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Theatre World Awards 2000

Newcomers (and not-so-newcomers) to the theater are honored at Studio 54.

Amid the café tables that lend a nightclub ambience to Sam Mendes' revisionist production of Cabaret at Studio 54, the Theatre World Foundation honored 13 talented "newcomers" in a 70-minute ceremony on Thursday afternoon, May 23. The annual Theatre World Awards, inaugurated 56 years ago by John Willis, recognize outstanding work by performers making their New York theater debuts, on Broadway or Off-Broadway, during a given season. (The season runs from June 1 to the following May 31.)
Jennifer Ehle in The Real Thing
A distinguished group of past Theatre World Awards recipients, including Eli Wallach, Jane Alexander, and Eileen Heckart, presented bronze statuettes of the Roman god Janus to this year's honorees, whose names had been announced on May 9. The afternoon's most touching moment came when Rosemary Harris, now on Broadway in Noël Coward's Waiting in the Wings, introduced her daughter, Jennifer Ehle, who is starring in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. "There's a misconception that Jennifer is English," Harris remarked. "She was born and raised in North Carolina and has spent the better part of her life in America." This may be so, but as Ehle accepted a statuette from her mother, she said "thank you, mum," in tones that evoked an English public school. As mother and daughter embraced, the audience of actors, journalists, press agents, and supporters from winners' shows united in a spirited, sentimental ovation.

Master of ceremonies Peter Filichia of theNewark Star Ledger, who is president of the Theatre World Foundation, welcomed a "just-family" crowd of theater types to "the third Wild Party of the season." Halfway through the proceedings, the thumpy strains of the rock band Matchbox Twenty, taping CBS's Late Show with David Letterman outside in the middle of West 53rd Street, created a sense of pandemonium in the auditorium and made Filichia's "wild party" remark prophetic. Despite the electronic din, the ceremony continued at an efficient clip--and the presenters and Awards recipients showed professionalism by ignoring the racket.

Claudia Shear with
Kevin Chamberlin in Dirty Blonde
Although the Theatre World Awards have traditionally honored young performers, this year's nominating committee recognized a number of industry veterans who are, nonetheless, newcomers in a sense. Claudia Shear, honored for her portrayal of Mae West in Dirty Blonde, commented that her first Broadway engagement comes after many years in the profession and lots of hard knocks. "I'm slightly suspicious my debut may be my finale," quipped Shear. Judith Ivey, accepting an Award on behalf of Hayley Mills (who returned to London after the premature closing of Noël Coward's Suite in Two Keys), quoted Mills as saying, "It's a bit daunting being my age and making a debut." With more than a decade of American films to his credit, Irish actor Gabriel Byrne was honored for his interpretation of Jamie Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten. The droll Byrne slumped forward, staring at the lectern, as he confessed, "I've never really won anything before." After a beat, though, he amended that statement: "Well, I won a fancy dress competition once." And then, with impeccable timing: "Well, actually, that's a lie--I came in second."

Despite the presence of Broadway nobility such as Heckart, Wallach, Harris, Alexander, and Irene Worth (accepting an Award for her friend, Cigdem Onat of Lincoln Center Theater's The Time of the Cuckoo), the atmosphere of the event was markedly informal. In the audience and on stage, dress was casual--an extreme example of which was the rumpled, black-clad, uncombed Stephen Dillane of The Real Thing, accepting his statuette from the rumpled, black-clad Adam Pascal of Aida.

Few speakers consulted notes and, with one exception, introductions and acceptances were brief. The exception was Barry Humphries, Broadway's Dame Edna Everage, who appeared in mufti and accepted the "2000 Special Theatre World Award" with a lively monologue contrasting his three New York engagements. Humphries first came to New York in 1963 to play a supporting role, Mr. Sowerberry, in Lionel Bart's Oliver! In the 1970s, he appeared Off-Broadway in a poorly received one-man show. This season, supported by a pianist and a two-woman chorus ("The Ednaettes"), Humphries has taken the town by storm with Dame Edna: The Royal Tour for which he received a Drama Desk Award on May 14 and is to receive a Special Tony Award on June 4.

The most prolonged ovation of the afternoon was reserved for octogenarian John Willis, founder of the Theatre World Awards and longtime editor of Theatre World, an illustrated yearbook of New York theater facts and statistics (currently published by Applause Books). The audience rose to its feet when Filichia introduced Willis and, throughout the afternoon's festivities, a number of speakers praised him for promoting a sense of community within the industry.

Other award winners were Craig Bierko (The Music Man), Everett Bradley and Ann Hampton Callaway (Swing), Toni Collette (The Wild Party), Henry Czerny (Arms and the Man), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (True West). All recipients were present except Mills and Onat, who sent regrets, and Hoffman, whose unexpected failure to appear left Wallach alone in the spotlight, holding an unclaimed statuette and momentarily at loose ends.

In addition to Willis and Filichia, the 1999-2000 Theatre World Awards nominating committee consisted of Clive Barnes (New York Post), Alexis Greene (formerly of InTheater), Harry Haun (Playbill), Frank Scheck (Hollywood Reporter), Michael Sommers (Newark Star Ledger), and Douglas Watt (New York Daily News).

A complete list of the winners follows:

Craig Bierko (The Music Man)
Gabriel Byrne (A Moon for the Misbegotten)
Ann Hampton Callaway (Swing!)
Toni Collette (The Wild Party)
Henry Czerny (Arms and the Man)
Stephen Dillane (The Real Thing)
Jennifer Ehle (The Real Thing)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (True West)
Hayley Mills (Suite in Two Keys)
Cigdem Onat (The Time of the Cuckoo)
Claudia Shear (Dirty Blonde)


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