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A Gay Old Time at the Tonys

David Finkle reports from the press room at Radio City Music Hall. logo
Harvey Fierstein in the Tony press room
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
When you're covering the American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards show from the Tony Awards press room, you're really only covering the press room. You don't really catch the event itself -- unless, for example, you stare at a couple of small, discreetly placed monitors to see and almost hear Billy Joel growl "New York State of Mind" in Times Square at the start of the 57th annual Broadway-pats-itself-on-the-back show.

The press room theory is that if monitors are blaring the Radio City Music Hall festivities, the noise will detract from what's occurring on the 18-inch riser where the newly designated winners perch. As a result, we poor journalists are torn between listening to who's winning what on the tube and paying attention to the live-and-in-person showbiz figure. It seemed that every reporter on hand focused on Bernadette Peters's performance of "Rose's Turn," since they simply had to know what shape her voice is in after the recent kerfuffle involving her missing performances. (It's in good shape, actually.)

What everyone in the Pegasus Room at Radio City undoubtedly hoped for was something dramatic. (This is theater, after all.) Something like the emotional scene Elaine Stritch put on last year immediately after winning a Tony for Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. While thanking everyone connected with her lauded entertainment and going on to thank the rest of the western hemisphere in her acceptance speech, she'd been cut off by the orchestra. Stritch, never one to mince words but frequently one to apologize for unminced words a few days after the fact, tearfully averred to the press corps that the rude on-camera interruption had ruined the evening for her.

Stritch-type eventualities aren't guaranteed, of course, and didn't materialize this year. Consequently, the smartly-garbed scribblers sitting at long tables arranged chevron-like throughout the room had to content themselves with the enthusiastic, earnest, grateful remarks made by poised recipients -- who, incidentally, showed up in a manner far less glamorous than home viewers might imagine. So, what did they have to say once they'd settled on the stools provided for them? Here's a sampling:

Brian Dennehy
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Brian Dennehy, named Best Actor for Long Day's Journey Into Night, gave the press room affair its hottest moment, doing what winners often do as they get the first chance to talk officially after their on-air win: apologizing for oversights in his acceptance speech. "First of all," he said, "I'm embarrassed I didn't say anything about my fellow players." Before he stepped away from the low podium, he'd termed himself a "shmuck" and asked that his regrets be relayed to co-star Vanessa Redgrave when she arrived to chat about her award. Unfortunately, Redgrave was one of the few winners who didn't come to the podium; Twyla Tharp, named the year's best choreographer, was another.

Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur, who respectively copped the Best Actor and Actress in a Musical laurels, did a double act, repeating any number of things they've already said about being in the year's most celebrated musical. One aspect of their preparation about which they hadn't said much elsewhere was the coaching they received from Joan Lader; Winokur noted that Lader's work has more to do with vocal therapy than voice lessons and added that Lader was represented this year by 10 nominees. Midway through the Fierstein-Winokur banter, Hairspray producer Margo Lion arrived to call her show "a miracle" -- and to smile as she recalled that the miracle occurred thanks in part to mortgaging her Upper West Side flat.

Denis O'Hare, considered one of the two shoo-ins for acting citations this year (Redgrave was the other) for his role as a gay accountant falling in love with baseball, noted that although he watched lots of games while getting ready to do the play, "I'm not a baseball fan. I'm an opera fan."

Joe Mantello, who directed O'Hare and the Take Me Out actors who take it off for the notorious shower sequences, was asked if he'd ever considered doffing his own clothes in order to make his cast feel at ease. "I don't know that that would make them at ease," he joked. He opined that the nude scenes in the play and those in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which he also guided this season, were "the least interesting part of the play."

Richard Greenberg, who wrote Take Me Out and now has a Tony for his effort, was quizzed on the prominence of homosexual men throughout this year's Tony race. "It's just a big gay world, I think," he retorted quickly. Asked how he felt -- now that he's such a famous baseball fan -- about last week's Sammy Sosa cork bat incident, he replied: "Oh, that was a very sad moment."

Jane Krakowski
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Jack O'Brien, who won a Tony for directing Hairspray, insisted that his increased assignments away from San Diego's Old Globe don't mean he'll be vacating post as artistic director of that theater any time soon. He said that his acclaim here and in London, where he's just opened John Guare's adaption of His Girl Friday, has "made it possible to attract a whole different group of people" to work at the Old Globe. Next up for him in NYC is Shakespeare's two-part Henry IV at Lincoln Center, with a cast including Kevin Kline, Billy Crudup, Richard Easton, and Ethan Hawke.

Jane Krakowski mentioned that her salmon gown was designed by Michael Kors. She also mentioned that "I forgot to mention Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit," referring to the songwriter and librettist of Nine, the show for which she'd just been named Best Featured Actress in a Musical. "I kind of blanked out when I went up there," Krakowski explained. Oh -- and her jewelry, she pointed out, was designed by Fred Leighton. (She didn't point out if it belonged to her.)

When asked about the season's gay motif, Dick Latessa -- Best Featured Actor in a Musical -- quipped that he isn't that way, and "I even brought my wife and kids to prove it." That would be the same wife who many years back encouraged him to leave the hinterlands and try his luck on the Great White Way.

Michele Pawk seemed genuinely surprised that she'd gotten the Best Featured Actress nod for playing a version of Carol Burnett's mother in Hollywood Arms. She noted that Burnett, who co-authored the comedy-drama with her late daughter, Carrie Hamilton, was around for the rehearsals and told many family anecdotes that didn't make it into the final script.

Billy Joel described winning (with Stuart Malina) a pre-show Tony for the Movin' Out orchestrations and then racing to Times Square to tickle the keys as "surreal." He allowed that he loves sitting through the show based on his songs, thinking "That's my shit." He also had advice for songwriters aspiring to the kind of brilliant career he's had: "Get a lawyer -- and then get another lawyer to watch the first lawyer."

Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, partners on the Hairspray score and also domestic partners with a penchant for kissing at televised functions, revealed that, as of last week, they are officially collaborating with Steven Spielberg on a musical adaptation of Catch Me If You Can -- which, of course, would be yet another tuner based on a successful flick. When asked how they felt about being the first gay couple to pick up a Tony, Wittman shot back: "I thought Betty and Adolph were!" (Needless to say, he was referring to Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who were each married to other people and didn't make a habit of kissing when they won awards.)

Billy Joel
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Mark O'Donnell and Tom Meehan, who thought it would be amusing to talk over each other when they picked up their Tonys for their Hairspray book, didn't have much to say in front of the press. Meehan did announce that he and his Producers collaborator, Mel Brooks, are working on a musical version of Brooks's Young Frankenstein. Disclosing that six songs already exist, he went on to say that if he and Brooks ultimately think that what they come up with stinks, they'll "throw it out."

Russell Simmons, whose Def Poetry Jam on Broadway won a Tony for Special Theatrical Event, remarked about hip-hop on Broadway: "I hope it's more than a flash in the pan." He also threw in an interesting statistic about a phenomenon that he appears to be following closely: Simmons claims that 60 to 80 percent of students today reply in the affirmative when asked if they write poetry.

Teresa Eyring, speaking for The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis -- the place where the Tony-nommed A Year with Frog and Toad premiered, and this year's regional theater Tony winner -- noted that the top ticket price for Frog and Toad in Minneapolis was $27 but said she understood that the $91.25 top ticket price in Manhattan was "in line" with Broadway prices.

And so, as Ethel Barrymore said at the end of her lauded by not Tonyed vehicle Sunday, "That's all there is. There isn't anymore."

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