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Brunch With the Stars

This year's hopefuls schmooze, pose, and nosh at the annual press reception for Tony Award nominees. logo
Marian Seldes says: "Welcome to Tony Awards season!"
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
It was quite a scene yesterday at The View restaurant, located high atop Manhattan's Marriott Marquis Hotel, as the annual Tony Nominees press reception/brunch was held from 10:30am to 1pm. Among the attendees was Paul Newman, a first-time nominee for Our Town, who's celebrating the 50th anniversary of his Broadway debut (in Picnic). Another first-time nominee, Vanessa Redgrave (Long Day's Journey into Night), was a no-show but the other members of the family Tyrone -- Brian Dennehy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Robert Sean Leonard, nominees all -- were there.

Dennehy told me during the reception that he's wanted to play patriarch James Tyrone for some time: "I played him once before [in Chicago, with the same director, Tony nominee Robert Falls]. We'd been trying to put together a Broadway production, which requires stars, for three or four years. Once we got Vanessa, we were able to get Philip. It was worth all the trouble because they're both extraordinary. I've been fortunate in the last five years to play two of the great parts in the American dramatic canon, Willy [Loman in Death of a Salesman, for which he won a 1999 Tony] and now James Tyrone. Believe me, I know how lucky I am, especially with this cast: Vanessa Redgrave, who's a force of nature, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Bobby [Robert Sean] Leonard. This has been a really amazing experience."

Did Dennehy find any aspects of his role particularly challenging? "Well," he said, "you have the two great speeches in the third act. O'Neill's language is always challenging because it's complicated. You have to find the right rhythms. Once you find them, it works -- but it takes awhile. Look, if you can't do stuff like this as an actor, why the hell are you an actor? The whole point is to try to do things that you're not sure you can do. A thousand people sit there every night, absolutely rapt. They jump to their feet at the end of the play. That's because of O'Neill; he's the reason we're here."

Four from Nine: Jane Krakowski, Mary Stuart Masterson,
Antonio Banderas, and Chita Rivera
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
As the reception continued, Bernadette Peters posed with Tammy Blanchard, who plays her daughter in Gypsy. Another notable mother-and-daughter team, Hairspray's Edna and Tracy Turnblad (Harvey Fierstein, Marissa Jaret Winokur), faced the cameras as well. Accompanying Antonio Banderas (Nine) was wife Melanie Griffith, soon to make her Broadway bow in Chicago.

A few of Banderas's onstage love interests -- nominees Chita Rivera, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Jane Krakowski -- were nearby, and I had the chance to speak fleetingly with Rivera and Masterson before they were whisked away for photos. Chita, an eight-time Tony nominee (and two-time winner, for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman), claimed that her biggest challenge in playing Liliane La Fleur "was zee French accent. Puerto Ricans don't....I never said 'Puerto Rican' with a French accent before. It's pretty weird!"

I jokingly asked Chita if the bolts and screws in one of her legs (the result of an auto accident in the '80s) help her to place a gam on Banderas's shoulder during the show. "No!" she shouted, laughing. "Antonio helps me put my leg up! Any time you have the substance of Antonio in front of you, you can get your leg anywhere you want." Masterson, for her part, said that her biggest hurdle in playing Banderas's wife "was surviving the audition, because I was so scared."

Eddie Izzard and Victoria Hamilton, both up for Tonys for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, were doing interviews together yesterday. Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp posed for photos with Movin' Out nominees John Selya, Elizabeth Parkinson, Michael Cavanaugh, Keith Roberts, and Ashley Tuttle. Linda Emond, a nominee for Yasmina Reza's comedy Life (x) 3, noted that it was challenging to play "a woman with radically low self-esteem, who's been beaten up a good deal. I try to get just the right pitch of someone who's really been through the mill, and yet I try to spin it a little bit so the audience knows they can laugh heartily. It's a tricky thing. All of us -- Helen Hunt, John Turturro, Brent Spiner, and I -- find it tricky. That's the way Yasmina Reza writes."

During our interview, TheaterMania editor-in-chief Michael Portantiere interjected that he enjoyed Emond as Abigail Adams in the 1997 revival of 1776 and asks when she's going to sing on stage again. "All of my friends thought it was incredibly hysterical that I was making my Broadway debut in a musical," Emond said. "I sang a lot in Chicago [prior to coming to New York], but it was a side thing. I've been asked to audition for other musicals but none of them have worked out."

John Dossett
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
John Dossett, who plays Herbie in Gypsy, is a nominee; so is his wife, Michele Pawk, for her role in Hollywood Arms. (Another married couple, director Baz Luhrmann and costume designer Catherine Martin, are up for La Bohème). Pawk couldn't make it to the press reception because, according to her husband, "she's in Chicago doing the new Sondheim musical, Bounce." Asked about the rehearsal process for Gypsy, Dossett remarked: "Geez, I'd like to say I struggled with the part, but I didn't. I'd known [director] Sam Mendes because Michele worked with him in Cabaret. I met with him for about 20 minutes and he said, 'It's all about chemistry; I want you to come back and read with Bernadette.' We read three scenes, he gave me one adjustment, and that was it. Sometimes you read and, boom! Everything just fits. But not always: When I was doing Dinner at Eight, with Gerry Gutierrez directing, I thought every day that I was going to get fired."

Believe it or not, Dossett was unfamiliar with Gypsy before he was cast in the current production: "My friends said, 'Best overture ever written.' I thought, 'Overture, schmoverture!' But at the sitzprobe, when we heard the music played for the first time, it was thrilling. When Bernadette and I got up to sing 'Small World,' that's when it hit me that this was going to be an incredible experience. I just want to enjoy this as long as I can."

I asked Marian Seldes, nominated for Dinner at Eight, if it's easier to do an established play than a new one. "I think actors think of every play as new," she answered. "I know that sounds a bit banal, but the word 'revival' is a funny word to an actor. The task in acting is so difficult that you just have to focus on what's ahead. In my belief, you have to create a part from absolute reality and imagination but not from something you've seen before in the theater. In the case of Dinner at Eight, people said, 'What about the movie?' I don't want to be flip, but what about the movie? That's the movie! I think people who saw this production were amazed at how multi-layered it was and how modern it seemed. The people in the play are denying reality; aren't they? And so are we."

Her greatest challenge in portraying Carlotta Vance, observed Seldes, "was to become part of a company that had rehearsed for three or four weeks with Dorothy Loudon in the role. But they were so generous, so wonderful, that it happened without my knowing it. My gratitude is to the actors and, of course, to Gerry Gutierrez. The whole experience was magical for me, and the nomination was just a gift."

Melissa Errico
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Exclaimed the beautiful Melissa Errico, "You were just talking to my favorite actress in the world, Marian Seldes! When I was 12 years old, I went up to her at a restaurant. My parents pushed me, 'You should say hello and tell her you want to be an actress.' I went up to her, shaking, and said: 'Miss Seldes, I would like to become an actress someday.' She looked at me and said, 'Live!'" Nominated for the short-lived Amour, Errico told me that the musical "was a surrealist short story about things happening that you didn't expect, so this nomination is very apt. I think it continues the theme of impossible things happening. It's fantastic that we're remembered."

Errico greeted passersby Robert Sean Leonard ("He's one of my good friends; we're e-mail pals") and Man of La Mancha nominee Brian Stokes Mitchell, who remarked, "Isn't this great?" Next month, Errico will be at the Williamstown Theater Festival playing Polly Peachum in The Threepenny Opera. The company includes Jesse L. Martin, Betty Buckley, and William Duell, reprising the roles he played in the legendary 1954 Off-Broadway production; Errico told me that Randy Graff and Karen Ziemba have also joined the cast. Pleased that her debut solo album, Blue Like That, is doing well, Errico added that she's looking forward to reprising the role of Eliza in My Fair Lady in an August 3 Hollywood Bowl concert "with John Lithgow and Roger Daltrey in front of 18,000 people." She then bid me farewell "with much Amour."

Among the many other nominees I noticed at the reception were Hairspray's Dick Latessa, Corey Reynolds, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Thomas Meehan, Jerry Mitchell, and William Ivey Long, plus Christine Ebersole (Dinner at Eight), Stanley Tucci (Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune), and Denis O'Hare (who's superb in Take Me Out). All in all, it was a fun event and a highlight of the awards season.

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