The Broadway season was full of gender benders, half-naked hunks, one-person shtickfests, and tap-dancing children. Oh, and disgruntled superstars. When the Tony nominations were announced last week, a bunch of big names must have been terribly disturbed to find that the choosers didn’t automatically go for marquee power and tabloid appeal.
That made Wednesday’s Tony nominees meet-and-greet at the Millennium way less starry than it could have been, since Bette, Jessica, Scarlett, Alec, Alan, and Sigourney all got dissed to the curb. But I didn’t care, since I worship all things Broadway and people like “that fabulous woman who played the Sandy Dennis role” are actually big names to me. Besides, Tom Hanks was rightfully honored for his work as complicated columnist Mike McAlary in Lucky Guy, and he’s even bigger than Jersey Boys. I told Tom I was glad he came around in an ensemble piece, not a clichéd one-man show. He said director George C. Wolfe made it even more of an ensemble by adding a reporter character (played by Andrew Hovelson) to beef up the newsroom.
Of McAlary, Tom said, “There are some who truly adored him. And some people who thought he was overrated and lazy.” All of which is true, of course. As for Broadway’s adoration of this big movie star? “It’s the coolest collection of people on the planet Earth,” he gushed. “People on the subway say, ‘Thanks for coming’ “—he impersonated them, touching my sleeve. “But touching isn’t good,” I remarked. “They don’t actually touch,” Tom said, laughing. And then he and his publicist went off to track down a Variety reporter whom Tom hadn’t given a complete answer to earlier. What a pro. And yes, he rides the subway!
Another biggie, Cicely Tyson, gave me fully realized answers about The Trip to Bountiful, in which she feistily plays the homesick Carrie Watts, who rides the bus. “I saw the movie,” she said. “That’s what prompted me to tell my agent, ‘You get me my Trip to Bountiful and I’ll retire.’ That was 28 years ago!
“I have such an affinity for elders,” Tyson added, “because of the thumbprints they have left in my life. I’ve seen very independent, strong women who as the years go by become frail and have to move in with a son, daughter, or in-law. There are those that fight to survive. That’s Carrie Watts.” I was crying just from her soundbite alone.
A twentysomething nominee, Annaleigh Ashford, is up for playing the factory girl/love interest in the drag musical Kinky Boots, but she’s been around. (She was the “crazy, toothless hooker” in Dogfight, among other memorable turns). Ashford told me she was exposed to grown-up entertainment as a kid to the point that, at age nine, she knew who Phyllis Diller was. “So you’re a gay man?” I wondered, tweezed eyebrow raised. “My first show was Ruthless! at a gay theater in Denver,” Ashford related, “where I got to see parts of Jeffrey.” Bingo!
“There are a lot of cross-dressers here today,” said Stephanie J. Block, who played both genders in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. “We’re representing!” As either sex, did she ever get chosen as the killer at the end of the interactive show? “No,” Block said. “I was the victim. Maybe I could have killed myself, but no one ever voted for that. I could have committed suicide if I was really crappy that night!” she laughed.
Self-destruction is averted in the Best Play front-runner Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which is Christopher Durang‘s Chekhovian riff, but with a life-affirming twist. “As I get older,” Durang told me, “I wish more for happy endings. You hate to go home with something that makes you feel despairing.” Shalita Grant, who plays the clairvoyant maid, agreed, saying, “If Sonia can find a man and Vanya can get a job, we all can do it.” But how is non-nominated Sigourney Weaver doing? Despairing? “She’s great,” assured Billy Magnussen, her onstage boy toy. “She’s already got so many things! This show’s a family thing. I’ve gained a family.”
The Motown clan got a nomination for Valisia LeKae, who plays sparkle queen Diana Ross and got to meet the superstar onstage on opening night. (And there was actual touching.) But in the scene where Berry Gordy has erectile problems, why does LeKae sing “I Hear a Symphony”? Wouldn’t “Reach Out and Touch” have been more apt? “You don’t want me to reach out and touch somebody else’s hand when I’m in bed with a man,” said the actress, inarguably. No, that would be better for the subway.
Bountiful‘s Condola Rashad was touching as she told me that, after two nominations, she’s humbled and can’t imagine any other way to be. So sweet—but I hope she doesn’t get eaten alive.
Another returnee, the fab Patina Miller plays the Ben Vereen role in Pippin—she’s representing—and told me, “She’s the voice in Pippin’s head, the temptress, and his best friend. But when he won’t do the trick at the end, that’s where the betrayal comes in.” Men! But a more loyal male, Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story the movie, was there to say he liked A Christmas Story the nominated musical. As an ex-child star, how did Billingsley avoid becoming an ax murderer? “Very carefully and methodically,” he told me. We have a winner.