the Manhattan Theatre Club after rehearsals of a particularly problematic play appropriately titled Claptrap. "I looked up and there was this very kindly looking man standing there with this altar-boy face, an altar-boy who knew where they kept the wine. He said, 'I'm Terrence McNally. I hope someday we can work together.' And I said, 'Do you have anything now?' " The actor also tracked the Texas playwright's theatrical roots to a time in boyhood when McNally was taken to New York to see Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun [he must have meant Call Me Madam] and Gertrude Lawrence in The King and I--a brain-burning combo that made McNally go into theater. "Scientists have proved that's also what causes homosexuality," quoth Lane.
The evening--and the Hammerstein award--had a special resonance for McNally. "I remember, in high school, I said to my English teacher--my beloved Mrs. McElroy--'I'd like to do my paper on the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II.' So receiving this reward tonight is very moving to me. This was the same teacher who allowed me to write a musical in which George married Ira Gershwin. If you're from Texas, Ira's a woman's name. [In my musical,] George died on opening night of Porgy and Bess. Ira came out and told a stunned audience--this was long before Gower Champion and 42nd Street--that George Gershwin died tonight, but he would want us to finish the show.' And the entire Ray High School Drama Class sang 'I'm On My Way.' Max Bialystock should revive this show."
The stars came out in full force for the McNally event--Barbara Cook, Jason Danieley, Zoe Caldwell, Audra McDonald, Marin Mazzie, Kander & Ebb (who performed what, on first hearing, sounded like their next "New York, New York"--something called "Love and Love Alone" from their forthcoming collaboration with McNally, The Visit), Julia Murney, Howard McGillin, Belle Callaway, Stephen DeRosa, Debra Monk, Wendy Wasserstein, Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara, Joe Mantello, Leonard Foglia.
McNally continued: "I need the Nathans and the Zoes and the Audras and the Kathy Bateses--all the great actors I've worked with and the singers and the composers--to help me find my voice. I can type it, but I can't stand up here and say it so you can feel it in your hearts and souls the way I want you to hear my voice. I thank them for making me audible. The people you saw tonight--the best talents in the American theater--they're my friends. Aren't I blessed?" Yes, Terrence--but so are your audiences. By you.
THE BLESSING GOES ON
Not one to rest on his laurels, real or just-missed, McNally also fortified himself on Monday by starting up a new reading of his next opus with his Ragtime tunesmiths Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. A Man of No Importance is based on the 1994 Albert Finney flick of the same name, about a Dublin bus conductor who is trying to stage Oscar Wilde's risqué Salome in a church basement. The character, says Ahrens, "is a man with a deep passion for poetry and theater and a man somewhat at odds with the dictates of the Catholic Church--which I think is rather much like Terrence, actually."
Richard Thomas has the title role. An authentic Irish newcomer, Brandon Sean Wardell, plays his brash Guinness-swigging bus driver pa and introduced a song from the show at the McNally salute. Faith Prince, currently (through Sunday) of Bells Are Ringing, and Daniel Davis, who coincidentally plays Oscar Wilde in The Invention of Love, are co-starring in a closed presentation of the musical on June 15 at Lincoln Center, directed by Joe Mantello.
ELLA, MILLIE, NELLIE...
Marc Kudisch, who has been romancing Faith Prince's Ella Peterson in Bells Are Ringing, is about to turn back into Trevor Graydon, the square-jawed swain of Thoroughly Modern Millie (i.e., Sutton Foster). He previously played Graydon at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse. "I always wanted to do it," admits Kudisch. "There was never a question of me not wanting to do it. Like anything, we just had to do our business. I've worked on it for a long time, and it's a great piece." On August 20, director Michael Mayer puts the flapper-vintage tunefest into rehearsals for a Broadway opening in November at a house to be announced.
Reports that Andrea Martin will be the archvillainess Mrs. Meers (Beatrice Lillie in the film) seem to be either premature or outright wrong. But confirmed are Sheryl Lee Ralph as jazz baby Muzzy (once Carol Channing), Angela Christian in the Mary Tyler Moore role of Miss Dorothy, Gavin Creel as Jimmy, and Ann Nathan as Miss Flannery.
In related news: Erin Dilly, the middle Millie between Kristin Chenoweth and Sutton Foster, is looking like the girl most likely to be Nellie Forbush to Robert Goulet's Emile DeBecque in the South Pacific tour-to-Broadway that Barry and Fran Weissler are putting together. Right now, you can find Dilly at the Belasco, playing Young Phyllis in Follies--which, it will be formally announced any day now, is going to close on July 14. If you want to get one last gander at that show to last you the next 30 years, better pounce.
THEY GO IN THREES
Imogene Coca, 92, and Arlene Francis, 93, left their best marks on the small screen--as did Anthony Quinn, 86, on the big screen. But all three made important and memorable contributions to Broadway, and their passings over the weekend merit mentioning here.