Art above all. That's what prevailed as the year's Best Play at the 1998 Tony Awards. Yasmina Reza, the French creator of Art, was one of several ladies who caught the eye, and favor, of fickle 51-year-old Tony. . . . "You're history on Broadway" was the double-edged compliment Garry Hynes got from a perverse pal right after becoming the first woman to win a Tony for directing a Broadway drama (The Beauty Queen of Leenane).
Her distinction was seconded seconds later when Julie Taymor became the first woman to win a Tony for directing a Broadway musical (The Lion King). Four people Taymor hired -- including herself for costumes -- also won, plus her vision of the show emerged winner for Best Musical.
Peter Schneider and Thomas Schumacher, who produced that vision for Disney, confessed to the press their surprise at winning, chiding them with "We believed what you guys wrote so we just kicked back and forgot about it."
Ragtime, the predicted Best Musical, did produce another woman of distinction: Audra McDonald became the first person to win three Tonys for Featured Actress. Hinton Battle, who has the Featured Actor title with three Tonys, had wished her luck two days earlier. "Must have been a good omen," she figured.
King, with six, and Queen, with four, led their respective musical and dramatic fields.When Newsday's Patrick Pacheco asked Queen's Anna Manahan why she thanked her doctor in her acceptance speech for Feature Actress in a Drama, she revealed for the first time that she'd had a secret medical agenda for coming to Broadway and that her condition had been treated and cured. "So, you see," she said, "I feel I got two Tonys."
The best Tony show didn't make the airwaves or the press room: Rosie O'Donnell's raucous riffs on The Weisslers (her old Grease bosses) between commercials, imagining them sending dim-watted stars on the road in improbable vehicles (like Depends spokesperson June Allyson in The Wiz).
-- By Harry Haun