A Cool Trip Down Tony Lane

Tony Awards   A Cool Trip Down Tony Lane


In West Side Story, Jerome Robbins used dance to define "cool," but why not use the Tony Awards? Here's a look back at the Tony's coolest moments, spotlighting visionaries and trend-setters, all of them famous and some downright fun: Did you know that Batman's Catwoman, Julie Newmar, won for Best Featured Actress in a Play for 1959's The Marriage-Go-Round when she was still a sex kitten? 1. The "Spirit of Juanita Hall" Award: From the beginning, the Tonys were color-blind and talent-focused. Twenty-one black actresses have won, starting with Juanita Hall for South Pacific in 1950. Hall's legacy includes Melba Moore, Diahann Carroll, Jennifer Holliday, Nell Carter, Ruth Brown and Audra Ann McDonald.

2. The "90210-10036" Award: Peter Allen sang about them in "Bi Coastal," those people who shuttle between New York and Los Angeles. A partial passenger list of the current Tony Award red-eye includes Glenn Close, Gregory Hines, Christine Baranski, Mandy Patinkin, Betty Buckley, Matthew Broderick, Joan Allen, Larry Fishburne, Mercedes Ruehl, Al Pacino, Tom Bosley, Frank Langella and Jason Robards.

3. The "Two-in-One Win" Award: Writing one acceptance speech is hard enough. These multi-talents made two trips to the podium in the same year: Dore Schary (Author and Producer, Sunrise at Campobello, 1958), Stephen Sondheim (Lyricist and Composer, Company, 1971), Jose Ferrer (Director and Actor, The Shrike, 1952) Tommy Tune (director and choreographer, The Will Rogers Follies, 1991) and--coolest of all--Geoffrey Holder, the only Best Director to also win Best Costume Designer. Holder truly was The Wiz.

4. The Coolest "What Becomes a Tony Most?" Award: A line-up of legends who won Special Tonys for mixing vaudeville, Vegas and glamour into unforgettable solo shows. If they haven't done a Blackgama ad, they should: Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin, Lena Horne, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Judy Garland, Beatrice Lillie, Jackie Mason and Marlene Dietrich. 5. The Coolest Couple Award: I now pronounce thee Mr. And Mrs. Tony Winner:
Zoe Caldwell and Robert Whitehead (both for Master Class), Phyllis Newman (Subways are for Sleeping) and Adolph Green (five Tonys), Gwen Verdon (four Tonys) and Bob Fosse (nine Tonys), Barry and Fran Weissler (three time winners for Best Revival: 1982's Othello, 1990's Gypsy, and 1991's Fiddler on the Roof). Two of theatre's royal couples have won joint Lifetime Achievement Awards: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (1970) and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (1994). Costume designer Franne Lee and set designer Eugene Lee really stick together: they've taken home two His 'n Hers Tonys for Candide (1974) and Sweeney Todd (1979).

6. The "Who says crime doesn't pay?" Award: Break the law, win a Tony. Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd, 1979), Robert Alda (Guys and Dolls, 1951), Elizabeth Seal (Irma La Douce, 1961), Brent Carver and Anthony Crivello (Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1993), Cliff Gorman (Lenny, 1972). The coolest? Ron Richardson, for breaking the law and breaking our hearts as a runaway slave in 1985's Big River.

7. The "Hey, that's a cool tie" Award: Since Ingrid Bergman tied with Helen Hayes for Best Actress at the first Tony Awards in 1947, 16 other pairs of artists in a dozen categories have been evenly matched. The unlikely twosomes include actresses Gwen Verdon and Thelma Ritter (both for New Girl in Town, 1958), set designers John Lee Beatty and David Mitchell (Talley's Folly and Barnum, 1980), costume designers Theoni V. Aldredge and Santo Loquasto (Annie and Cafe Crown, 1977). The most mismatched? Scrappy New Yorker met Austrian novice when Fiorello! tied with The Sound of Music for best musical in 1960.

8. Hal Prince's Coolest Tony Award: With 20 under his belt--a Tony record--he deserves his own category. And the Coolest Tony Award goes to Fiorello!, the only show to win Prince a Tony that's yet to be revived. (Sorry, City Center fans, I know we all love the Encores! series, but it doesn't count.)

9. The "He works hard for the Tony" Award: No pain, no gain for these scenic designers, who won one Tony for multiple shows in the same the season. Boris Aronson (The Rose Tattoo, The Country Girl, Season in the Sun, 1951), Peter Larkin (Inherit the Wind, No Time for Sergeants, 1956), Jo Mielziner (Death of a Salesman, Sleepy Hollow, Summer and Smoke, Anne of a Thousand Days, South Pacific, 1950) and Oliver Smith (My Fair Lady, Eugenia, A Visit to a Small Planet, A Clearing in the Woods, Candide, Auntie Mame, 1957).

10. The Tony's Coolest Response to an Important Social Issue: From Civil Rights to AIDS, when the theatre speaks out, the Tonys take notice. A Taste of Honey, The Great White Hope, Fences (race relations), 'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys, Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island (Apartheid), Sticks and Bones, (Vietnam), Angels in America (AIDS). The Tonys stay on top of it, too: when a long-standing law forbidding the appearance of an overtly homosexual character on a New York stage was wiped off the books in 1967, the Tonys showed their approval by naming Beryl Reid as Best Actress that same year for her portrayal of an in-your-face lesbian.

11. The Coolest "Humble Beginnings" Award: None of these artists knew they were headed for Tony history when they started, but they each had something they wanted to say. Harvey Fierstein, who premiered three one-acts way Off-Broadway at LaMama (Torch Song Trilogy, 1983), Michael Bennett, who turned a pseudo-group therapy session for dancers into musical theatre magic through talent and a tape recorder (A Chorus Line, 1976), Jonathan Larson, who didn't live long enough to see his celebration of "La Vie Boheme" become the toast of Broadway (Rent, 1996), and actress Trazana Beverley, who won the 1977 Tony for Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow is Enuf two years after her first performance of Shange's poetry at a tiny bar on the Lower East Side.

12. The "Around the World in 80 Plays" Award: From South Pacific to The Prisoner of Second Avenue, locales have inspired playwrights to search the globe for universal experiences. Some favorite destinations: Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, Lerner & Lowe's Brigadoon, Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues, Dore Schary's Sunrise at Campobello, Larry Gelbart's City of Angels, Joseph A. Walker's The River Niger and--for those who believe that happiness is found in your own back yard--Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

-- By David Drake

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