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Drama Desk Highs... And Lows

As in the past, an amateurish ceremony marred this year?s Drama Desk awards. logo

Lily Tomlin
Each year, the live telecast of the Drama Desk Awards over the cable channel NY 1 arouses mixed emotions. On the one hand, of course, any television coverage of theater is welcome in this day and age. And the star quotient of the awards--which this year included people like Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Mary-Louise Parker, Blythe Danner, and Treat Williams among the nominees and presenters--would certainly seem to justify a full, live telecast. But it must be said that, as in the past, the awards looked and sounded very cheesy on TV.

Except for some ill-advised audience reaction shots, NY 1's camera work for the 46th annual awards last night was noticeably superior to previous telecasts. Still, the show came across as a sort of amateur night for theater professionals, once again making it seem all too appropriate that the ceremony was held not in a legit theater but in the auditorium of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. The rinky-dink tone was set and maintained throughout the evening by the playing of a tiny instrumental combo; whoever thought we'd hear the great Polly Bergen sing "I'm Still Here" from Follies accompanied by musicians even fewer in number than the pitifully small group that plays the show every night at the Belasco Theater?

The miniscule band was only one of the awards show's problems. The Drama Desk has not yet been able to figure out a way to seat the nominees so as to get the winners to the stage quickly; some of them seemed to take forever to walk down the awkwardly stepped aisles of the auditorium and begin talking. Christopher Shutt, the winner for best sound design (for Mnemonic), was mortified when his award appeared to break apart in his hands during his speech. (I'm informed that the award is constructed in two pieces, so Shutt didn't really break it--but neither he nor the audience seemed to know that.) Lane and Broderick and, later, Danner and Williams fumbled embarrassingly with the papers from which they were reading the winners and nominees. Indeed, the latter pair became so discombobulated that they read several of the categories out of order, and the final award of the evening was to 42nd Street for Best Revival of a Musical rather than to The Producers for Best Musical--which, it's true, would have been anticlimactic as the capper of the event, since it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Finally, the excitement of the evening was dampened by the fact that several of the winners--e.g., featured actors Viola Davis and Charles Brown from King Hedley II (who were in the middle of a performance at the time), Bob Crowley (set designer of The Invention of Love), Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman (who won as lyricist and director/choreographer of The Producers)--were not present.

Host Lily Tomlin was as amusing as ever, scoring especially high when she joked about New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. One or two surprises aside--e.g., Marla Schaffel and Cady Huffman were named respectively as Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for Jane Eyre and The Producers over stiff competition--few of the chosen winners could be described as controversial or questionable. The award to David Yazbek for his music for The Full Monty was heartening because the work itself is so fine (though Yazbek's lyrics are even better!) and also because it allowed that terrific show to avoid being shut out. More generally, the Drama Desk remains invaluable in nominating and honoring little Off-Broadway productions on equal footing with Main Stem extravaganzas.

It should also be noted that the Drama Desk is a membership organization with limited funds; president David Sheward told TheaterMania that the awards show was produced for a tiny fraction of the amount spent on the Tonys. Still, on its own terms, this year's show deserves a grade of C-minus at best. Lots of people (not just me!) seem to feel that if the ceremony is going to remain an annual TV event, it really needs to get its act together.

To review the list of this year's nominees, visit the Drama Desk website at Following is a complete list of this year's winners.

Outstanding Play:

Outstanding Musical:
The Producers

Outstanding Musical Revue:
Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Spoof Odyssey

Outstanding Revival of a Musical:
42nd Street

Outstanding Revival of a Play:
Gore Vidal's The Best Man

Unique Theatrical Experience:

Outstanding Actor in a Play:
Richard Easton (The Invention of Love)

Outstanding Actress in a Play:
Mary-Louise Parker (Proof)

Outstanding Actor in a Musical:
Nathan Lane (The Producers)

Outstanding Actress in a Musical:
Marla Schaffel (Jane Eyre)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical:
Gary Beach (The Producers)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical:
Cady Huffman (The Producers)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play:
Charles Brown (King Hedley II)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play:
Viola Davis (King Hedley II)

Outstanding Solo Performance:
Pamela Gien (The Syringa Tree)

Outstanding Director of a Play:
Jack O'Brien (The Invention of Love)

Outstanding Director of a Musical:
Susan Stroman (The Producers)

Outstanding Choreography:
Susan Stroman (The Producers)

Outstanding Book of a Musical:
Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan (The Producers)

Outstanding Music:
David Yazbek (The Full Monty)

Outstanding Lyrics:
Mel Brooks (The Producers)

Outstanding Orchestrations:
Doug Besterman (The Producers)

Outstanding Set Design of a Play
Bob Crowley (The Invention of Love)

Outstanding Set Design of a Musical:
Robin Wagner (The Producers)

Outstanding Costume Design:
William Ivey Long (The Producers)

Outstanding Lighting Design:
Paul Anderson (Mnemonic)

Outstanding Sound Design:
Christopher Shutt (Mnemonic)

Special Awards
- Sean Campion and Conleth Hill for their performance in Stones in His Pockets
- Reba McEntire for her performance in Annie Get Your Gun
- The casts of Tabletop (Rob Bartlett, Harvy Blanks, Jack Koenig, Dean Nolen, Elizabeth Hanly Rice, and Jeremy Webb) and Cobb (Michael Cullen, Clark Jackson, Matthew Mabe, and Michael Sabatino) for Outstanding Ensemble Performance

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