The 1998-99 New York theatre season has reached the mid-way point. The critics, press agents and producers have briefly deserted the city for a holiday breather, leaving Broadway to the actors and the audiences. Show folks will need the break, too, for, with the advent of the New Year, the energy-spending mania that is Tony Award speculation begins in earnest. Where will the ceremony be held? Who will host? Will Rosie be back? Which shows are the leading contenders for best play and musical?
Well, let's start with where.
When Rosie O'Donnell seized the title of hostess two years ago, she moved the Tonys from Broadway to the larger Radio City Music Hall. With Radio City under construction, the 1999 Tonys could land anywhere in the city. Tony spokesman Kevin Rehac said every major venue in Manhattan is being considered. Among the possibilities are the Ford Center of the Performing Arts, the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center, the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, and any number of large Broadway houses. The obvious choice is the Theatre at MSG, since both it and Radio City are owned by Cablevision Systems Corporation and the League of American Theatres and Producers and the American Theatre Wing -- which co-run the Tonys -- are obligated to give MSG a look-see.
The Ford Center, meanwhile, would prove an ironic choice. The theatre is Livent's own and home to the bankrupt Canadian producing company's musical Ragtime . The Tonys typically endeavor to celebrate theatre, and Livent's well-publicized money troubles could cast a pall over the proceedings.
Rehac said (Dec. 21) the Tonys would most likely select a venue soon after the new year. There is no word on who will host. O'Donnell, who uses her talk show to champion Broadway to great effect, is the popular choice; her presence improved the broadcast's ratings in 1997 and 1998. Last year, she delayed her decision until rather late, and chances are she will do the same in 1999.
Of the two top award categories -- best play and best musical -- the contest for play will be the more heated by far. Broadway is being flooded with dramas. Playwright David Hare, alone, is furnishing three productions. His hat trick includes the hugely successful The Blue Room ; the upcoming Amy's View starring Dame Judi Dench; and the dramatist's one-man show Via Dolorosa -- which could conceivably fetch Hare a best actor nomination.
Other English imports could also be contenders, including Conor McPherson's The Weir and Patrick Marber's Closer , though The Weir has yet to announce a Broadway house or an opening date. Another possible nominee (and one of the few American ones) is the Alley Theatre's new production of the early Tennessee Williams oddity Not About Nightingales . Though the play is 60 years old, it has never had a New York production and could be termed a new play by the Tony committee.
The revival contest should be equally stiff. On the play side, there is the Goodman Theatre's Death of a Salesman ; the London transfer of The Iceman Cometh starring Kevin Spacey; Zoe Wanamaker's smash production of Sophocles' Electra ; plus Roundabout Theatre Company's upcoming production of The Lion in Winter ; and the National Actors Theatre's revival of Night Must Fall .
On the musical side, the 1998-99 season features four high-profile, high budget revivals: George C. Wolfe's troubled restaging of On the Town ; the Roundabout's Cy Coleman's Little Me , starring Martin Short; the Bernadette Peters revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun ; and the upcoming remounting of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, directed by Michael Mayer.
Conversely, the Best Musical contest looks to be a weak one. The expected natural for the prize, the Jason Robert Brown-Alfred Uhry-Harold Prince Parade , received a rather cool reception, though it will still most likely receive several nods. And its main competitor, the much-lambasted Footloose hardly looks like a threat. The only other possible nominees are The Civil War, Fosse and Band in Berlin , though the first is a dance extravaganza and the latter a play with period music -- and some may question their status as musicals.
The diminished field may encourage other producers to rush in new musicals in time for the Tony deadline, in the hope of claiming the coveted trophy. There has been talk of bringing in Andrew Lloyd Webber's By Jeeves . And Captains Courageous , should it prove successful, may transfer from Off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club.
Of course, no Tony season would be complete without a few tempest-in-a teapot type controversies. So far, though, only two minor potential scuffles have made themselves known. One involves the newly revamped version of last season's musical The Scarlet Pimpernel . Cablevision, the tuner's new producer, have made some noises about submitting the retooled Pimpernel as a new musical, thought the original show received a Tony nom in 1997. Also, some have suggested the much-praised Matthew Bourne production of Swan Lake may be categorized as a musical, thought the world has long regarded the classic piece as a ballet.
Such decisions are to be made by the Tony Nominating Committee, which will have its first 1999 meeting sometime in January.
Another fly in the ointment: Though the prospect is highly unlikely, this may be the last Tony ceremony to be fostered by the League-Wing team. The two organizations, which have clashed in the past, began feuding anew in August. At that time, the League sent a letter saying it would not renew its agreement with the Wing, and the Wing embraced that gesture at face value. The reasons for the split are murky, but since then, Wing president Roy Somlyo -- who took over for longtime Wing prez Isabelle Stevenson last summer -- has been adamant that there are no plans for mediation. "They've terminated the contract," he said in August. "I take no for an answer." The Wing's contract with the League expires after the 1999 ceremony.
No date has been announced for the Tonys, though the ceremony is typically held on the first Sunday of June.
-- By Robert Simonson