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 June 14, 2013

The 2012-2013 Awards Season

Another season, another reason for makin’ whoopee.

Frankly, I thought 2012-2013 was excellent. I even liked
The Anarchist, Elf, An Enemy of the People, Grace, Glengarry Glen Ross, Harvey, The Heiress, The Other Place and, of course, I’ll Eat You Last, all of which either got nothing or next to it at the hands of the Tony committee.

Meanwhile, off-Broadway I admired The Boss, Buyer & Cellar, The Call, Checkers, Closer Than Ever, Cock, Core Values, Detroit, Emotional Creatures, The Flick, The Freedom of the City, Golden Child, The Good Mother, Happy Birthday, Hit the Wall, The Last 5 Years, Mary Broome, Mies Julie, Miracle on Division Street, 1931-, Modern Terrorism, My Name Is Asher Lev, The Other Josh Cohen, The Piano Lesson, Really Really, This Side of Neverland, The Whale and Working . I’d say it was the best season in years.

At the Tony Awards, I enjoyed hearing “Guys and Dolls,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “I Could Write a Book,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and “Just in Time,” not to be confused with “Once upon a Time,” to which we were also treated. Nice to hear classic show music, even if it is only heard when presenters approach the podium.

I was less enthralled with the Rock of Ages presenter who stuck his tongue out long and hard after he introduced Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Oh, well, at least he said Hammer-STYNE and not Hammer-STEEN.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Best Book was presented off-camera while Best Score was presented on? Ah, the Tonys assume that viewers from the rock world would tune in and they didn’t want to disappoint them by short-shrifting Cyndi Lauper. What they don’t understand is that if the Country Music Awards were lauding Bernadette Peters whom I like immeasurably, I wouldn’t tune in. Even if she were emceeing, I’d say, “What else is on?”

All right, everyone criticizes the Tonys, but this spring brought much more criticism of the Drama Desk Awards. Two nominations for Kinky Boots, which wound up winning the Tony for Best Musical?

Keep in mind that of the six Drama Desk nominators, three come from academia. Some Broadway onlookers may approve that distinguished theatre professors are doing the choosing, while others may feel that the dons are out of touch with commercial theater. Of course, the Drama Desk Awards do involve quite a few not-for-profit theaters, so the decision to have degree-laden people as half its nominating committee may be the right one.

In case you’re wondering: this is hardly the first time that the Tony-winning musical didn’t even rate a Best Musical nomination from the Drama Desk. Previous nominators bypassed Cats, La Cage aux Folles, Titanic and Fosse, too.

Of course, my favorite awards are the ones I emcee each year: The Theatre World Awards, which were dispensed for the 69th year – this time on June 3 from the stage of the Music Box.

Before the show, I enjoyed chatting with our expert musical director Jason DeBord  (“The best you’ve had in years,” press agent Kevin McAnarney later said). I told him that “Do Re Mi” would be the right entrance music for Christine Lahti. (Well, her surname is part of the lyric …)

To be frank, when the seasons started, I had a feeling that we’d be giving most of our awards to children, with Broadway’s sporting Annie, Bring It On, Chaplin, A Christmas Story, Elf, Matilda, Motown and Pippin. But the seven judges – David Cote, Joe Dziemianowicz, Harry Haun, Matthew Murray, Frank Scheck, Linda Winer and I – preferred good ol’ fashioned adults.

During my opening monologue, I gave the audience a little-known fact about Carrie Coon -- that she not only portrayed Honey in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but that she was also the play’s fight director. (How butch!) Then I joked that we awarded Bertie Carvel because we assumed that he was heir to the famous ice cream family and that he might send each of us a Fudgie the Whale. “I wouldn’t need Bobby Cannavale’s big knife to slice it,” I noted. “Just give me a spoon and I’d finish off Fudgie faster than the critics finished off Patti LuPone as that anarchist.”

After the audience went “Ohhhhh!” in a way that said “How audacious!” I went for more. “Didn’t you think that that play would run longer? Wouldn’t you assume that thousands upon thousands of people would want to see Patti LuPone sentenced to life in prison?” The lights were awfully bright in my eyes, but I was able to make out a few people nodding enthusiastically.

The audience applauded what had to be a half-dozen times during Ben Vereen’s reprise of “Magic to Do.” Afterward, he presented to Rob (Chaplin) McClure, who was an understudy in the 2002 revival of I’m Not Rappaport  in which Vereen had starred. McClure remembered how he and other cast members used to spend dressing-room time by backing-up Vereen when he sang doo-wop -- and that led to gigs in the Catskills and Atlantic City. And what were the back-ups called? The Valuables, because Rappaport’s ASM made her pre-show announcement for “Valuables” that the cast might want to safekeep with her at the moment that Vereen and Company were looking for a name.

Tom Hanks, a winner for Lucky Guy, gave an acceptance speech that had to be 10 minutes long. Funny; he’d told us to put him on early, because he had somewhere else to go. Maybe he got disinvited, for he was in no hurry to get off the stage. His speech, however, was most heartfelt, with much of it praising both Nora Ephron (needless to say, an important part of his career) and Courtney B. Vance, who presented to him.

Wait a minute, you’re saying. Doesn’t the Theatre World Award simply go to newcomers? Actually, it goes to performers making their significant, reviewable New York debut performances.  Hanks had never appeared on or off-Broadway, and we thought he was extraordinarily good. So there.

I had fun introducing Meg Bussert, who I said “had won in 1981 for Brigadoon”  before adding “I’m sorry! I apologize! You’re not supposed to say Brigadoon in a theater! She was in ‘the Scottish musical.’” When setting the stage for Crystal A. Dickinson’s entrance (before she presented to her husband Brandon J. Dirden of The Piano Lesson), I pointed out that she’d won our award for Clybourne Park –  “in which she asked the immortal question ‘Why is a white woman like a tampon?’ – the same question that was posed by Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina.” (Yeah, the theater has changed …)

Probably my biggest laugh came after I said “I’ve been following theater for so long that when I started, Elaine Stritch could still have a baby.” I was referencing a long-ago time when people connected with Broadway were dapper as could be; Lionel Larner, the executive director of the Dorothy Loudon Foundation, still is. He stepped up to support us financially when we needed it the most. We wouldn’t have The Theatre World Awards without him.

My joke that got the least response? When I pointed out that Tony Sheldon became interested in musicals at a young age. “While other boys built clubhouses that had signs that read ‘No girls!’,” I said, “his clubhouse had a sign that said ‘No legs, No jokes, No chance.’” (Yeah, Oklahoma! and its New Haven tryout was over 70 years ago now …)

Jackie Hoffman loves to be outrageous (“I just greased Andrea Martin’s trapeze”) and insouciant (“When I was doing Hairspray, they told me I’d won a Theatre World Award, and I said, ‘Okay, what Monday do I have to give up?’”). But you should have heard her when she got off-stage and made a point of finding me before saying nice things about the show and the way I was handling it. See? The snarkier they are, the nicer they are.

Take a look at the logo for the June 17 concert version of Once Upon a Mattress that The Transport Group is sponsoring. It’s the same logo we’ve always seen, but the face of the woman sitting atop the mattresses has been changed to reflect its new lead: Jackie Hoffman. Yeah, they only change the face on a logo when a true star is involved.

As it turned out, however, The Theatre World Awards were this Kiss of Death for Tony-nominees. All six of our honorees – Bertie Carvel, Carrie Coon, Shalita Grant, Tom Hanks, Keala Settle and Tom Sturridge – lost on Sunday night.

Still, a good time was had by all on Monday. Bless our honorary chairs Rosemary Harris and Jennifer Ehle; our award presenters Jillian Lebling and Eliza Holland Moore, who alternate as Ivanka at Once. Hurrah to our astonishing producers Mary K. Botosan and Erin Oestreich, who didn’t misplace let alone lose their heads when they learned hours before showtime that Anika Noni Rose would not be able to present because of a delayed plane.

Ditto to the person who stood in for her: our terrific director, John Tartaglia. I got to rehearsals, found myself standing side by side, and felt his arm going around my shoulders to give a welcoming hug. I felt just like Princeton.

Actually, attending the afternoon rehearsal is my favorite part of the Theatre World Awards. I love coming to the theater hours before the show is about to begin and seeing so many dedicated volunteers who care so much about theater that they’re willing to give up time and hours when they could be making money for themselves.

If they’re actors, I look forward to the day when each and every one of them gets our prize and says to the crowd, “You know, just a few years ago, I was stuffing the programs with please-donate envelopes, and now this year’s program has my picture in it as a winner.”

The sooner, the better.

         — Peter Filichia


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