The Tony Awards ceremony took place on June 4 and everything pretty much happened according to plan. Viewers loved Rosie O'Donnell, viewers hated Rosie O'Donnell. There was the ritual carping about the show's opening number (has there ever been an opening number to any awards program that people liked?). Jingoistic xenophobes, still hung up on 1776 and all that, cried that the British were too handsomely rewarded. And Contact, Copenhagen and Kiss Me, Kate ran away with most of the prizes (Jennifer Ehle winning Best Actress in a Play was the only true upset).
Only two things came as a surprise. One: the show clocked in with time to spare. Two: the ratings. Since the advent of Rosie as host in 1997 brought with it the program's highest television rating in ten years, and her absence in 1999 brought some of the lowest marks in memory, folks naturally expected her return to the helm to send the numbers climbing again. Alas, the CBS national rating for the show was 6.2 with a 10 share. That was down from 1999's 7.0 / 12 share (which, in turn, was down 17 percent from the previous year).
In contrast, the national ratings for the public television hour received a 2.1 rating, up 50 percent from last year's 1.4 rating. In New York, the PBS Tony show scored a 5.48 rating -- up nearly 100 percent over the 1999 broadcast.
In fairness, the Tonys had even stiffer competition than usual. As always, it faced the perennial nemesis of the NBA playoffs -- in this case, the seventh and deciding game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the L.A. Lakers. But it also suffered from every network's current bete noire: "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (Can anything topple this Goliath of a show?) Still, the question now stands: If Rosie can no longer save the Tonys program, who can?
On a more somber note, Isabelle Stevenson, 84, who seemed to be in less than salubrious health during her brief Tony moment, skipped the post ceremony gala and instead went home, where she collapsed on the curb near her house. She was rushed to the hospital, and is now in guarded condition following an operation to repair a torn aorta. In worse news, Newsweek arts critic and George Jean Nathan Award-winner Jack Kroll died of colon cancer on June 8. He was 74. But back once more to the Tonys: Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's The Wild Party went home with no honors, and, as expected, announced it would yell "last call" and pull up the blinds on June 11. On the same day, Taller Than a Dwarf will shutter, as will the scheduled run of Uncle Vanya at the Brooks Atkinson.
Openings? Well, as far as Broadway's concerned, June has but one -- Macbeth, with a first preview on June 9. Kelsey Grammer had a rocky ride during the tryout in Boston, where a couple local critics took him to task, but the actor was steadfast and brave enough to show up as a presenter at the Tonys. Heck, he even came backstage and faced a roomful of Tuxedo-clad theatre journalists. There, while dismissing the Beantown critics as "Boston buttheads," he pledged to go forward but expressed some curiosity as to the New York theatre critics' judgement, saying, "I think I'm presenting quite the biggest target the New York theatre has seen in some time."
An upcoming opening to be anticipated is The Full Monty, by Terrence McNally and David Yazbeck. A current sell-out at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, Monty will arrive at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre (late of Waiting in the Wings, Sept. 26 for an opening Oct. 26.
Off-Broadway's a bit busier, to put it mildly: Ntozake Shange's for colored girls... opens June 11; David Marshall Grant's Current Events on June 13; Neil Simon's Hotel Suite on June 15; Richard Day's Straight Jacket; and Kirsten Childs' The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin on June 30. August Wilson's wildly acclaimed Jitney, winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle's Best Play Award, extended again and will roll on through the summer.
Phew! Remember when the summer meant no theatre? Companies would go dark, openings would cease, Broadway shows would interrupt their runs and resume after Labor Day, and everyone would return in the autumn rejuvenated and ready for the new season. Now, after an exhausting April and May, we continue to slog through the summer months. If this prospect makes you physically wilt, please e-mail this column. If I collect 100 names of theatre professionals, I will consider it a petition and submit it to the Shuberts, Manhattan Theatre Club, LaChiusa and all the far-too-busy theatre folks. If they are honorable people, they will all agree to go on vacation.
[Robert Simonson will be on vacation next week. "Theatre Week in Review" will return on June 23.]
--By Robert Simonson
and David Lefkowitz