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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 16, 1999.
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Simon Saltzman: Second (and Third) Tony Thoughts
In the wake of the Tony Awards of June 6, let us consider
and reconsider the effect the annual gala event had on Broadway this
year. Is it possible that the joy of recognizing the "best"
of the shows, their creators, performers, and designers, was muted
by its losers and by those completely overlooked? If so, how is that
different from all those other entertainment industry awards? A lot.
Unlike the Emmys, Grammies, and Oscars, the Tony Awards can actually
spell doom. On Broadway, the prospect of reaping financial rewards
and gains for the few big Tony winners is haunted by the future fate
of many shows destined to close as a result.
Such was the fear of "It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues," the
show that originated at Crossroads Theater, was crowned with a nomination
for a Tony for Best Musical, then cut from the CBS Tony Awards broadcast
that had been running late all evening.
"`It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues’ has been substantially damaged
as a result of last evening’s Tony Awards telecast snub," said
Eric Krebs in his public statement the following morning. "It
is no secret that the Tony Awards broadcast provides major national
exposure for Broadway and its nominees and that those four-minutes
of national exposure are a crucial marketing tool resulting in substantial
ticket sales." Ron Taylor, the show’s co-creator and Tony nominee,
noted the next day that, "unfortunately and ironically, the omission
of a `Blues’ performance at the Tony Awards is exactly what our show
is about. It’s still going on — it’s exactly what happened last
Yet both men had underestimated a different "crucial
marketing tool" — the power of controversy and the press.
The "snub" itself made headlines city-wide and the revue had
its biggest week at the box office, taking in more than $250,000,
according to the New York Times. CBS included the musical’s canceled
number on the Wednesday edition of its David Letterman Show. And Tony
Awards Productions has agreed to pay the "Blues" producers
for the cost of rehearsing and transporting the cast to the non-existent
While there a sense of permanence, of an afterlife, and of easy access
to television shows, recordings, and films, there is only the memory
and the void left by a Broadway show when it folds. Is the voting
for the Tony Awards, as symbols of excellence in the Broadway theater,
pandering more and more to politics and commercialism? The answer
is yes. If you think not, just consider the simply awful deconstruction
of "Annie Get Your Gun," the show that won the Tony for Best
Musical Revival. The theater owners who voted could see the roadshow
potential of the Irving Berlin musical classic that stars the popular
but miscast Bernadette Peters. Its closest rival, "You’re a Good
Man, Charlie Brown," had whimsy, wit, and charming new material,
but no big spectacle or star to offer.
It goes without saying that "Side Man" and "Fosse,"
winners respectively of the Best Play and Best Musical of the 1998-’99
season, are already seeing increased box-office activity and be assured
of a life on the road. But whether "Side Man," which has been
sweating it out financially for months (that means losing big bucks),
will ever see a profit on Broadway seems like a distant dream. Although
"Side Man" boasts a superb cast, most of whom have been with
the play since its original appearance Off-Broadway, the current scheme
to boost its appeal with television stars will certainly help.
Ironically, "Fosse" — a product of the bankrupt
and scandalized Livent Corporation — has, long before its Tony
win, rather surprisingly established itself as a hit. It’s a curious
win, however, since "Fosse," for all its reconstructed pleasures,
is basically a retread of "Dancin,’" the 1978 musical that
similarly served as an homage to the career of choreographer Bob Fosse.
But what about the tidal wave of closings in the wake of the Tonys?
Can the sudden departure of "The Civil War," "The Lonesome
West," "Ring Round the Moon," "Night Must Fall,"
"Not About Nightingales," and "You’re A Good Man, Charlie
Brown," really be directly attributed to the results of the big
night? You bet.
One would have thought that the nightly standing ovations at "The
Civil War" would have generated strong word of mouth for the pageant-like
musical that was lambasted by many of the major critics. Although
composer Frank Wildhorn’s two other musicals, "Jekyll and Hyde"
and "The Scarlet Pimpernel," have proved to be critic-proof
and survivors, "The Civil War" pulled up its stakes without
much of a fight.
A Tony for Richard Hoover’s stunningly grim prison setting for the
brilliantly produced lost and found early play by Tennessee Williams,
"Not About Nightingales" wasn’t going to be meaningful enough
to compensate for this extraordinary play not getting named as Best
Play. It closed on Sunday, June 13. What a pity that enough of the
theater-loving and theatergoing public didn’t race to see this early
masterwork by America’s most lyrical playwright.
Thank heavens that the memorably staged and acted "The Iceman
Cometh" is playing to capacity considering how it got trounced
by the wins of "Death of Salesman." Except for the bravura
performances by Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Franz, and Kevin Anderson,
the winning of Best Play Revival was clearly a sentimental vote for
the great and still-living American playwright Arthur Miller, a legend
in his own time. It was also a vote for an all-American production.
There are two plays that got totally overlooked by the Tonys that
will be hanging on to the end of the month. Both "Ring Round the
Moon" and "Night Must Fall" deserve your attention.
`Ring Round the Moon’
Half a century can make a difference in an audience’s
tastes, perception, and interest. With regard to Jean Anouilh’s wistful
1950 comedy "Ring Round the Moon," be prepared to receive
the play’s poetic and pedantic delicacies as you would a rare visit
from an eccentric old aunt whose once elegant graces have been corrupted
over the years by the grim truth of reality.
As one third of the three-act play is a delight, another third touching,
and the remaining third trying, the cumulative experience of this
Christopher Fry adaptation, as directed by Gerald Gutierrez, is that
it grows better and better in retrospect. That is mainly due to the
presence of Marian Seldes in the role of the opinionated regal matriarch,
In this romantic comedy of bad manners, put-downs, mistaken identities,
and farcical situations, Seldes reigns supreme. With each telling
turn of her haughty head, and with each turn of an acerbic phrase,
Seldes succeeds in acting as a good and oddly gracious overseer to
a lot of enchanting foolishness.
Oh, the plot. I’m sorry you asked. It has to do with a pair of identical
twins, played un-identically by Toby Stephens. One of whom, the one
that is cynical and callous, is secretly madly in love with an caustic
young woman (Haviland Morris) who, as you might suspect, loves
the other twin, the one who is shy and dreamy. The play takes place
during an elaborate ball during which the cynical brother enlists
the aid of a poor, but lovely ballerina, to beguile the shy brother.
Of course, nothing works out as planned, considering the butting in
of the ballerina’s mother, some politically and socially motivated
in-laws, a know-it-all butler, a nonplussed secretary, and notably
the daring, yet discreet, machinations of Madame Desmermortes.
As set in 1912, in a French chateau’s elegant glass enclosed winter
garden (beautifully designed by John Lee Beatty), the characters (all
handsomely costumed by John David Ridge), romp through this adult
fairy tale oblivious to the clouds of war that its author has ingeniously
allowed to infiltrate the action. HH
or 212-239-6200. $45 & $55. To June 27.
`Night Must Fall’
Everyone loves a good thriller, and because we have
had so few of them lately the National Actors Theater revival of Emlyn
Williams’ 1935 chiller "Night Must Fall" proves a real treat.
To hear an entire audience scream with the curtain up only a few minutes
into the play should say something about its power. But in actuality
it says more about the cleverness of director John Tillinger, who
has devised a stunning new opening sequence.
There is a quick glimpse of a nude man burying a body. It is actually
a body double for Matthew Broderick, who otherwise plays Dan, the
psychopathic killer who seductively worms his way into the home of
a miserable and miserly old invalid Mrs. Bramson. That is after the
disappearance of a young woman Dan was having an affair with, and
later murdered and buried. That a police investigation goes on about
the property all the while Dan gains the confidence of the old invalid,
her equally duped caregiver, and the unmarried pregnant maid, also
Although the play is not a whodunit as we know it, but rather a why-do-they-fall-for-it,
the buildup of suspense is palpable. This, as the women appear to
grow strangely fascinated, if not becoming altogether intoxicated
by Dan. As uncharacteristic as it seems for Broderick to play this
sensual, but loony, looser, the two-time Tony winner pulls off the
cockney accent and his cockamamie behavior with aplomb. HHH
Broadway, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $40 to $65. Through June 27.
— Simon Saltzman
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