By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
As breezily fun as Thoroughly Modern Millie is, and as unspeakably popular as Mamma Mia! is, it would be bizarre if one of them beat Urinetown for the Best Musical Tonya scenario a few wackos are predicting because the feeling is that Urinetown is too edgy for the middlebrow voters. How embarrassing it would be for Tony if the show loses because it's too good! I've just consulted John Edward, and my prediction is: It won't.
The other nominated Best MusicalSweet Smell of Successis too conventional-sounding and '80s-looking, and it unnecessarily waters down its two central characters. (One really cares for his sister, whereas in the movie he just plain wants to fuck her, and the other performs a nice gesture for the sis, whereas in the movie he didn't do anything nice for anybody.) But the critics came down too hard on the showthe plot still throbs with dark compulsion, the number at the cathedral altar is the sickest ever, and the whole thing is a welcome blowjob to the power of tawdry gossip.
Still, the musical season was generally as unreliable as the year in precipitation. There were only seven new tuners, and only five of them had original songs, so when it came down to picking the four nominees for best score, basically 80 percent of the shows that opened got a nod! (Anybody want to write a musical? We'll have plaques up the wazoo.) Meanwhile, the Best Play contest is between revisions of a 2000-year-old work (Metamorphoses) and a 154-year-old one (Fortune's Fool). Only on Broadway would Edward Albeebe the new kid on the block.
But I love the theater and worship the Tonys, and to prove it, I attended the nominees' brunch at the Marriott Marquis, taking notes with the hand that wasn't shoving in the food. As I circled the top-floor restaurant looking for divas, I was greeted with quiche, gratitude, grudges, lox, and more gratitude. "I screamed so loud when I heard my name [announced as a nominee] that my husband thought there was a fire!" admitted Urinetown's Jennifer Laura Thompson.
Sweet Smell's John Lithgow was a little more pensive. "It's got to be the darkest musical ever," he told me. "It's also, in my completely objective opinion, one of the best. It's got that brutal insight. People now know that. This has all been an education for me!" (He was referring to the rotten reviews, which gave him a brutal insight into the power of real-life poison penssomething I sure wouldn't know about.)
Similarly, Milliedirector Michael Mayersaid his show's 11 nominations were a "vindication," coming after Ben Brantley's Timespan. "We were mystified more than demoralized by the review," Mayer said, "because our experience every night was 1600 people having a fantastic time. We were confused and angry. He's entitled to his opinion, but I think he was shaming the audience for liking the show!"
Thou Shalt Not composer Harry Connick Jr.told me his nomination wasn't a vindication at all because "the vindication was having the show on Broadway. This is more liberation." After some deliberation, I asked Topdog/Underdog author Suzan-Lori Parks if all this awards stuff seems surreal to her. "It might be," she said, grinning, "but it seems real to me." She added that the role of theater is to "heal some shit, stir up some shitand the play seems to be doing that!"
The Cruciblecertainly stirs up shitloudlybut Laura Linney told me she doesn't need earplugs onstage, and in fact has never seen the set-collapse ending. The production, she said, "is strenuous, but in a good way. You're very tired, but in a happy way." I went to the buffet, in a hungry way, and found Oklahoma!'s Aunt Eller, Andrea Martin, who said, "I wanted to do this role because it didn't have the comedic responsibility of other parts. I don't have to worry about having to get a laugh!" The cutie manages to get some anyway.
Over by the bagels, I had a scream with Mamma Mia!'s Louise Pitre, asking her if that show might live on as a sitcom called, say, My Three Dads. "You must be kidding," she shrieked. "I think this is enough, don't you?" Well, actually, yeah. I loved her realness, and nabbed even more when I asked Estelle Parsons from Morning's at Seven(which is like a very special Golden Girls) if she and her castmates are really like sisters. "Well, we don't really hang out together," she blurted. (So they are like sisters.)
Soul sister Vanessa Williams told me she loves playing the hag in Into the Woods because "you can be physically loose and gruff and have a lot of attack. That's what I try to bring to the old witch, who I like very much. She's a nice old gal!" Nice old Elaine Stritchwasn't thereshe sleeps inbut Claudia Shearwas holding Stritch's plaque, not to mention a doll with the legend's face on it. Explained Shear, "She said, 'You haveto go or I'll never talk to youand you have to bring a doll of me!' What am I, bride of Chucky?" A real doll, Millie's Harriet Harris, was holding up her nomination certificate and exulting, "It's so nice! It's so pretty!" And I want one! Meanwhile, her show's co-writer, Dick Scanlan, told me that the sensibility of the film version of Millie is so gay that "Muzzy [the Carol Channingrole] could be in the Imperial Court of New York!"