Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!
Patrick Stewart, S. Epatha Merkerson, Sinead Cusack, Mary McCormack, Daniel Evans, Kerry Butler and more react to their Tony Award nominations.
The nominators were particularly kind to our British brethren, with four of the five Best Actor in a Play nominees coming from the U.K -- Patrick Stewart (Macbeth), Ben Daniels (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), Mark Rylance (Boeing-Boeing), and Rufus Sewell (Rock 'n' Roll). "Up until now, I've been saying sincerely that the nomination is enough -- and it is the cherry on this wonderful year -- but I would love to win," says Stewart, who was not recognized for his previous Broadway performances. "There were no ambitions for this production other than being successful in the 200-seat Minerva Festival in Chichester last summer, so to be able to make this marvelous transfer to Broadway -- thanks to our producer Manny Azenberg and Actors' Equity -- has been amazing. And the best news of all today was that Kate Fleetwood, who plays Lady Macbeth, was also nominated. She is just phenomenal, and no one knows that better than me, who gets to look into her eyes every night."
Daniels, who is making his Broadway debut as the wicked Valmont in Liasions, already has London's coveted Olivier Award on his shelf, but he says Americans do awards much differently. "It's completely insane over here. In London, I never think about winning awards, but here you get all whipped up; it appeals to some childish part of you," he notes. In addition to his superlative acting, Daniels has gotten a lot of attention for his brief nude scene. "I had some compunction for about two minutes when our director, Rufus Norris, first suggested it," he admits. "I thought my days of having to take my clothes off on stage were over. But then I realized it was perfect. It adds so much to the story of Valmont seducing Cecile, and it creates a beautiful theatrical picture as well."
Also representing the Brits is another Olivier winner, Sinead Cusack, a Best Featured Actress nominee for her dual roles as Eleanor and Esme in Tom Stoppard's Rock n' Roll, which she first created at London's Royal Court Theater. "I originally thought it would be impossible to convince audiences I was two separate people," says Cusack, who was in London on Tuesday morning. "But once you see the words, and the costumes, it's almost like osmosis. In rehearsal, playing the younger Esme was the hardest for me -- I hadn't a clue what to do with her -- but once we got started, the emotional journey of Eleanor made that the more difficult part to do every night."
Two more Olivier Award winners, Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, were recognized for their work in the Roundabout Theatre's Sunday in the Park With George, recreating their roles from the Menier Chocolate Factory production. "It's ridiculously exciting. I still can't believe it," says Russell. For his part, Evans received so many congratulatory calls from friends here and overseas that he says "I think my cell phone is broken." He didn't have to go far to share the news with Russell, since they live in the same building. "I called down to her and we just screamed."
It was a great day for the Irish too, particularly The Seafarer, for which Conor McPherson received nominations as Best Play and Best Director. "The directing nomination was a huge surprise," says McPherson, who had just returned to Dublin from New York (after supervising rehearsals of the Atlantic Theatre's production of his Port Authority). "When you write something, people tend to just focus on that aspect. So when I heard about both these nominations from my wife, who woke me up, I thought it was a dream."
The two holdovers from that show's original production -- Jim Norton and Conleth Hill -- are competing against each other in the Best Featured Actor category. "Conleth was the first person to call me," says Norton, who was also informed by his wife. "Because we did the play before, in a way we had an advantage of getting a second bite of the apple and we had a level of confidence we didn't have the first time. For me in particular, learning to play all those card games in the script were a nightmare. I had never played poker before in my life."
Norton might be surprised to find out that another of his fellow nominees is his biggest booster -- David Pittu, who was nominated for playing multiple characters in Mark Twain's Is He Dead? "Just to be on the same list with Jim Norton, who deserves to win, is award enough," says Pittu, who was nominated last year as Best Featured Actor in a Musical for LoveMusik. So did he have a favorite role in Is He Dead?. "No, but I just loved the way David Ives constructed the whole track for me. It was exhausting, but it was definitely worth it."
Two of this year's nominees for Best Featured Actress in a Play, Top Girls' Martha Plimpton and Boeing-Boeing's Mary McCormack, were delighted and surprised to be recognized for their work in ensemble-driven shows. "I am very proud that I have the honor of representing all the amazingly talented ladies in our show," says Plimpton, who was nominated last year in the same category for The Coast of Utopia.
McCormack, who plays the Teutonic air hostess Gretchen, was almost in a state of shock. "We had only two and half weeks of rehearsals, and I swear every day I thought they were going to fire me," she says. "But I'm having the time of my life now, though I've never been more bruised or cut in my life. Who knew farce could be so violent?" I also think a lot of the comedy in my performance comes from my costume and my hair -- we all know, the higher the hair, the funnier it is."
While S. Epatha Merkerson is no stranger to awards -- having won practically every conceivable honor for the television movie Lackawanna Blues -- her Best Actress in a Play nomination for her work as Lola in Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of Come Back, Little Sheba is particularly exciting. "A Tony nomination is something you think about from the time you begin studying acting when you come from the world of the theater, which I do," she says. "But when we first did this play last summer in L.A. even the idea of going to Broadway was a dream, so I can't begin to tell you what an extraordinary honor this is. I was looking forward to having a break this summer, before returning to film Law & Order, but this is just great."
There was much joy for the team behind Xanadu, which earned four nominations, including Best Musical. "We went from being the little rascals to a serious Tony contender, which is just overwhelming," says nominated book writer Douglas Carter Beane. "We're against two shows with huge casts [Cry-Baby and In the Heights] and we can't even afford to have all nine muses." Equally thrilled is Best Choreographer nominee Dan Knechtges. "It's hard to choreograph with roller skates -- I have the bumps and bruises to prove it -- but I think eventually we turned an obstacle into an asset."
Kerry Butler, nominated as Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Kira, didn't want to get her hopes up, having been passed over for her work in Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors. "I was definitely surprised. In fact, one of my friends called to say my name had been posted on the Internet before the nominations were televised, and I was afraid he was wrong. Certainly, when I first read Xanadu, this wasn't something I would have imagined in a million years." Butler's also a little amazed to be in the same category with her idol, Patti LuPone (nominated for Gypsy). "I think my mom is freaking about that. Evita was the first show we saw together, and we used to sing along to the CD in the car."
Ironically, both of Young Frankenstein's nominees -- Andrea Martin and Christopher Fitzgerald -- were in Boston on Tuesday morning, for different reasons. Fitzgerald, a Best Featured Actor nominee for his role as Igor, was in Beantown visiting wife Jessica Stone (who is co-starring in the Huntington Theatre's revival of She Loves Me). The actor was playing with their 11-month old son Charlie and the ducks in the Boston Common when he got the news. "He wasn't impressed, but I think it's a very nice way to start the day, and it's particularly nice in such a crazy year. I think the material is right up my alley, being both subversive and stupid -- and it's wonderfully physical."
To vote for your Tony Awards winners, click here.