Were there surprises June 15? Not unless you count Stephen Sondheim not showing up to collect his Lifetime Achievement Award, which was kinda surprising (those not as startling as the full Santa-Claus beard of Mandy Patinkin, who accepted for Sondheim); or Mark Rylance using his acceptance speech for Best Actor in a Play to quote an obscure Minnesota poet at length. But by now the theatre community is used to Rylance's wacky elocutions. (He gave a lulu at the Drama Desks, too.)
Otherwise, things went pretty much according to schedule at the 2008 Tony Awards. Lincoln Center Theater cleaned up, winning seven Tonys for its revival of South Pacific, including prizes for Best Revival of a Musical, and trophies for director Bartlett Sher and star Paulo Szot. August: Osage County took home plenty of turkey, not only Best Play, but trinkets for director Anna D. Shapiro and actresses Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed (both of whom gave their final performance last Sunday).
Every leading player in Gypsy — Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines — went home happy. (No trophy envy in that backstage.) And the producers of In the Heights were rapping a happy tune: they won four awards, including Best Musical. (In the end, serious contender Passing Strange claimed only one prize.)
Another non-surprise: television ratings remained low.
Broadway shows come, Broadway shows go. One that's coming is a revival of Pal Joey by Roundabout Theatre Company this fall. The theatre announced what everyone already knew by saying that Christian Hoff, the Tony Award winner for playing tough Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys, will play the title role. Stockard Channing will be Vera Simpson in the revised version of the groundbreaking 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical. And Martha Plimpton will play Gladys Bumps. Performances under the direction of Joe Mantello begin Nov. 14 toward a Dec. 11 opening at Studio 54.
And Neil LaBute will make his Broadway debut in 2009. (Hey, you write as many plays as he does and one is bound to make it to Broadway someday.) One of his best-reviewed efforts, reasons to be pretty, an MCC Theater production currently playing Off-Broadway's Lucille Lortel Theatre, will move uptown. Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel and Steve Traxler — in association with MCC — will back the Broadway mounting. The current Off-Broadway company, which includes Piper Perabo, Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski and Pablo Schreiber, will reprise their work for Broadway audiences. Terry Kinney — one of the few Steppenwolf Theatre Company members not involved in August — will again direct.
Finally, they name them after playwrights, they name them after actors, they name them after producers and critics, they even name them after theatre owners and airlines. And now they've gone and named a Broadway theatre after a press agent. The Manhattan Theatre Club will rechristen its Broadway home, the Biltmore, the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in recognition of the Broadway publicist who died in 1974.
Why Friedman and not another of the tireless flacks who have banged the drum for various shows along the Great White Way over the past 100 years? Well, because of The Dr. Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Foundation, which was created by Sam Friedman's brother and sister-in-law, and will be making a large donation to the Manhattan Theatre Club. And the lionization of theatre press agentry won't end there. Publicists Shirley Herz and Bob Ullman, two of Friedman's associates, will be honored with a lobby named for them. One humble suggestion for MTC: while you're busy naming things after press agents, name the downstairs bar after Richard Maney. (And if you don't get that reference, you have no right to call yourself a theatre geek.)