"A" and "B" are for "Antonio" and "Banderas"; he was so terrific in his Broadway debut that he deserves two letters on the list. Granted, some weren't as surprised as others that he did so well in Nine because, they argued, the Evita movie showed that he could manage a musical. How did we know that each scene we saw him do in that film wasn't Take 43? Because he did it all in one take on the stage of the Eugene O'Neill, that's how.
"C" is clearly for Chicago. Sure, the show's real success this year was the Oscar-winning Hollywood movie, but how many stage productions profit when their movie versions open? The few that have still been running when the movie breaks usually close pretty quickly, but Chicago actually experienced a jump in business. How pervasive was the Chicago success? That Mrs. Banderas wants to do it at the Ambassador is only one indication. An even better one may be found in Ethan Mordden's newest (and wonderful) book, One More Kiss, about the musicals of the 1970s. Open the tome, look at the flyleaf, and you'll see the word Chicago in half-inch type, followed in much smaller, ordinary-sized type by Follies, Annie, and A Chorus Line. Would Michael Bennett have ever believed that his one-time longest-runner-ever would now be relegated to fourth place in a book about '70s musicals? More to the point, would Kander and Ebb have ever dreamed on that June, 1976 night when their baby lost each and every Tony it was up for that 27 years later, in a book about '70s musicals, their show would be listed first and in large letters?
"D" is for Def Poetry Jam, which didn't do much business but did get some kids who'd never gone near a Broadway theater to walk through the doors of the Longacre. Here's hoping they come back.
"E" is for "Emond," as in Linda. Who would have thought when Life (X) 3 was in rehearsal that Oscar-winner Helen Hunt, Hollywood hotshot John Turturro, and Star Trek's next generation Brent Spiner would not emerge with all the reviews, buzz, and award nominations but that this lady would instead? Way to go, Linda!
"F" is for "Fierstein." Though the name Harvey is most associated with something invisible in a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, this Harvey sure wasn't invisible in the Tony-winning smash Hairspray, either on-stage or off. Good for him for urging his cast to have perfect attendance; too bad Fierstein's influence didn't extend across the street to another musical that began with "F."
"G" is for Gypsy -- which, like Chicago, lost all of its potential Tonys its first time out. But ho-ho-ho, who's got the last laugh now? For a "loser," Gypsy has had more Broadway revivals (3) than the combined total of the two shows that tied for Best Musical in those 1959-60 Tony Awards. You can look it up: The Sound of Music has had all of one Broadway revival and Fiorello! has had one fewer than that. Brava, Bernadette, for bringing it home once again.
"H" is for Hairspray, the show that started out big in Seattle and stayed big all season long on Broadway. No indeed, you can't stop the beat. But let's make that "H" for Harvey, too. After all, if we're going to give Antonio Banderas two letters, we have to do the same for Edna Turnblad, a.k.a. Harvey Fierstein; it's a nice way of acknowledging the Drama Desk tie that both actors enjoyed when the envelope for Best Actor in a Musical was opened.
"I" is for "Izzard," as in Eddie. Doing a great one-man show at Westbeth is one thing, but it's certainly different from performing a serious role in a powerful dramatic play. Izzard showed he was capable of both assignments and kept the Joe Egg Best Actor in a Play Tony nomination streak alive at three, joining Albert Finney and Jim Dale among those thus acknowledged for the role of Bri.
"J" is for "Jason" Robert Brown. Yeah, he didn't have a new show this year; his contributions were limited to a couple of ditties in Urban Cowboy. But how beloved is this guy to the younger generation? I'll tell you how much: An Ohioan I know went to see the show, found that conductor Brown was out that day, and -- after seeing the show, mind you -- actually considered returning to it just to get a glimpse of the man who wrote Parade and The Last Five Years! (P.S.: She didn't actually return, but the fact that she was even considering it tells you how beloved this guy is.)
"K" is for "Krakowski," as in Jane. The lady who dazzled me in Grand Hotel in 1989 doesn't look a whit older these 14 years later in Nine. She deserves a Tony just for the fearless, matter-of-fact look she gives as she's lowered and raised in that conveyance. Is there any truth to the rumor that the Pope has made a call from the Vatican to get tickets just to see this lady?
"L" is for Luhrmann and La Bohème. Would you have ever believed that a musical could be done on Broadway entirely in Italian? Granted, it first happened in 1964 when Rugantino opened, but that show only managed 28 performances at the Hellinger. La Bohème is not really a hot ticket, but for an opera with three different casts of leads to survive as long as it has is a substantial achievement and a tribute to Baz Luhrmann, who has proved that people are interested in anything he does. And wasn't it nice to see an opera in the comparatively cozy confines of a one-balcony theater rather than in a five-balcony barn?
"M" is for Movin' Out, which managed the trick of succeeding on Broadway after poisonous reviews and word-of-mouth in Chicago. Many Broadway observers say that going out-of-town is now pointless, for if your show has a flaw or two, the whole world will soon know it through the internet. Movin' Out proved that no matter how bad your rap and reputation, you can soon be movin' into the hit column.
"N" is for "Newman," as in Paul, who has been a tremendous philanthropist for a number of worthy causes and sure was one for the Westport Playhouse this year when he brought Our Town to the Booth. This was a controversial production, but speaking as some who has seen umpteen stagings of the play in my 42 years of theatergoing, I relished that so many of the line readings were unlike any I'd heard before. Whatever we all thought of the show, bless you, Mr. Newman, for coming through for both New York and Connecticut theater.
"O" is for "O'Hare," as in Denis. As Mason Marzac, the rabid new baseball fan in Take Me Out, he at one point wears on his hand one of those wildly outsized sponge-hands with finger raised as to say "We're Number One!" He sure is.
"P" is for Prune Danish, in which Jackie Mason not only did the same shtick he'd been doing since his Broadway debut in 1986 but also told many of the exact same jokes he'd told in his previous visits. This Danish was pretty stale. How could the Tony nominating committee want Mason's show in the Special Theatrical Event category?
"Q" is for that Avenue that started on 15th Street and now will move 30 streets north. How wonderful that three young men who grew up watching Sesame Street could lampoon -- and honor -- that esteemed TV series with such accuracy.
"R" is for "Redgrave," of course, as in Vanessa. That every actor has a bag of tricks is a given, but no one this season has a deeper bag than Redgrave does in Long Day's Journey Into Night. Just when you think you'd seen her do everything as the tortured Mary Tyrone, there she is again, showing you a new expression, a fresh gesture, an additional nuance. She's the real reason those lines of people are snaking from the Plymouth box office and out to the street. "R" is also for "Redgrave" as in Lynn, Vanessa's sister, who's doing such fine work Off-Broadway in Talking Heads.
"S" is for Say Goodnight, Gracie, which got a Tony nomination as Best Play even though its star and motor, Frank Gorshin, couldn't crack the Best Actor list. Too bad, for he does manage the ultimate achievement of an actor impersonating a well-known celebrity: He makes you forget that you aren't really watching George Burns.
"T" is for Take Me Out, which has had an easy time winning over the critics and a harder time finding an audience. The problem is said to be not that women don't want to see a show about baseball and that many men feel uncomfortable attending a show that has naked guys on stage. These men are allegedly worried that other guys will think they really want to see those guys naked, and what would that say about them?! Is this one Broadway attraction that might have done better if the nudity had been omitted?
"U" is for Urban Cowboy, which definitely had the Most Emotional Moment of the Season when director Lonny Price announced on stage to an unsuspecting cast after the supposedly final performance that they weren't closing after all. Sure, Fierstein and Redgrave get resounding cheers following every curtain, but even they haven't heard anything like the sound that erupted from the audience that Saturday night at the Broadhurst.
"V" is for Victory Begins at Home, in which Bill Maher himself covered topics from A-to-Z: Arabs, Blacks, Catholics, Democrats, Egyptians, Free Speech, God, Homosexuals, Iraqis, Jews, Koreans, Los Angeles, Marijuana, Nigerians, Oil, Peace, Questions They Ask You at Airports, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Taxes, U.S. Foreign Policy, Vietnam, Whites, (e)Xtremists, Young Republicans, and Zealots.
"W" is for "Winokur," as in Marissa Jaret. Almost every Broadway season has a "new girl" who's highly championed, but rarely if ever has she been chubby with a face that traditionally wouldn't have launched a thousand ships. Let's hope this is the first of many new girls (and boys) who'll show us that beauty comes in a number of shapes, sizes, and looks.
"X" is always my biggest challenge when I make up this annual list. (I do wish that one of these years someone would stage a revival of Jack Richardson's 1965 play Xmas in Las Vegas.) Anyway, how about this? X is for Dance of the Vampires, not because it was X'ed out of (e)xistence rather quickly but because the only way to get rid of vampires, of course, is by making a cross. Well, if we think of that cross lying on its side -- the way Dance of the Vampires did most of the night -- we have our X.
"Y" is for A Year with Frog and Toad, the charming little show at which audiences gurgle with pleasure every time Frog asks Toad if he's got any mail lately. "Y" this kids' show wasn't more successful can be attributed to its high ticket price, but its Broadway pedigree should help Year have many years of audiences around the country.
And "Z" is for Zanna, Don't, the delicious, tuneful, bubble-gum scored musical that brought us to a world where gay is straight and straight isn't easy. It pleased many, though it infuriated a country punk singer named Miss Xanna Don't, who claimed she would take the show to court for usurping her name. That Tim Acito spelled his title differently was lost on her -- at least, I presume, until she saw a lawyer. (The management tells me they haven't heard from her since she initially raised her objections last year.) Of course, if the show had actually usurped her name, I would have had an easier time with my "X," wouldn't I?
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]