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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

night."

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

broadcast.

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,

Madame Desmermortes.

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

Ring Round the Moon, Belasco Theater, 111 West 44, 800-432-7250

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

Dan’s doing.

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

Night Must Fall, Helen Hayes Theater, 44 Street west of

Broadway, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $40 to $65. Through June 27.

— Simon Saltzman


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