The 1998 Tony Awards have now been handed out. Most things went as predicted, but there were, as always, a few major surprises. We asked readers to share their feelings about particular categories, or about the awards as a whole.
Playbill On-Line thanks all who took the time to write. Owing to the huge volume of responses, we have created this eighth file of posts. All previous responses remain available in the Tony News section of Playbill On-Line. Playbill thanks all those who took the time to write.
From Erin Leder:
In regards to the opinions of many, many people who disagree with The Lion King's winning Best Musical, I'd like to give my OWN opinion: I believe that The Lion King deserved the award more than any other show on The Great White Way because it is the most innovative, creative, original, imaginative, artistic, and ingenious (how many synonyms do you want?) show that has ever occupied a Broadway theatre.
I did not get out of my seat at the theatre after the show for 10 whole minutes because I could not stop shaking. Why was I shaking? Because the show completely blew me away and I never wanted to leave for fear that the experience of seeing it was over. I have seen many Broadway shows and The Lion King bears no comparison.
EVERYTHING connected with and about this show is astounding--the acting, the singing, the dancing, the costumes, the lighting, and the set designs. If not for all those reasons, The Lion King deserved Best Musical because it is DIFFERENT. Ragtime, however impressive and beautiful in its own right, develops its story with music and dialogue and costumes and sets using the same formula that all American musicals do. The Lion King DOES NOT. I believe that the American Theatre Wing made the right choice because it awarded a NEW kind of excellence instead of the old formula...and that, I thought, was their job.
From Mike Palazzo:
What was the American Theater Wing thinking this year? I have never been more appalled by an awards show than I was Sunday. I swear people on the other side of Manhattan heard me screaming throughout the show, but especially in the last half hour.
First, let me just say Cabaret is probably one of the most visually disgusting things I have ever seen in my life. Alan Cumming makes my stomach turn in that little get-up, and I cannot believe he beat out the Ragtime duo, and more importantly, my vote for best actor Douglas Sills. I love The Scarlet Pimpernel, and I think Sills is one of the most talented actors I have seen. He looks the part, sings beautifully, and is just amazingly funny. I laughed hysterically throughout the show, especially during the periods when he often felt the need to improvise and make up little jokes on his own. That is what acting is all about if you ask me.
Best actress? Should I even go there? First, I must admit I was torn between the Side Show ladies and the wonderful Marin Mazzie. Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley were incredible... I enjoyed their performances so much in Side Show. To play such a challenging part, play it well is certainly a feat to be celebrated. Marin Mazzie was also incredible in portraying Mother. Her character's struggles with social norms and her development as a character were done extremely well by this actress. And of course, her voice is wonderful! Natasha Richardson? Gag me...
And finally, I shall now go on (and on and on) about the horror known as Best Musical. I have never been more impressed with a show than I have Ragtime. In fact, I rank it up there right next to Les Miserables. It has an incredible music, a wonderful story, great acting, a beautiful staging. Although I will not deny the fact The Lion King is a spectacle and an incredible production, does this mean it should steal the Tony? No way! Julie Taymor did an excellent job directing and with costume design, and deserved every award she received. But for a DISNEY CARTOON to overcome a story about our history, a piece of America? How appalling. The story of Ragtime is far better than The Lion King and the music superior (hence half of the show's total Tony Awards). Why don't we just turn the theater district over to Disney? It is bad enough Disney made it to the city to begin with, but now it has really gotten a strong foothold in Times Square. Sorry Disney and The Lion King. You may be great, but to rob Ragtime of what it rightfully deserves... it's a shame that commercialism has defeated history and truly wonderful stories.
Personally, I feel that it is ridiculous to compare the "Lion King/Ragtime" situation to the "Phantom/Into the Woods" situation. SINCE WHEN DID RAGTIME BECOME AN INTIMATE RENT-ESQUE MUSICAL?!?!?!?! RAGTIME IS JUST AS MUCH A MEGAMUSCIAL AS THE LION KING IS!!!!
In addition, many people wonder: "How could a show win best book and score, and NOT win best musical?" The Answer: Best Musical is awarded to the best theatrical EXPERIENCE of the year. It takes into account the book, the score, the sets, the lighting, the costumes, the direction, etc... Finally, for any hypocrite who says that the Tonys are commercial: I have four words for you: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. (How quickly we forget.)
The Lion King received top honors because it was years most unique, beautiful, and triumphant piece of theater this year. (Just as Rent, a TINY show, did in 1995). Congratulations to TLK: You deserved it!
I don't think anyone has mentioned the absolutely fabulous opening with LuPone, Holliday and BucklEy. I was in tears! Wow! EVITA was my first Broadway show back in '79. It brought back wonderful memories, as did MEMORY and Jennifer Holliday belting out her legendary show-stopper from DREAMGIRLS. After the opening, the cable could have gone out and I wouldn't have been disappointed.
I am bothered by the Tony Awards desire to spread the wealth around. "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" had three winning performances and the best director, but "Art" was best play. "Ragtime" had the best score, orchestrations and book, but "The Lion King" was best musical. Why do revival performances not get their own category so that an Alan Cumming doing a raunchier Joel Grey imitation does not take the best actor award from the truly deserving Brian Stokes Mitchell? "Ragtime" is the best musical of the year, but once again substance loses to style. Yes Julie Taymor has done a remarkable job in transforming "The Lion King", but the impact of "Ragtime" is more than visual. The 1998 Tony's continue the disappointing practice of sharing the wealth with all and thereby eliminating many worthy winners in the process.
How unfortunate that SIDE SHOW is no longer running on Broadway. The performance by Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner at the Tony's was phenomenal! My first reaction when originally hearing the subject matter of the show was 'who wants to see a musical about siamese twins!' Unfortunately, that may have been many people's reaction. After seeing their performance, and subsequently hearing the Broadway recording, I am kicking myself for missing this wonderful show!
The tony's this year were not that great. I thought they were rushed, and the presenters need to just say the nominees and get it over with. Lion King should not have won! Although I do believe that it was worthy of all the tech awards, it was not the "best musical." I wish that these awards would stop going to the popular musical, and go to the show that deserves it the most like Ragtime. Well I hope all the tourists will enjoy Lion King, because I will be at Ragtime watching the best musical. I hope you all enjoy those great new songs like Chow Down, The Morning Report, and The Madness of King Scar. Happy listing.
Mark McGee (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I have to admit I was very pleased to see "Lion King" win as best musical. Theatre is ART, not spectacle. I saw "Ragtime" and think they did a wonderful job of translating the book to the stage. I fee that both Marin Mazie and Brian Stokes Mitchell should have won Tonys for their performances, but, when all is said and done, I felt like I was watching the CD. I never felt emotionally involved with the people and actually found myself getting bored during the second act.
The score for this show is phenomenal and deservedly won the award, although I have to admit I'm rather shocked about the book winning since I felt there was so little book to the show as it seemed to go from song to song. It's time that theatre stepped back and took a look at itself and realize that pomp and spectacle do not make good theatre. Sometimes simple is better (not referring to "Lion King"). Ms. Taymor is a true artist and what she has done with "Lion King" brings a whole new art form to the theatre and makes it interesting and fun to go to. Bravo "Lion King" and BRAVO Julie Taymor!
From Stacy McInnis:
I sent out my predictions before the Tony's, saying that I would be shocked if Ragtime didn't win. Well, it didn't, and I'm more than shocked. Especially after (deservedly) winning Best Score and Book. I'm not a fan of Ragtime at all, but I do recognize its good points, and though I personally prefer the Lion King, what kind of message is it sending to give Best Musical to a show that is inferior musically?
And Rosie's comment about it was completely unnecessary...I was upset after Titanic last year, when she said, "Love that show", and said nothing about the rest. But saying it was the most stunning thing she'd ever seen was taking it a little too far. Is it coincidence that for the second year in a row Ms. O'Donnell's favorite show took home the big award?
I also have to say that I was quite appalled by the lack of attention given to Side Show and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Yes, neither really had a chance at winning Best Musical, but that doesn't mean they should be completely ignored all evening. The only attention they got was for their performances, which were the best of the evening. Audra McDonald was a surprise to me, and what was a bigger surprise was that Brian Stokes Mitchell *didn't* win when Audra did! I still think Douglas Sills deserved Best Actor...even if you hate the show, you have to love that man.
I've seen every Tony show since 1966, and the worst I could say for the least of them was that they might have been a little uninspired. Last night's show left me feeling sad and embarrassed. Every other minute there was something ugly to look at or to listen to: The Divas' under-rehearsed performances, Rosie's kindergarten-level jokes, the stupid crotch and ass-grabbing of Cummins and Co.
Even the good stuff was spoiled by bad camera work (Ragtime sequences) or underproduction (Side Show duet). The awards to Lion King and Cabaret as best of the season were somehow even more dispiriting than those sad seasons when categories were eliminated in the 80's. Lion King and Cabaret are mere eye-candy; they pass for innovations with theatregoers whose memories extend back no further than five seasons ago and whose experience is mostly Hollywood. Broadway is much more than a puppet show or a leering gesture. Thank God for the cast of Beauty Queen of Leenane ! Theirs was the sole touch of professionalism in a an evening of cheapness.
From Kevin Quill:
A group of us got together to watch the show and were struck by the opening number and what it reflected: Betty Buckley, Jennifer Holiday, and Patti LuPone represent some of the pinnacle moments in American Musical Theater for the last twenty years, and no one seemed to acknowledge that fact, other than to address them as Divas, which they deserved of course, but which as a word choice is overused in popular culture.
Also, while you can debate the merits of show to show and nominee to nominee, wouldn't it, perhaps, be a better idea for the revival categories to expand and include :Best Actress in a Musical Revival? Or some such thing?
After all, CABARET is an amazing show - it is a staple in the American Musical canon, and for that reason it deserves Best Revival....HOWEVER, to compare a revival of an amazing part (no matter how brilliant and noteworthy it has been accomplished before that is why it is a revival) to the creation of an unproven role that makes it through the dregs of workshop, and funding, and the six week workshop, and the recasting, and on and on...well, it doesn't embody the tone of what Best Actress in a Musical should, in my opinion. The mere fact that the committee made an exception to allow a double nomination in a single category implies that such an achievement is unique and calls for recognition. Just a thought.
A special Tony should have been presented to Jennifer Holliday for delivering the most exciting moments of the evening. Most tasteless performance would be the off color ragtime joke from the hostess. Most disappointing moment in the presentations was the Stokes Mitchell loss. There is no justification that can explain this. The Cabaret role is a supporting role not a lead! I guess Stokes Mitchell will have to take crotch grabbing lessons from Michael Jackson if he wants to win a Tony! I'm sure there are many who agree with me that if Lion King did have to win that a Brian Stokes Mitchell win would have softened the blow. Why the rush at the end? The Tony's started with such great promise this year and ended with a rushed whimper. This was too good of a year on Broadway to let this happen.
From Dave Hutchinson, Laguna Hills, CA (Trampyre@aol.com):
If any of you are "Rosie"-eyed, don't read this...
Yes, she's done a lot of good for Broadway. Yes, she's pumped up attendance of shows, she produced the awards, she's now Little Miss Broadway. But is there anyone out there who is honest enough to admit that this "lady" is, as a Tony Award Hostess, just plain WRONG? The opening "Diva" number was boring -- there was too much of Rosie The Non Singer, and too little of Patti, Betty and Jennifer (sidenote to Ms. Holiday- you looked GREAT, Girl- but loose the facial contortions during that big number of yours...I've seen plenty of "Effies" that can sing the heck out of that song, and not look like Kabuki Demons in the process!).
Meanwhile, back to Ms. O'Donnell...is it wrong to have a certain snobbery when it comes to theater? I've always found it an elegant, sophisticated environment. Bring back the likes of Angela Lansbury. Now THAT lady has C-L-A-S-S. All li'l Rosie can be is C-R-A-S-S. Out of a dozen other fellow performers who watched the awards with me, not ONE didn't find her to be an embarrassment. Her jokes were either dull or in very poor taste. And she shouldn't be allowed to speak into a microphone- she can fill ANY sized hall with the obnoxious, brassy voice of hers. BUT, on the other hand, she DOES bring in the audience...
From Mike Paolucci (PAO71774@aol.com):
I cannot believe that Ragtime did not win for best musical. Did Michael Eisner and the rest of Disney's employees get to vote? The Lion King was visually incredible. First of all, it did deserve the technical awards that it won, but best musical? It was a live version of a cartoon. Ragtime will become a legendary show, and we have to deal with commercialism. Sop when does the Hercules musical open?
Rosie O'Donnell was not at her best. I thought I was watching her show. She needs to get an original opening for the show, and not steal Billy Crystals act from the Oscars.
Other than that, I thought the Tonys were a success. Good Luck for another fantastic season.
From William P. Hines, Scranton, PA (Wphines@aol.com):
The 52nd Tony Awards hosted by Rosie was a slick and well-directed made for television production. The opening number was terrific. Those dancing' men from "Chicago" were hot and the choreography was razor sharp--even its imitation of "Riverdance." which was there for a few beats. The three divas were excellent---Patti, Jennifer, and Betty can sure belt a Broadway song---how ironic that two of the songs featured belong to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Rosie's jokes were nothing but contemporary cultural humor. She breaks the wall down between the traditional Tony viewer and she appeals to the new generation of theatergoers. Her humor is hard-hitting but funny. However, she needs a new wardrobe mistress.
The opening sequence clearly demonstrated how wonderful the Radio City Music Hall stage is---Broadway never looked better on the stage. Next year, I suggest the Rockettes---with Broadway biggest male dancers. The turntables and huge theater posters only made the memory of "Evita," "Dreamgirls," and "Cats" come alive. The stage had a glossy appearance for most of the evening.
I like both "Ragtime" and "The Lion King" but I feel "Ragtime" should have won Best Musical. "Ragtime" is a musical in the grand tradition of "Carousel" and "Oklahoma!" Its magnificent original Broadway cast recording on RCA Victor only proves my point. The score is flawless and the performances are magnificent.
"The Lion King" is visual tapestry. In a few years, Disney will have a Broadway musical in trucks and playing arenas throughout America. The show is a circus and does not belong in the traditional theater setting-- its often trapped by the limits of the New Amsterdam stage. Don't forget that the longest running "Cats" on Broadway continue to purr nightly at the Winter Garden Theater.
I applaud Disney for is creativity and Julie Taymor for her fabulous costumes and direction. I look forward to more of her productions.
Finally, "Art" did not deserve the Best Play. Again money prevails on Broadway and on the road---the play, if you can call it a play will now tour on the Best Play welcome mat. "Art" appears empty and more like a television special with star performers.
"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" is a real play, and provides a shocking and riveting evening of theater. Winner of 4 Tony Awards---what Disney and Livent accomplished in two blockbuster musicals---the sensational cast of "Beauty Queen" succeeds with only 4 actors on a grand scale--and soars far beyond the footlights at the Walter Kerr Theater. It was a grand night for the Irish on Broadway!
Finally, I am sorry to report that some PBS stations did not broadcast the first-hour of the Tonys under the erudite direction of Jac Venza. Our local PBS station opted to re-broadcast the program at 12 midnight long after the Tony Awards were off CBS. The reason--we are in the middle of a fund-raising campaign.
I guess money makes the world and the theater community go around.
Regarding Lion King's defeat of Ragtime: That's show biz.