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At Sardi's for the Tony Nominations

Filichia finds the announcement of this year's Tony nominees to be a relatively unexciting affair. logo

Isabelle Stevenson, Roy Somlyo, and Jed Bernstein
at Sardi's for the Tony nominations
(Photo: Michael Portantiere)
As I approached Sardi's on Monday morning to hear the Tony nominations, I noticed that, right next door at the Helen Hayes, the marquee was still up for the now-closed The Smell of the Kill. Hmm, I wondered, is this an omen? How many people would think these nominations smelled? How many would want to kill members of the committee?

Getting through the door of Sardi's took a little longer than usual, for there seemed to be more cameras in attendance than ever before. Good! Spread the word, as they say in The Vagina Monologues, which will probably be a Best Play nominee some years from now when someone decides to produce it at the Booth.

The technical crews seemed more nervous than usual. "When good wires go bad," moaned one frantic cameraman. (I wondered if he was intentionally parodying the ad line used by The Smell of the Kill: "When Good Wives Go Bad.") The CBS techie standing next to me was on his cell phone, assuring the person to whom he was speaking that he had already done the sound check and everything was fine. He sounded pretty annoyed that the person on the phone didn't believe him.

The cameras were all aimed center stage, where a bevy of posters flanked an HDTV monitor that would display the names of the nominees as they were announced. Surrounding everything were window cards from such shows as The Graduate, 45 Seconds From Broadway, and the aforementioned The Smell of the Kill. This would be the only nod these shows would get when all was said and done. (Actually, it was a bad season all around for tenants of the Helen Hayes: By Jeeves didn't get any nominations, either, marking the first time that an Andrew Lloyd Webber show met such a fate.)

I noted that most of those who have caricatures in Sardi's have not won Tonys (e.g., Nancy Walker) and some haven't remotely come close to being nominated (e.g., Jamie Farr). But the caricature nailed on the pillar to the right of the window cards was that of David Merrick. When Privates Lives was announced as a Best Play Revival nominee, I remembered Merrick's 1969 revival, which (I am in the minority here) I thought far superior to what we have now. I guess it was my imagination that made Merrick's caricature seem as if it picked up a little more of a scowl when the current production of Private Lives was mentioned. And given that many categories had five nominees, would it have spoiled some vast eternal plan if they'd let five into the Best Play Revival category? Should The Women have been shut out? Or is that what happens when 67% of the nominating committee are men?

At 8:31am, we 100 or so attendees were already looking at our watches, aware that the festivities were a minute late. Suddenly, everyone got quieter--perhaps believing that if we acted ready, maybe the powers-that-be would be ready, too. A minute later, three powers-that-be took the stage as the CBS techie on the phone said, "The suits are going to talk for four minutes first."

They were in suits, too: Isabelle Stevenson (chairman of the American Theatre Wing) in teal blue, Jed Bernstein (president of the League of American Theatres and Producers) in cream, and Roy Somlyo (president of the Wing) in standard-issue dark. I was sorry to notice that, for the first time in my memory, League chairman Cy Feuer was not there. He's our most potent link to the Golden Age, for he co-produced five money-makers before he landed on Whoop-Up. (Feuer's over 90 now; I hope he's well.) Meanwhile, we heard: "This is the final sound check, mike check, 1-1-1, 2-2-2, 6-6-6, hey-hey-hey." We all dutifully laughed...except for the CBS techie, who was busy, crying, "He needs your phone! His battery's dying!"

Yet, as Grand Hotel taught us, life goes on. Said Bernstein, "I'm Garth Drabinsky. It's nice to be back, but I have to leave right after this"--a comment that got mixed reviews after the ceremony was over. When Stevenson spoke, she was barely audible and someone urged her to get closer to the mike. She then began having trouble pronouncing names, causing one young woman in the audience to guffaw loudly and roll her eyes heavenward, forgetting what Herb Gardner had an octogenarian say to a young man in I'm Not Rappaport: "Someday, you too will be a member of this weird tribe."

The Tony Award
Roy Somlyo took the occasion to mention that tickets to the Tonys would be available to the general public, and that they should call 212-307-4544 to secure them. Then Bernstein pointed out the Tonys' newest tradition of having replacements in shows announce the nominees, as Reba McEntire and Eric McCormack did last year, because they don't get as much spotlight as originating actors. This morning, it was Jennifer Jason Leigh and Steven Weber, the latter facing the press for the second time in as many weeks. Good for him for braving us, given that few gave him any respect last Friday when The Producers' new reviews came out.

We were just about to begin when the CBS techie frantically yelled, "We're going to have to hold a minute! Something's wrong with the feed!" Time then began to move slower than a production of a Pinter play in the Bahamas. As I was standing right next to the nervous techie, I felt like I was someone in a tree, hearing every second of the struggle--which, in fact, didn't take much more than a minute's time. As in the world of sports, everything stops for television. That it gives us so much more attention is, of course, the worthy trade-off.

Everything went smoothly after that, perhaps too smoothly. Where were those gasps of approval, bursts of applause, or moans of disapproval that usually meet the announced names? It seemed that nobody thought the nominations smelled or were worth killing someone over--possibly because, sad to say, this was not a season to have and to hold from this day forth as one of the best. Sure, every one of us felt there were worthies who should have been there and weren't--Justin Bohon, Dana Ivey, Jeff McCarthy, and Mary Louise Wilson immediately came to my mind--but we couldn't really quarrel. Yet what does it say when Thoroughly Modern Millie gets almost as many nominations as The Producers did last year? If Millie emerges victorious, then Hallelujah, Baby! will no longer be the least deserving musical to have won the big prize.

Still, we're all interested. At least everyone hopes we are. Even though Somlyo had already announced the phone number to purchase Tony tickets, Steven Weber mentioned it, too. Three times.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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