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 Tony—a 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 Musical—Sweet Smell of Success—is 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 show—the 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 Albee be 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 pens—something I sure wouldn’t know about.)
Similarly, Millie director Michael Mayer said his show’s 11 nominations were a “vindication,” coming after Ben Brantley‘s Times pan. “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 shit—and the play seems to be doing that!”
The Crucible certainly stirs up shit—loudly—but 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 Stritch wasn’t there—she sleeps in—but Claudia Shear was holding Stritch’s plaque, not to mention a doll with the legend’s face on it. Explained Shear, “She said, ‘You have to go or I’ll never talk to you—and 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 Channing role] could be in the Imperial Court of New York!”
One last circuit, and I found the Urinetown creators, who told me their next show takes place underwater. Are they sure it’s water? “Yes,” they said, decidedly.
And now my nominations for the pissiest gossip of the week: The New York Post ran a line about The Producers‘ co-star Steven Weber that could have been penned by the lead character in The Believer. After describing Weber as “lean, tall, and blue-eyed,” they wrote, “He looks like your basic WASP pretty boy, but he’s really a Jewish kid from Queens.” Oy!
Your basic pretty women filled a party for Grace, a new magazine for larger gals, where Carré Otis looked so skinny that if she stood sideways, she’d turn into Jennifer Connelly‘s scarf. No way is she plus-sized. “In this industry, I am,” Miss Otis regretted. “It’s insane!” . . . The drink tickets are plus-sized at Spa—they’re positively gigantic—and I hear it’s because the bartenders have to hold them up and wave them to the spotters who make sure there’s a good reason they’re not ringing up the register.
But put down that free cocktail right now, why don’t you? Susanne Bartsch is no longer doing Wednesdays at BK’s, having had unspecified problems with the club. She’ll relocate the bash and will also do monthly events at the reopened Copacabana in the fall. . . . More unspecified problems: Public access cable host Barry Z kept trying to interview Laurie Anderson at a Women in Music, Inc. luncheon last week, and he even had a publicist intervene, only to have Laurie’s significant other, Lou Reed, snarl “No!” “But Laurie and I have the same audience,” counters Barry.
My cultural peer, the legendary Kitty Carlisle Hart, was recently chosen to be randomly searched on an airport check-in, according to a clerk. “But I’m old and a star,” cracked Hart, who submitted to the frisking anyway. . . . I’m hiding one more tidbit in my luggage: I hear Fashion Wire Daily is canceling the free subscription of at least one person who trashed them in a tart WWD article. Now I’m trashing them too; I didn’t know there were free subscriptions.