Can one song make the difference when it comes to being nominated or not nominated for a Tony Award?
Looking to some of the ladies nominated in the Best Actress and Best Features Actress Tony Award categories for musicals in 2001, seven of them — Polly Bergen,, Blythe Danner, Christine Ebersole, Kathleen Freeman, Randy Graff, Cady Huffman and Faith Prince — have memorable solo numbers that stop their shows or invite you into the depth of the character like no duet or group number can.
Randy Graff does sing with other performers in the Tony Award nominated A Class Act, but it's her second-act solo, "The Next Best Thing to Love," that made people sit up and love her character more. The song was plaintive, honest and caring, delivered by Graff's character as she gently tells her ex lover they do not have a romantic future together.
"I don't know for sure if I didn't have that song whether I'd be standing here today," said Graff, who is nommed in the Best Actress in a Musical category. "The song really is the reason I took the role. It really just spoke to me. It's a great song and it's nice to be able to have another song I can put my stamp on. It always feels nice."
It is thought that Graff's show-stopping solo in City of Angels, "You Can Always Count on Me," is the reason she won the 1990 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. The other standout solos this season?
Polly Bergen's big solo in Follies is the immortal ode to show business survival, "I'm Still Here," delivered with confidence and a tinge of pain; Cady Huffman's "When You Got It, Flaunt It," borders on the burlesque as she shimmies and contorts as Swedish "secretary" Ulla in The Producers; Christine Ebersole is woeful and yearning as she sings the classic, "I Only Have Eyes for You," in 42nd Street; showbiz veteran Kathleen Freeman croaks about showbiz blues in The Full Monty's "Jeanette's Show Business Number," during which she is joined by the men of the show; Blythe Danner's caustic "Could I Leave You?," from Follies is full of cool bitterness as a wife confronts a husband; and Faith Prince's "The Party's Over," in Bells Are Ringing, is a theatrical classic about the end of a dream.
(The no-less-talented Mary Testa, nommed in the Featured Actress in a Musical Category for 42nd Street, is the only nominated actress who doesn't have a major solo song to sing. Her work in the musical comedy revival has been lauded for its daffy consistency, however, and was previously nominated for On the Town in 1999.)
Just because Bergen has one major solo and not much else to do in Follies doesn't mean her major song wasn't a challenge to nail. Sondheim's life-story song, "I'm Still Here," is linear, but not uncomplicated. What makes the lyrics so tough to remember?
"It isn't the rhymes," Bergen said. "It's the 'ands' and the 'buts' in the song. One time it's 'and,' then 'but,' then 'so,' then 'still.' And a Sondheim lyric you don't want to mess with. So I thought I would never learn the song. I'm a good maker-upper of lyrics. I don't fumble; I think of filler that makes sense, that sounds like it belongs there. But it's tough with Sondheim, because everybody knows every word he wrote. Just before I go on, I do a fast-gallop run-through of the lyrics. Never would I walk out onstage without doing those lyrics.
"I'd never seen Follies or listened to the album. So I approached the song as a brand-new song, which makes it really an acting challenge. For me to recreate that life in that song as it's done in the show, the words have to fall out of my mouth. If I have to think for one second about the lyrics, I can't do the number. They have to be a memory ingrained in my head. And it requires total concentration."
— By Kenneth Jones