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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 31, 2000. All rights
Tantrum Time at the Tonys
There I was a few nights ago on the corner of New
York’s Eighth Avenue and 45th Street, around about 11 p.m., ranting
and raving like a bloody lunatic. Was this normal behavior for a
who has just come from the Martin Beck Theater where I had enjoyed
a second look at the marvelous revival of "Kiss Me Kate"?
After that show, which has deservedly garnered 13 Tony nominations,
the most for any show, new or revived, I ran into a couple of friends
in the theater community and proceeded to vent my litany of
frustrations beginning with why "Kiss Me Kate’s" Amy Spanger,
who plays Lois Lane (and stops the show nightly in her own fashion
with "Always True to You In My Fashion"), was not nominated
for best performance by a featured actress in a musical.
Frankly I don’t understand how Laura Benanti and Ann Hampton Callaway
(I love them dearly), who both sing a few songs well enough in the
revue "Swing," earned nominations in that category. At least
Karen Ziemba’s astonishing dramatically danced performance in
and Eartha Kitt’s downright scary star turn in "The Wild
have substance. Why was it so difficult to find qualifying performers
for that category? I could name a dozen. Although she makes a strong
impression, "Contact’s" Deborah Yates, whose slinky swing
dancing keeps "best featured actor in a musical" nominee Boyd
Gaines from committing suicide, her dancing is not comparable to
dynamic acting, singing, and dancing in "Kiss Me Kate;" not
even, for that matter, to the campy spin that Sherie Rene Scott gives
the role of Amneris in "Aida."
The mission of the Tonys? To recognize excellence on Broadway. The
reality of the Tonys? That we never lose sight of the fact that you
cannot sell tickets to Broadway shows — good, bad, and indifferent
— that have closed. Not to tourists, nor to the throngs who Rosie
O’Donnell will inspire to get close to theater when she returns to
the Tony telecast on Sunday, June 4, on PBS and CBS.
That led to my next tirade on the Best Musical category, the most
questioned category since the Tony nominating committee insisted that
the danced drama "Contact" be considered a musical. Granted,
Matthew Bourne’s "Swan Lake" got this nomination last year;
yet that ballet without words has a fully integrated score written
expressly for it (some while back, by Tchaikovsky), played in
by live musicians. This year, formal protests have been lodged by
the Broadway musicians’ union regarding the nomination of
which has no original, or even live, music on its bill.
Although I fought long and hard to defend my view of what constitutes
a musical, both on the street and in private sessions as a member
of the executive committee for Outer Critics Circle, and as a member
of the New York Drama Desk, it seems the organizations with less clout
have to cow-tow to the Tony committee’s arbitrary and misguided
Does this not sound like a revival of "The Emperor’s New
Have they not opened a can of worms, by setting a precedent that will
allow any new play, if it contains dance, and uses recorded mood or
background music, to be considered a musical?
And what in heaven’s name is Julie Taymor’s humorous and glorious
new creation, "The Green Bird," if it isn’t a musical? It
has wonderful original music by Elliot Goldenthal, witty lyrics by
David Suehsdorf, and inventive "musical staging" by
Daniel Ezralow. Although it didn’t make the cut, the Tony committee
designated "The Green Bird" a play.
Before we leave the Best Musical corner, allow me to
continue my complaints with the inclusion of "The Wild Party,"
a show that is distressingly dour, dank, and depressing, as well as
shallow and pointless. But while "The Wild Party" is
to stay alive, another show "Kat and the Kings," a charming
original musical from South Africa that opened early in the season
and has since closed, has been too hastily forgotten. And would
please explain to me how the stunning breakthrough musical based on
"Medea" that is "Marie Christine" could be nominated
for its score and book (Michael John LaChiusa), and not be nominated
for Best Musical? Interestingly, LaChiusa also wrote the music,
and book (with George C. Wolfe) for the fair inferior nominee "The
While the American Theater Wing and the League of American Theaters
and Producers continue to ignore the contribution that Off-Broadway
makes, we are consoled that an important new play does occasionally
transfer to Broadway. Such is the case with "Dirty Blonde,"
Claudia Shear’s sassy, and sexy play that follows the career of Mae
West as it also follows the unlikely romance of two people who idolize
"Dirty Blonde’s" toughest rival is "Copenhagen," an
intellectually compelling British snob hit. But isn’t it strange that
in order to fill up the Best Play category, we are forced to consider,
however worthy, two plays that have been around time and time again:
Sam Shepard’s 20-year-old "True West" and Arthur Miller’s
"The Ride Down Mount Morgan." While "True West" has
had two Off-Broadway productions, "Mount Morgan" was seen
in London in 1991, and produced last season at the Off-Broadway Public
Theater. Yet neither is considered revivals.
Miller can take unprecedented credit in having one play nominated
for Best Play and another, "The Price," nominated for Best
Revival of a Play. I hope that someday soon Shakespeare’s
will finally make its Broadway debut and get nominated for "Best
Let’s grouse next about the injustice done to actors. Philip Seymour
Hoffman and John C. Reilly have been alternating roles since "True
West" opened. The producers pleaded to have both actors be
together. No dice, says the Tony committee, which has both actors
competing against each other, most likely canceling each other out.
I don’t really care that Patrick Stewart didn’t win a nod for his
abrasive and annoyingly congratulatory performance in "Mount
but what I can’t understand is how Derek Jacoby could be snubbed for
his brilliantly untypical "Uncle Vanya," or how Philip Bosco
and Michael Cumpsty could be overlooked for their mesmerizing
I could never find it in my heart to deny an award to Rosemary Harris
(a nominee for Best Actress), an incomparable actress, but whose
presence in the otherwise insignificant Noel Coward comedy,
in the Wings," can hardly be called more laudable than Olympia
Dukakis’ (not nominated) solo performance in "Rose." Where
is the willingness of the theater awards community to change and grow
and bring the performing arts and its expanding genres into the new
millennium, I find myself shouting.
Yet even as I went on and on lauding and complaining, I noticed my
audience seemed to be dwindling. Fearful of listening to the sound
of my own voice, as I stood finally alone on the corner of 45th Street
and Eighth Avenue, I retreated to my car and took the tunnel home.
— Simon Saltzman
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