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Most Valuable

Who were the theater's Players of the Week for the month of June?

Hugh Jackman
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Even if you don't know a thing about sports, you probably have heard of the annual Most Valuable Player awards. But did you know that major league baseball, football, basketball, and hockey don't leave it at that? Each of them also has a Player of the Week Award.

That's right: Every seven days, some sports player is anointed for what he accomplished during the past week. For football, that means what happened during one day's work. (Only very rarely does a football player get to endure even two games a week.) For the other three sports, there are at most, six games played -- though usually there are fewer.

Meanwhile, in legitimate theater, performers are often asked to give eight shows a week. And theater is much more hazardous than one might think. According to Laura Lee, in her new book The 100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life, a study conducted by the University of Texas's medical school in Houston showed that of 313 performers surveyed in 23 Broadway shows, 55.5% of them had been injured on the job. But does any of them get the chance to be "Player of the Week"? Not on your Nellie. But maybe that ought to change, I thought, while looking over the month of June.

For June 1-8, I'd say the Player of the Week just had to be Hugh Jackman. Not just because of his yeoman work in The Boy from Oz, or for winning the Tony, but also for his hosting the Tony Awards. Yes, we'll all have to admit that the ratings were down, but you can't pin that on Jackman. Literally every person I know who watched the telecast thought he was the best host in recent memory, for he exuded charm and confidence. And didn't you adore his quip to Sarah Jessica Parker that of those watching her, "It's only 6,000 people in the theater -- and about 6,000 on telly."

By the way -- about those ratings. Can the networks finally give up the hope that if you add pop stars and rap artists that the Tony ratings will increase? Listen, I don't much like country music, and if I were in a hotel room in another city and was too lazy to leave it, and found that there were only a few TV channels on my disposal -- and that the Country Music Awards were about to come on, with Bernadette Peters, Nathan Lane, Carol Channing, Audra McDonald, and tons of other Broadway luminaries presenting or performing -- I still wouldn't watch. Why do we expect that those interested in LL Cool Jay and Mary J. Blige would spend their time waiting for them to make a brief appearance at an awards shows in which they have no inherent interest?

But I digress. For June 9-15, the Player of the Week was someone who isn't even a Broadway player. But Steve Winn's name was suddenly much in the Rialto news for landing Avenue Q for his Las Vegas homebase. I know that many a road presenter would like to be the Slayer of the Week of Winn's throat (not to mention every carotid artery of every Avenue Q producer), but there is something exciting about a show's coming out of nowhere to become so hot a commodity that a new theater will be built for it. Both the show and the theater will ensure my going to Vegas for the first time in many moons.

Andrew Zutty
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
For June 16-23, the Player of the Week was Andrew Blake Zutty, the 12-year-old kid who's playing Kicker Brown in Children's Letters to God, a musical that may very well turn out to be this generation's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The spunky, fresh-faced 12-year-old does a great job on "Ants," the David Evans-Douglas J. Cohen song in which Kicker first horrifies us by telling us how he likes to exterminate ants on the street with a fierce foot-stomp -- but then, after an incident with some neighborhood kids, has an epiphany and becomes a better person. It's not an easy song to act, but Zutty does it splendidly.

Not bad for a kid who only started performing four years ago. His mother, pop singer-songwriter Jill ("You Turn Me On") Zutty, noted that Andrew was "clingy" as a child, and smartly knew that the best antidote for such a condition is putting a kid on stage. Andrew did community theater in 2000, graduated to a Lark Theatre Company benefit in 2001, and then, in each of the last two years, he did workshops of Pamela's First Musical, the Wendy Wasserstein show I'm salivating to see, and A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden. Add to these voice-overs, and the fact that he's been tabbed by director Marc Kudish for the upcoming Joe: The Musical, he seems to have a terrific career as an actor. And yet, do you know what he told me after the show? Literally word-for-word: "But what I'd really like to do is direct." I fully expect that he'll someday win a Player of the Week honor for doing that, too.

For June 23-30, the Player of the Week was Alison Fraser, who did a dynamite act at Joe's Pub. And yet, I don't know why two of her first three songs stressed that she's aging, given that she's still radiant. Can 25 years really have passed since I first went crazy for her in In Trousers at Playwrights Horizons? I know I certainly look as if a quarter-century has gone by (at least), but Fraser sure doesn't. Though she was quick to credit her hairdresser for her honey-blonde locks, her figure, encased in tight New York black jeans, is still model-perfect.

But what I love most about Fraser is her unique voice. Put a blindfold on me, take out one of her recordings, play three words of it, and I'll identify that strong yet not at all strident voice as hers. Yet it was more fun to watch that squint of a smile that has always made her look like a younger Angela Lansbury, as she did delicious obscurities from Gunmetal Blues, Romance, Romance, and Falsettos.

Alison Fraser
And even though Fraser filmed a Special Victims' Unit ("as a rabidly homophobic doctor," she rued), how wonderful of her to continue doing her hilarious piece of special material in which she insists that she's the only New York performer who's never been on Law & Order. "For SVU doesn't quite count," she told us, and I see her point.

Much of Fraser's act was devoted to the music of her husband, Rusty Magee, who succumbed to cancer in February 2003. Fraser was funny when telling of how they met when she auditioned for an Indianapolis production of Pump Boys and Dinettes that he was playing, and how she assumed he wouldn't be able to follow her. But he not only followed her musically, but she also followed him around for the length of the run. How she seduced him was one of the evening's funnier stories, leading to her singing Magee's nifty songs -- especially one about a certain celebrity's incessant cosmetic surgery.

"The Eligible Widow Magee," as she called herself, also mentioned that her late husband was a rabid baseball fan who collected cards, programs, and plenty of other souvenirs that celebrated the nation's pastime. So I'm sure that somewhere up there, he's glad to hear that his wife was named Player of the Week.


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


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