By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Last season's Broadway plays covered incest (Festen), teacher-student diddling (The History Boys), child death (Rabbit Hole), and multiple hackings (The Lieutenant of Inishmore). This was much better than the previous year, when we only had child abuse! Even new musicals got down with their bad selves, with spousal violence ( Color Purple), Tourette's syndrome ( In My Life), and most shockingly of all, an update of The Red Shoes with music by EARTH, WIND & FIRE(Hot Feet)!
But while the shows were rousingly racy, it was mostly within the usual Broadway-jukebox limits. Gay was OK, as long as it was watered down ( Purple, Lestat), closety ( Shining City), controversial ( History Boys), or forced ( The Threepenny Opera). Pop composers schlocked (ELTON JOHN, PHIL COLLINS), medium-shock endings medium-rocked, and while Ben Brantley declared the musical all but dead, only one American work inched its way into the Best Play category. Bravely, some big stars came to the rescue, but the critics threw meat pies at themnamely DAVID SCHWIMMER, ALI MACGRAW, NATHAN LANE, MATTHEW BRODERICK, JULIANNA MARGULIES, and especially JULIA ROBERTS, whose best performance may have been cutely making the Drama League awards ceremony move the letter R up in the alphabet so she could leave early.
THE MARQUIS OF OY
Of course tons of theater desirables did make the season more than just a chance to collect mugs and Playbills, so at the reception for the Tony nominees at the Marriott Marquis's 48th-floor restaurant, I dutifully sat in my assigned seat as they came at me like bowling balls. And oh, what I learned. Does the hacking-heavy Sweeney Todd bring out featured actor MANOEL FELCIANO's dark side? "I was talking with my shrink about this," deep-eyed Felciano told me. "I said, 'Maybe the fact that I'm in a straitjacket and gradually go insane eight times a week is why I'm talking to you. I have unresolved issues.' " Yeah, but he's got a nomination too, so who cares?
Sweeney's brilliant director, JOHN DOYLE, resolved for me the issue of why he loves the idea of actors butchering with one hand and playing a tuba with the other. "It began as an economic necessity," he admitted. "But the reaction I enjoy is when people see beyond the instruments and see it as a group of storytellers telling a story with every means at their disposal." Whatever they see it as, it'll probably lead to cost-cutting productions of Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, Spamalittle, and 11 Angry Men.
In the expensive '50s musical The Pajama Game, HARRY CONNICK JR. plays with an instrumenthe uses a big Dictaphone to sing a duet with himselfand told me, "It's fun to see the reaction. A lot of the young people have no idea what I'm doing. They don't know what a Dictaphone is!" Neither do I, but Harry's features are extremely appealing, so again, who the hell cares?
Pajama Game's costume designer, MARTIN PAKLEDINAZ, knows what a cell phone is, but he told me he didn't hear about his honor right away because he has one of those stinky phones that don't instantly tell you when you have messages. Is it Sprint by any chance? "Yes, it is!" he exclaimed, without pause.
Pajama's director-choreographer KATHLEEN MARSHALLmust have gotten two callsshe nabbed double Tony nodsthough right now she's focused on calling around to get new stars and a theater for when the show comes back in the fall. "A lot of names don't like to do replacement parts," she told me about her casting search. "Well, then just tell ANTONIO BANDERAS it's new!" I told her, helpfully.
(Gossip break: KEN BURNS has been spotted all over the theater world lately, no doubt researching a 24-hour documentary called Broadway: The Really Long Documentary. Meanwhile, remember the really long feud between those two yin-yang composers? You know, arty MICHAEL JOHN LACHIUSA trashing Hairspray in an article, thereby irking poppy MARC SHAIMAN? Well, on All That Chat, Shaiman just posted part of a review of Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me that praises Shaiman's "full, round, pleasantly penetrable posterior," as seen in the show. Shaiman's subject head for the posting: "Michael John, eat your heart out!")
But back to the nominees: I heard Jersey Boys cobook writer Rick Elice say to a reporter, "GERALD SCHOENFELD told me, 'There's no business like shoah business.' " That was intriguing, so I grabbed Elice and instead asked the urgent question: Is Jersey Boys sexier than The History Boys? "I think the show is sexier," he said, "but there are a few history boys who are quite attractive. Of course I've only seen them fully clothed. Backstage at Jersey Boys at the right moments, I've been able to get a privileged glimpse of the guys." And I suddenly realized that, in the realm of the pleasantly penetrable, the Boys is much more of a selling point than the Jersey.
Still, I told my final victimThe Wedding Singer's STEPHEN LYNCHthat just like one of his show's sets, the rotating rooftop restaurant we were at lets you see Jersey spinning before your eyes. Creepy! As for another stunningly exotic vista, Lynch told me, "When I crawl into the dumpster, it's my most enjoyable moment because it's comfy and padded and I get to hear LAURA BENANTIsing." Honey, I'd crawl into a sewer to get a Tony nomination. I'd even get into a straitjacket and go insane eight times a week. But the only plaque I've gotten this year is bacteria on my teeth. I'm with you, Julia.