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This column by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 2, 1999.
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Simon Saltzman on the Tonys
Tony Awards night is Sunday, June 6, but New Brunswick’s
Crossroads Theater is already celebrating its May award of the 1999
Tony for the nation’s Best Regional Theater. If that isn’t enough,
"It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues," a musical co-produced at
Crossroads and seen there last winter, is one of the four nominees
for Broadway’s Best Musical. The show’s rapid progress from regional
theater to Off-Broadway and on to Broadway, where it earned good reviews,
is due to the efforts of a New York producer with deep roots in New
Jersey, Eric Krebs.
Krebs, founder and first artistic director of George Street Playhouse,
is also the producer who successfully moved McCarter Theater’s imported
production of "Electra" to Broadway. "Electra" is
also up for three Tonys. Uta Hagen, who recently starred at the George
Street in her Off-Broadway hit, "Collected Stories," is one
of three recipients of this year’s Lifetime Achievement award, along
with Arthur Miller, and Isabelle Stevenson, chairman of the American
Theater Wing. Yes, New Jersey is making its mark at this year’s Tonys.
The 1998-’99 Broadway season, which included 14 musicals and 17 plays,
has not been a banner year for good new musicals. Large-scale musicals
were in shorter supply than intimate musicals that opted for a revue
format. Although the downbeat musical "Parade" was the only
one based on a book, and garnered nine nominations to lead all the
other shows, it was not an audience-pleaser and folded early in the
While "Fosse," with eight nominations, has grown into a solid
hit, without major wins "Ain’t Nothing But the Blues" and
"The Civil War" may have to struggle to stay alive. With the
opening of "The Civil War," its composer Frank Wildhorn can
boast he is the first composer in two decades to have three musicals
("The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "Jekyll and Hyde") running
simultaneously on Broadway.
But, the plays, oh, the plays. These arrived to gladden
the hearts of theatergoers and critics who feared, not too long ago,
that legitimate drama was dying on Broadway. Strong new plays should
tempt those who only think of Broadway as a place for mega-musicals.
The 1999 Tony Awards, telecast live this year from the stage of the
Gershwin Theater, will have a decidedly pro-play atmosphere, signaling
this 1998-’99 season as one of the most memorable in decades. Attention
must be paid to a Broadway that hosts exceptional productions of plays
by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill. In a tie
with six nominations each is the Goodman Theater revival of Miller’s
"Death of a Salesman," and Williams’ never-before-produced
1938 play, "Not About Nightingales." Coming by way of London
and earning five nominations is O’Neill’s mesmerizing, four-hour "The
Although new British plays seemed to dominate, there were not nominations
for any of the three plays — "The Blue Room," "Amy’s
View," "Via Dolorosa" — by prolific British playwright
David Hare. More surprisingly, the London award-winner "The Weir"
also failed to get a nomination. Another irony is found in the 17
nominations earned by "Parade," and "Fosse," both
of which were produced under the aegis of the bankrupt Livent Corporation.
While the nation’s television audience will undoubtedly be curious
about the nominations and winners in the 21 various competitive categories
for the American Theater Wing’s 53rd annual Antoinette Perry "Tony"
Awards, it will be the musical numbers that will attract us most.
Among the nominees for new and revived musicals, we can expect to
see production numbers from "The Civil War," "Fosse,"
"It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues," and the now-closed "Parade,"
as well as the revived "Little Me," "Peter Pan," and
"You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
PBS has earned the enthusiasm of Tony watchers with its lively, behind-the-scenes
"pre-game show" that begins at 8 p.m. This year’s program
will feature a backstage visit with the 19-member cast of "The
Iceman Cometh," interviews with Elizabeth Franz, Harold Prince,
and Matthew Bourne, and rehearsal footage of musical numbers directed
by Ann Reinking and Michael Mayer. The celebration continues from
9 to 11 p.m. on CBS with the customary pomp and circumstance.
Here are my musings and my calculated guesses for what the Tony committee
will pick as winners (in bold) in each of 21 categories.
red hot yet chilling look at the sex lives of four very unhappy unfulfilled
adults. The ferocious and funny "Lonesome West" by Martin
McDonough is about two ever-brawling Irish brothers, and is part of
the author’s Leenane-set trilogy that includes "The Beauty Queen
of Leenane." "Not About Nightingales" is a stunning prison
melodrama by a very young Tennessee Williams. Side Man by Warren
Leight is a tender and insightful memory play in which a young man
tries to come to terms with his alcoholic mother and his father, a
self-absorbed itinerate jazz musician, during the last days of the
big band era.
"The Civil War" more than most of my colleagues. Like its
similar predecessor "Dancin’," "Fosse" is an exciting
dance-filled salute to the great choreographer. "Ain’t Nothin’
But the Blues" is a small gem of a show that traces the history
of the Blues. Parade may be the most depressing musical I’ve
ever seen, but it had a powerful book, ambitious score, and excellent
proves you can’t get a man with a lousy rewrite. The hilarious "Little
Me" was a tour-de-force for Martin Short. "Peter Pan"
is . . . "Peter Pan". You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
brought new wrinkles and renewed whimsy to Charles Schultz’s famed
of Salesman" into the sublime. Although Euripides was unable to
do the required rewrites, the revival of "Electra" still had
shock value. The Lincoln Center producers put Helen Hunt on an Arabian
Nights carpet for Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night." The Iceman
Cometh is a masterworking of a masterpiece.
<B>Best Book of a Musical: Inane as it is, "Footloose"
has what is loosely termed a book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie.
A slim narrative thread by Charles Bevel, Lita Gaithers, Randal Myler,
Ron Taylor, and Dan Wheetman holds together "Ain’t Nothin’ But
the Blues." "Marlene" had a speech impediment, and so
did Pam Gem’s book. Depressing as Alfred Uhry’s book is, he gave Parade
a real and heartbreaking story.
tune or two of the "Footloose" score by Tom Snow, Eric Carmen,
Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman is no small achievement.
Although Jason Robert Brown’s score for Parade is admirable,
its bitterness left a bad taste in your mouth. Frank Wildhorn and
Jack Murphy give a pop-tune flavor to "The Civil War." "Twelfth
Night" had a score by Jeanine Tesori. It did?
Loman rises again with a towering performance by Brian Dennehy
in "Death of a Salesman." Brian O’Byrne was the more eccentric
brother in "The Lonesome West." Corin Redgrave gave us the
willies as the sadistic lecherous warden in "Not About Nightingales."
Kevin Spacey is brilliant amidst a stellar ensemble in the monumental
"The Iceman Cometh."
Channing is a medieval lioness in "The Lion in Winter." Judi
Dench plays a veteran actress in "Amy’s View." How could
she go wrong? Marian Seldes is an eccentric (of course) dowager in
"Ring Round the Moon." Zoe Wanamaker gave "Electra"
its real charge.
Carver was lynched in "Parade." Adam Cooper was the Swan who
seduced a prince (you had to be there) in "Swan Lake." The
versatile Martin Short played over a dozen roles in the dotty
"Little Me." Tom Wopat gets Bernadette Peters in "Annie
Get Your Gun," but not by a long shot.
convicted murderer Leo Frank’s wife, Carolee Carmello acted
with conviction and sang poignantly in "Parade." As the preacher’s
wife, Dee Hoty didn’t have to kick up her heels or do much of anything
in "Footloose." If not much else, Bernadette Peters sang Irving
Berlin’s great tunes in "Annie Get Your Gun." Sian Phillips
played "Marlene" for all it was worth . . . which was nothing.
Anderson was the best Biff ever in "Salesman." Finbar Lynch
was terrific as the poet/prisoner in "Nightingales." Howard
Witt does more than be supportive as Willie’s neighbor in "Salesman."
Frank Wood is the "Side Man."
Bloom’s combustible passion almost ignited her red gown in "Electra."
With Judi Dench for a mother, Samantha Bond had to rise to the occasion.
Dawn Bradfield was a tough lass in "The Lonesome West." In
"Death of A Salesman," an incomparable Elizabeth Franz
makes Linda as immortal as her husband, Willie.
the daring daydreaming Snoopy, Roger Bart fights the Red Baron
in "Charlie Brown." Desmond Richardson brings extraordinary
grace to "Fosse." Ron Taylor feels the blues in "It Ain’t
Nothin’ But…" Scott Wise has the "Fosse" style down
Boston sings "…the Blues." Kristin Chenoweth is a
knock-out as the new kid in the neighborhood in "Charlie Brown."
Valerie Pettiford makes "Sing Sing Sing" sexy sexy sexy in
"Fosse." Mary Testa gave us high Cs and low camp in "On
a lower Manhattan bar ("The Iceman Cometh") and the Persian
landscape ("Twelfth Night"). Riccardo Hernandez’ gloomy "Parade"
settings contributed to its demise. Richard Hoover turned the
difficult space at Circle in the Square into a nightmarish prison
the Les Brotherson costumes for Bourne’s "Swan Lake."
Santo Loquasto preferred basic black for "Fosse." John David
Ridge’s ball gowns shimmered ‘neath the "Ring Round the Moon."
Catherine Zuber’s designs for "Twelfth Night" were fantastical
Mark Henderson ("The Iceman Cometh") Natasha Katz ("Twelfth
Night") Chris Parry ("Not About Nightingales").
was in "Parade." Matthew Bourne gave those swans in
"Swan Lake" a new pas or two. A.C. Ciulla keeps those frustrated
teens turning in "Footloose." Rob Marshall reminded us what
dancing in a musical used to be in "Little Me."
a new appreciation for the greatness of "The Iceman Cometh."
Robert Falls got himself the best cast one could hope for in "Death
of a Salesman." Garry Hynes is the referee paid to keep those
feuding Irish brothers from killing each other. Trevor Nunn’s direction
brilliantly balanced poetic realism and melodrama in "Not About
"Swan Lake" was a stunner. Richard Maltby Jr. and Ann Reinking
paid reverential homage to "Fosse." Michael Mayer made everything
old seem new in "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Although
Harold Prince couldn’t save "Parade," he tried.
"Fosse." David Cullen, "Swan Lake." Don Sebesky,
"Parade." Harold Wheeler, "Little Me."
on PBS and CBS Television, Sunday, June 6, 8 to 11 p.m.
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