By Robert Simonson
12 Jun 2006
|Photo by Morgan Allen|
Playbill.com began blogging roughly at 7 PM ET as the ladies and gentlemen of the press began to file into the window-lined Tonys press room, high above Rockefeller Plaza, and continued until well past sign-off at 11 PM, covering each presenter and victor as they took their turns on the podium and "meet the press."
11:53 PM: Last Call
LaChanze is our last victim and she's taking her time, answering every question in the room sweetly and politely. The PMK lady said, "That's it." Even she got some exit applause. Journos are leaving at record speed now. A man came by and said, "Just to let you know, there will be no power in here in 10 minutes. It's actually a union thing." Uh-oh, the lights just went down. Subtle. Before the pressroom turns into a pumpkin, let me sign off. Happy new season to all, and to all a good night.
11:41 PM: Boy, Oh Boys
PMK has announced the Tony tallies. Here's a strange one: The History Boys not only won a record number of awards for a play, it won more than any musical this year! Drowsy came closest with five. Everyone keeps coming up to us to confirm. Did somebody hang an "Information" sign over our table?
"What? I have to do this again?" said Jersey Boys producer Michael David as he was led to the dais in baseball cap, black tux and pristine white tennis shoes. The PMK lady asked for questions. None came. "Thank you very much," said David. "I love no questions."
11:01 PM: Show's Over, Folks
The television monitors tell me the show is over. Winner to the main horse race of the evening: Jersey Boys is Best Musical. Jukebox musicals rejoice! You have been vindicated.
A reporter started a question for Tony winner and Jersey Boys star John Lloyd Young by saying "The so-called Jukebox Musical form has been maligned somewhat." (Somewhat!) Young had an answer for his show's success. "Some of those other shows made fools of the people on stage and the audience. Our show doesn't do that, because it tells a straightforward story about this band... I think that's why we appeal to an audience and why the critics were nice to us."
Director Des McAnuff also had something to say, calling the term Jukebox Musical "lazy journalism." "I think this is a great moment. I'm very proud of the Tony voters. And I'm very proud of this group in this show here."
Asked about the diversity to be found in his resume, he joked, "I think my career is something of a mess."
10:50 PM: Author, Author!
It's Alan Bennett, fusty, adorable author of The History Boys, bowtie askew. This ought to be unique. "I haven't followed the history of the Tonys since" the '60s, he dryly observed. "I had no idea it had become such a big deal." One reporter told him that The History Boys had just beat the record for most Tonys won (6) by a single play. The perfect immodest Englishman, he seemed to doubt this, and mentioned that he thought Angels in America held the title. (Turns out the journalist was right. It'll be hard not to boast about that one, Alan.).
"Wow, it's bright up here," said Cynthia Nixon as she mounted the dais. "Can we possibly turn off some of those lights? They're very bright." Crickets. No dice, Cyndi. But look at the bright side; it made your sweeping white gown look positively luminous. Nixon said she was looking forward to her upcoming Off-Broadway revival of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the New Group. Also, "I'm really looking forward to the party." Spoken like a "Sex in the City" character.
10:35 PM: Half Full Now
"I'm a half-empty kind of guy," admitted Todd Haimes, artistic director of the Roundabout Theatre Company, "so I am kind of surprised at the result." He was talking of the Best Revival of a Musical victory of The Pajama Game, which surprised many when it beat out Sweeney Todd.
10:25 PM: Three Microphones, No Waiting
Tumbleweeds blowing through the pressroom right now. Nobody's showed since Christian Hoff. It's quiet enough for everybody to notice that the air-conditioning seems to be on the blink. Oh, well. There's always a late-evening pile-up at these events.
The History Boys has just won Best Play. Producers Bob Boyett and Bill Haber's special arrangement with The National Theatre of London has finally payed off with a Best Play Tony.
9:50 PM: The Spin
The news packaging is beginning. Behind me, a radio commentator taping copy vocalized "The little Canadian musical that could! It's a big night at the Tonys for The Drowsy Chaperone."
Christian Hoff of The Jersey Boys--safely the surprise winner of the night (Best Featured Actor in a Musical) thus far--has entered the room. It will be a happy midnight bus trip to the White House for him. Asked what he meant when, in his acceptance speech, he thanked his wife for saving him, he said "I've had a rocky divorce and a tough situation in my life with my first wife, and my new wife came around at a time when my kids and I needed her. Her family has really taken me under her wing." He referred to his "30-year career" a few times. Turns out he began acting at age 8 and attended school with Brian Stokes Mitchell.
He also says "It's a real honor to be standing here tonight!" He seems to actually mean here in front of us journalists. Strangely enough, it seems he is the only person to feel this way all evening. Go figure.
Whoops! Sorry Christian--Julia Roberts is on television, and, since there's not a chance in Hades that she will come up here, I've got to put on the earphones and listen. She says little, besides calling everyone in the room "insanely talented." She then announces that Richard Griffiths has won the Tony for Best Actor in a Play. He's wearing the first (only?) white tux of the evening, and it's plenty rumpled. He quotes Walt Whitman in his acceptance speech. Now there's a bit of Anglo-American diplomacy.
9:36 PM: The Drowsy Chaperone Herself
"It's just unconditionally joyful," said Beth Leavel about the appeal of The Drowsy Chaperone, for which she won a Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony Award. "There's no showbusiness in my background," she continued. "None. My grandfather played the violin. That's it. Even my children don't show much interest. That's such an un-showbizzy answer, isn't it?"
Leavel, incidentally, was the first winner of the evening to field that classically shallow Hollywood question: who designed your dress? Escada was the answer, and a very sparkly, spiderwebby number it was.
9:10 PM: Oh, Canada!
Did I say it was a British night? Make that Canadian. A gentleman from the Canadian press had a question for The Drowsy Chaperone crowd, which is now collectively at the pressroom mike. Actually, he screamed with delight first and then asked his question. (Way to show your objectivity, dude.) Another journalist from Toronto asked if the creators thought DS was a Canadian show. (The musical was born north of the border.) "To you, the man from Toronto, I will definitely say it's a Canadian show!," said co-librettist Don McKellar. As the creative team left the room, someone from a Canadian TV crew yelled after them, "Smile for Canada! Smile for Canada!"
8:55 PM: The British Are Coming
John Doyle has just won for his direction of Sweeney Todd. It's going to be a British night. Nicholas Hytner, Frances de la Tour, Ian McDiarmid, Sarah Travis, Mark Henderson and Bob Crowley are countrymen who have already joined Doyle at the microphone.
8:37 PM: J. La
Frances de la Tour and Nicholas Hytner have arrived. de la Tour claims that the young actors in The History Boys refer to her as "J. La." "I don't know what it means, or why they do it," she said in a voice a good octave deeper than Hytner's.
It's dusk outside now. The city's lights create a romantic backdrop for our business. Not a bad set-up in here, with the white tablecloths and faux gilt chairs. Add some votive candles and a pair of bad eyeglasses and we could be in a 1930s supper club.
8:30 PM: Midnight Express
Passed by the banquet room. More reporters in there than in the pressroom. (I told you so.) Ran into John Lloyd Young's publicist, who said that Young and the Jersey Boys boys will be boarding a bus for D.C. at 2 AM following the show (!), in order to perform at the White House midday June 12. This must be how The Four Seasons made it.
8:19 PM: It Begins
McDiarmid is here. That was fast. Last year, it was a good hour before any winner sgraced the pressroom. Regarding the short Broadway run of Faith Healer in 1979, the actor said, "I suggested to the producers when we had run a few weeks they hang out a sign, 'Broadway record smashed!'"
One reporter asked about the much-publicized, pre-show cast ritual at Faith Healer. McDiarmid declined to divulge its nature. Another question revealed the actor only recently bought a tux in order to attend the show. He also helpfully pointed out that his name is pronounced "Mac-DUR-mid." "But," he added, "you can call me anything you like tonight."
8:10 PM: TV Time
This is about the only part of the evening when the press get to actually watch the Tony Awards program. Once the winners and presenters begin to file across the pressroom podium, attention is diverted from the show as questions must be asked and reportage begins. Ian McDiarmid of Faith Healer and Frances de la Tour of The History Boys have won their categories and made graceful speeches. The English always seem to.
7:52 PM: Red Carpet, Black Tie
Playbill.com photographer Aubrey Reuben showed up with a flashcard filled with about 100 photos from the Red Carpet. Everybody except Julia Roberts. Photogs were informed beforehand that the Tony presenter and Three Days of Rain star would not be strolling down the rouge gauntlet.
Aubrey came dressed in a grey suit, which brings up the question: where are all the tuxedos? For many years, no gentleman of the press was allowed to cover the Tonys unless he donned a tux. It was the only time of the year when many of the ink-stained wretches got dressed up. It wasn't pretty (reporters in formal wear never are), but it afforded the event some dignity. As I gaze over the room this year, I see navy jackets, brown three-piece suits, even tie-less ensembles. It's a sad devolution. The days of black tie at Broadway openings are long gone, but, until recently, you could count on a roomful of penguins on Tony night.
Gotta go: it's starting, and Harry Connick, Jr., is singing....
7:37 PM: Family Business
Twenty minutes until blastoff. "60 Minutes" is on the TV monitors in the press room. Reporters tap away on their blade-thin laptops, wine glasses filled with Diet Coke by their sides. David Richardson, theatre critic for WOR, jokingly bemoaned the fact that no Tony nominations came the way of In My Life, the Joe Brooks Broadway bomb Richardson famously championed. Seated next to Richardson was a lovely blonde who turned out to be his daughter! She does not work for WOR. Asked why she was there, Richardson smiled widely and said, "She's my daughter."
7 PM: Toast Points and Circuses
The press room is still sparsely populated, so I checked into the banquet room, while the checking was good. Journalists like free food as much as actors do, so you've got to grab your plate early. Cipriani does the catering, so the food is not bad. At a nearby table was Sandy Kenyon, the sonorous theatre voice of 1010 WINS here in New York. In case anyone's interested, he sounds in person the same way he does on the radio. The man's voice could carry to the cheap seats at the Met.
At the opposite end of the long hallway from the press room I found a luxuriously appointed lounge with the Sprint logo above the door and also projected in light on the carpet. Inside were three televisions, a bar laden with large bottles of Grey Goose and two men who obviously made much more money than I do. Sprint is a sponsor of the Tonys this year.
Back in the press room, several notables has arrived, including Gordon Cox, theatre reporter for Variety, Michael Musto of the Village Voice, Harry Haun of our very own Playbill, and The New York Post's Michael Riedel, who swanned around the room cracking jokes and greeting reporters like the host of a fabulous party.
6:30 PM: Arrival
My trusty Playbill.com colleagues Morgan and David and I have made it safely to the lofty, air-conditioned Tony Awards pressroom. It was a smooth passage, though more complicated than in previous years, when we simply flashed our nifty, plastic Tonys press passes and sailed into beautiful, art deco Rockefeller Center. This year we were stopped at the door by a smiling young (and I mean young) thing in a cocktail dress--an operative from PMK, which is in its second year doing press for the Tonys. She told us to cross W. 50th Street to officially check in.
Being well-raised young men, we dutifully crossed, where we were met by a blonde woman in another cocktail dress, who checked us off a long list, and then yelled "Nikki!" Nikki, who looked to be all of 18, was to be our escort. Given I was dressed in a tux, it suddenly felt like prom night. Nikki took us as far as the other side of 50th, where we were met again by the first PMK guardess. (There may be men working at PMK, but we didn't meet any.) On the elevator up to the 64th floor, we learned our new escort was actually an intern whose employment at PMK began only one week ago. We wished her well.
The spacious press room was largely empty when we entered, giving us time to hook up our laptops in peace.