Movin’ Out’s John Selya at the Theatre World Awards
Movin’ Out’s John Selya at the Theatre World Awards
"It was a season that was a numerologist's dream. We had Life (x) 3, Tea at Five, Dinner at Eight, and Banderas at Nine. In Vincent in Brixton, there was a Dutch actor name Jochum ten Haaf. Twelfth Night came in, 42nd Street continued, and Les Miz finished up at 6,680. Flower Drum Song told us a hundred million miracles are happening every day, and if New York theater didn't have quite that many, it did have quite a few. A children's show at the Cort, 12 inner city poets at the Longacre, and a gay baseball player at the Kerr. At the Richard Rodgers, there was a musical where only one man sang and everyone else danced. At the Broadway on 53rd Street, there was a musical where everyone sang but never in English. And I even heard a rumor that, at the Neil Simon, a teenaged girl's mother was played by a man. (I'm not saying it's true; I'm only telling you what I heard.) But if that was a man, he was one hot number, wasn't he?"

That's how I began my remarks for the 2002-2003 Theatre World Awards, which we bestowed on Monday afternoon at Studio 54. Mr. ten Haaf wasn't there, but we knew in advance that he was back in the Netherlands. Medea's Jonathan Cake wasn't there, either, so we couldn't have our Cake and -- never mind.

Our first presenter was Tovah Feldshuh. "She won her Theatre World Award for playing Yentl," I said. "I hope you all saw her do it and didn't just see the movie version that starred Mandy Patinkin." I mentioned that I was glad Feldshuh wore a dress, so we could see that there was a profound difference between her legs and Golda Meir's, for the lady does wear prosthetics in Golda's Balcony. Feldshuh got up and generously showed us her gams; she then introduced Mary Stuart Masterson, who said that she had lusted to be in show business ever since she saw her father (Peter Masterson) play a drunk and her mother (Carlin Glynn) portray a whore.

Tammy Blanchard
Tammy Blanchard
There was only one way I could introduce Bernadette Peters: "Extra! Extra! Hey, look at the headlines! Historical news is being made. Gypsy is on Broadway for the fourth time, and the actress they got to play Mama Rose did not turn out to be a dame at sea in the role. Here she is, boys. Here she is, world. That five-foot-something bundle of dynamite, the first lady of the American musical theater -- not you, Harvey -- I mean Ms. Bernadette Peters." The lady then gave a classy speech by way of introducing Tammy Blanchard. She began by citing Gypsy's final moments, where Rose traces her name "Madame Rose" in the air and then moves her hand up to give her kid top billing: "And her daughter Gypsy." The star then traced "Bernadette Peters" in the air before moving her hand up to give her stage kid top billing: "And Tammy Blanchard." Nice.

I introduced Lewis J. Stadlen by pointing out that I didn't know how he could have possibly researched his new role of Max Bialystock, that ne'er-do-well producer, because he'd only worked with the best producers: Manny Azenberg on The Sunshine Boys, Hal Prince on Candide. Then the new king of old Broadway came up and told a funny story about the time he auditioned for Ali Hakim in the 1979 revival of Oklahoma! The powers-that-be said he was "too Jewish," to which Stadlen rebutted that Ali Hakim was indeed a Jewish peddler from Delancey Street and not Persian as he claimed, because "he would have been tarred and feathered in Oklahoma back then if he admitted he was Jewish." (P.S.: He didn't get the part.) Stadlen presented to Take Me Out's Daniel Sunjata, who remarked that he didn't quite understand how he could face an audience buck naked without being nervous but now felt nervous in giving his first-ever acceptance speech. (It won't be his last.) Eddie Izzard seemed even more nervous when presenting to his Joe Egg co-star Victoria Hamilton, who conceded that, "a half-hour before this began, he was the most nervous I've ever seen him." She knew that was because he really wanted to offer a worthy introduction of her, which he certainly did in explaining her vast talents.

Linda Hart and Antonio Banderasafter the ceremony
Linda Hart and Antonio Banderas
after the ceremony
In introducing Danielle Ferland, I said: "What if you're a casting director and you've got to find someone who can convincingly portray a Bird, a Frog, a Mole, a Squirrel, and a Turtle. Who knows that territory? Well, lucky for A Year with Frog and Toad, there was an actress who knew all these critters from going into the woods and from having spent many a Sunday in the park with George." I then borrowed a line from Thornton Wilder and introduced her as "that lovely mammal." Ferland said that she was "so glad to have grown up," even if it did mean playing amphibians. She presented to Clare Higgins of Vincent in Brixton, who admitted to being "lonely" because Jochum ten Haaf couldn't be present to accept his trophy along with hers.

Next I introduced Linda Hart by saying, "In Hairspray, this actress claims she won the coveted crown of Miss Baltimore Crabs by -- you should pardon the expression -- screwing the judges. I would like to take this opportunity to say that when we judges gave her a Theatre World Award in 1988, she won it all on her own. I don't want you to think, just because she was in Anything Goes, that anything went on." Hart presented to Antonio Banderas, whom she already knew because she was supposed to have been in a film that he directed. (Crazy in Alabama, maybe?) She said that, while working with him, she found him "sweet kind, wonderful, and sexy." Then she disclosed that this "sweet, kind, wonderful, and sexy idiot removed my entire part from the movie, and it will take him the rest of his life to make it up to me." Banderas was a wonderful sport about it, literally crawling on all fours when he got to the stage to beg Hart's forgiveness. She playfully stuck out her buttocks for him to kiss -- but that's where he drew the line.

Brian Stokes Mitchell, before handing Movin' Out's John Selya his award, commented on Selya's "industrial strength performance that made me go 'Wow!' and 'Ouch!' -- 'Wow' because he's the lead dancer in a Twyla Tharp show and 'Ouch' because he's the lead dancer in a Twyla Tharp show." Selya then pretended to limp while making his way to the stage. He said that he thinks of Mitchell every night while making dinner and seeing the Man of La Mancha commercial in which a fan proves his true love of the show by proclaiming, "I bought the mug!"

John Willis and Peter Filichia
John Willis and Peter Filichia
I introduced Harvey Fierstein by recalling the first time I saw him -- January 6, 1976 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, doing a new play called The Haunted Host. "While I was startled that the actor playing the part did have a voice that sounded as if he'd gargled with razor blades," I said, "I was entranced by his portrayal of a gay guy so desperate for love. How desperate? Well, he unfolded his pull-out sofa bed, and hanging from the edge of it was a mat -- the kind you usually see in front of doorways -- that said, 'Welcome.'" I pointed out that Broadway had welcomed Fierstein many times since then but never as warmly as it's doing now. And I don't think I'm wrong about that.

Fierstein presented awards to two of his fellow Hairspray performers. First was Jackie Hoffman. He mentioned her now-famous nightly ad-lib and said that, after every performance, the cast members give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, depending on what they each thought of the quip. Hoffman got up and said that when press agent Rick Miramontez told her she'd won a Theatre World Award, her first thought was: "So, what Monday am I going to have to give up?" (The presenters on the dais gave her a thumbs-up for that one.) Next, Fierstein had a lovely sentimental moment when introducing Marissa Jaret Winokur, saying that he knew her "as only a mother knows a daughter." His honorary kid then got up and recalled Fierstein's graciousness before she got the part -- "calling me every week to see how I was doing with my vocal lessons."

Elizabeth Ashley said that she knew two things about show business: "You should never wear chartreuse and never follow Harvey Fierstein." That got a sad look from our next presenter, Patricia (A Little Night Music) Elliott, who was wearing chartreuse -- though, when she mentioned it, Ashley insisted that it was really metallic green. Elliott introduced Thomas Jefferson Byrd of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, who echoed the words that John Willis -- the man who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Theatre World Awards since their inception in 1945 -- said when we all applauded him: "You're so generous. And I deserve it." Indeed, they both do.

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