DIVA TALK: A Backwards Glance—the 1984 Tonys PLUS Ripley, Menzel and Jones

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: A Backwards Glance—the 1984 Tonys PLUS Ripley, Menzel and Jones
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli sing
Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli sing "Wallflower" in 1984's The Rink


It must have been 1980 when my father brought home our first VCR. I clearly remember taping Patti LuPone belting out "A New Argentina" on the 1980 Tony Awards, and I also recall my mom accidentally taping over it. I've since gotten another copy of that great performance, but the '80 awards ceremony started over 25 years of recording various diva appearances and theatre-related broadcasts. I'm currently attempting to put my tapes (and now DVDs) in some sort of order; as I do, I thought I'd occasionally offer a column about some of the tapes in my collection.

This week I've chosen to view (and write about) the 1984 Tony Awards, since the 1983-84 season featured two shows that were back on Broadway this past year, the recently closed La Cage aux Folles and David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. While watching the two-hour Tony broadcast, it was striking to see how many performers are still thriving on Broadway (Chita Rivera, Harvey Fierstein, Bernadette Peters, Leslie Uggams) as well as how many are sadly no longer with us (Joe Papp, Michael Bennett, Larry Kert, Anita Morris, Dorothy Loudon, Gwen Verdon, Robert Preston).

Just to set the scene for the '84 awards, the telecast preempted CBS' Sunday-night line-up, which included "Alice" and "Trapper John, MD."

The 1984 Tony Awards, broadcast live from the Gershwin Theatre, began with this voiceover: "Four Broadway musicals have been nominated for the 1984 Tony Awards. Tonight you will see them all. The first is The Tap Dance Kid." The camera then focused on Hinton Battle, who led the chorus of Tap Dance Kid in an energetic tap routine. Alan Weeks and a pint-sized Alfonso Ribeiro eventually joined Battle for the scene's rousing finale, which was followed by a burst of applause. Marquees of those shows currently running on Broadway were then pictured, including A Chorus Line, A Moon for the Misbegotten, Baby, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Cats, Death of a Salesman, Dreamgirls, End of the World, Glengarry Glen Ross, Noises Off, Oh Calcutta, The Real Thing, The Rink, The Tap Dance Kid, The Wiz, Torch Song Trilogy and Zorba, among others.

The hosts for the '84 Tony telecast were Tony winner Robert Preston and Julie Andrews, who walked on separately to strains of, respectively, "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." The two spoke about musical theatre and explained that despite its collaborative nature, what people really remember is the songs. The evening, Preston and Andrews said, would honor four artists who have created many of those memorable songs: John Kander and Fred Ebb, Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman.

Mary Tyler Moore presented the first Brooks Atkinson Award (was there a second?) to Al Hirschfeld for 60 years of drawing for the theatre. In fact, the backdrop for the evening featured Hirschfeld drawings of all of the evening's participants. And, in his acceptance speech, the late artist thanked "all you wonderful actors who have been my models without pay . . . and the producers for all the free opening-night tickets."

The first of the musical tributes — several pieces of songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb — followed Hirschfeld's speech. I was also surprised how much music was crammed into the two-hour broadcast. The Kander and Ebb tribute began with the chorus members of The Rink (including a young, skating Jason Alexander) singing a snippet of the musical's title tune. Preston remarked that Kander and Ebb's musicals seem to assert that life is meant to be lived and not observed. The first part of the Kander/Ebb tribute included Nancy Dussault singing "A Quiet Thing" and Liza Minnelli belting out a portion of "Cabaret."

Julie Andrews then announced the winner of the Best Costume Design Tony Award. Theoni Aldredge, who won for her La Cage aux Folles designs, was unable to attend the ceremony.

The Kander and Ebb tribute continued with Robert Goulet singing "The Happy Time." Goulet missed his music entrance and asked, "Have we started?" He waved his hands in annoyance and then got back on track to deliver a full-voiced version of that little-heard song. Dussault returned for a bit of "I Don't Remember You," and Chita Rivera sang "Life Is" from one of the season's revivals, Zorba. Anthony Quinn, who starred in that revival, then demonstrated his inability to sing.

Goulet presented the Scenic Design Award to Tony Straiges for Sunday in the Park with George. Straiges delivered what may be one of the shortest Tony acceptance speeches in history, simply saying, "Thank you very much. Bye-bye."

More Kander and Ebb tunes were offered, beginning with "Yes" from 70, Girls, 70. Liza Minnelli, who sang "Yes," was a bit late for her cue hopping onto the stage laughing while attempting to put on her second shoe. She continued to laugh throughout the song, which after a commercial, was followed by Chita Rivera's "All That Jazz." Rivera then segued into "Nowadays," and Gwen Verdon, who appeared to a thunderous applause, joined her Chicago co-star for that Kander and Ebb tune. Robert Guillaume introduced Raquel Welch, who sang "City Lights" from The Act. Welch's singing appeared to be one of two of the evening that was lyp-synched to previously recorded vocals.

Beth Howland, who couldn't be seen that evening in "Alice," then presented the Lighting Design Tony to Richard Nelson for Sunday in the Park with George. That award preceded the final portion of the Kander and Ebb salute, which included Raquel Welch and Marilyn Cooper's humorous "The Grass Is Always Greener" and Minnelli and Rivera's "Wallflower" from that season's The Rink.

Larry Kert then presented the Best Score Award to Jerry Herman for La Cage aux Folles. One of the evening's tightest races, the other nominees in that category included Stephen Sondheim (for Sunday in the Park with George), Kander and Ebb (for The Rink) and Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire (for Baby). Herman created a bit of controversy when he accepted his award by saying, "This award forever shatters a myth about the musical theatre. There's a been a rumor around for a couple of years that the simple, hummable show tune was no longer welcome on Broadway. Well, it's alive and well at the Palace."

Kert then presented the Best Book of a Musical Award to Harvey Fierstein, also for La Cage. A slim Fierstein thanked all the show's creators as well as "my lover Scott, who typed everything late at night."

Robert Guillaume remarked that theatre isn't only about musicals and proceeded to award The Real Thing's Christine Baranski with the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Baranski said the Tony is "a souvenir of a remarkably blessed, fertile period in my life." Nancy Dussault returned to the stage to present Joe Mantegna with the Best Featured Actor in a Play Tony Award for his work in Glengarry Glen Ross. The actor acknowledged the men of Glengarry as well as three women in his life: his wife, his mother and his dear friend "who has given us a place to stay while we're in New York."

One of the most exciting production numbers of the evening followed, Liz Callaway, Beth Fowler and Catherine Cox belting out Baby's "I Want it All." I still remember the thrill of watching that scene and then playing it repeatedly. Thankfully, I had the chance to see the musical on its final day on Broadway.

Isabelle Stevenson led the annual segment about the American Theatre Wing, and Robert Preston presented a visibly shocked Glenn Close with the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award for her performance in The Real Thing, which she said "[is] the greatest thing in my career so far." Her co-star, Jeremy Irons, received the Best Actor in a Play Tony Award, which was presented by Michele Lee. Irons echoed Close's statement, saying, "[The Real Thing has been] the happiest eight months of my life professionally."

Mike Nichols, who just received a 2005 Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical for Monty Python's Spamalot, picked up another Best Director Tony in 1984 for Best Director of a Play. Anthony Quinn presented Nichols with his Tony for directing The Real Thing. Nichols quipped, "In the tradition of Tony acceptances, I'd like to thank the Lord and Sam Cohn. This may be heresy, but Sam Cohn has appeared to me. He is my friend and my agent, and I thank him." He ended his speech by thanking his then-wife Annabelle, "who stuck with me through thin. Max and Jenny, go to bed."

The Stephen Sondheim tribute began with a piece of "Another Hundred People," which featured solos by Nancy Dussault, Tony Roberts, Anita Morris and Robert Guillaume. Tony Randall spoke a bit about Sondheim shows, which was followed by performances of "Something's Coming" (Larry Kert), "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" (apparently lyp-synched by Anita Morris), "Comedy Tonight" (Robert Preston), "A Parade in Town" (Nancy Dussault), "Getting Married Today" (Beth Howland) and "Being Alive" (Larry Kert and company; look closely at the singing and dancing chorus and you'll spot a young Jerry Mitchell, who just garnered his first Tony Award last month).

Tony Randall followed the first portion of the Sondheim salute with the presentation of the Best Reproduction of a Play or Musical Tony Award to Death of a Salesman. Neither producer Robert Whitehead nor Roger L. Stevens was in attendance; Randall said Whitehead was in Australia, while Stevens was in Washington, D.C.

Dorothy Loudon continued the Sondheim portion with a belty "Broadway Baby" filled with several of her trademark ad-libs. Gwen Verdon then presented the Best Choreographer Tony Award to Danny Daniels for The Tap Dance Kid. That category, it should be noted, also included a young Wayne Cilento (for Baby), Graciela Daniele (for The Rink) and Scott Salmon (for La Cage aux Folles).

Sondheim, part three, featured Julie Andrews' "Send in the Clowns," Tony Roberts' "Not While I'm Around" and Robert Guillaume's "Not a Day Goes By." And, the Sondheim tribute concluded with a scene from that season's Sunday in the Park with George. Mandy Patinkin led the cast — which included the Tony-nominated Bernadette Peters — in the show's brilliant first-act finale, Sunday. As the curtain came down, the camera panned to Stephen Sondheim, who was enthusiastically clapping after the thrilling number.

Upon receiving the Best Direction of a Musical Tony Award for his work on La Cage aux Folles, Arthur Laurents admitted, "[La Cage has been] the most joyous and affectionate experience I've ever had in the theatre." Dustin Hoffman, who was apparently overlooked by the Tony nominating committee for his Death of a Salesman performance, walked onstage to the evening's first standing ovation. He then proceeded to present the Best Play Award to Tom Stoppard for The Real Thing.

The ceremony's final musical tribute — to composer Jerry Herman — was introduced by co-host Robert Preston, who spoke about the optimism in Herman's work. This segment included the title song from Milk and Honey as well as "Shalom" (Robert Goulet), "Before the Parade Passes By" (Carol Channing), "It Only Takes a Moment" (Nancy Dussault), "Hello, Dolly!" (chorus plus Channing), "If He Walked Into My Life" (Leslie Uggams) and "Mame" (Dorothy Loudon standing atop a white car as the male performers sang the Herman tune).

Tony Roberts presented Lila Kedrova a Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony for her performance in Zorba. The good-natured Kedrova drew a few laughs as her speech went on and on and on. Hinton Battle's acceptance speech — for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in The Tap Dance Kind — was a bit shorter. He ended by saying, "This is for my mom."

The Herman tribute continued with "I Don't Want to Know" (Leslie Uggams) and two tunes from Mack & Mabel: Robert Preston's "I Won't Send Roses" and Bernadette Peters' torchy "Time Heals Everything." Peters looked and sounded terrific; she would again sing that tune on the Tonys a few years later in a memorial tribute to her late co-star Preston.

The La Cage aux Folles segment included a bit of Gene Barry's welcome to La Cage and the Cagelles singing "We Are What We Are." George Hearn, dressed in a tuxedo, followed with a stirring "I Am What I Am," which was greeted with tumultuous applause.

The second standing ovation of the night followed Robert Preston's announcement that Chita Rivera won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her Rink co-star, Liza Minnelli, who was also nominated, seemed genuinely excited for Rivera; unfortunately, Rivera forgot to thank Minnelli in her speech. She did, however, joke, "I am very happy that I bought the bottom of the dress this year" and ended by emotionally saying, "This is actually dedicated to my [late] mother, who never saw it. Ma, you can relax now." In accepting his Best Actor in a Musical Tony for his performance as a drag star in La Cage aux Folles, George Hearn quipped, "What some people won't do [for a Tony] . . . you call it a Tony, but her real name is Antoinette . . . [thanks to] Theoni Aldredge, who proved once again that the clothes make the man."

Shirley MacLaine didn't seem to understand the immodesty of her statement (and the audience's subsequent chuckles) when she came onstage and said, "It’s such a pleasure for me tonight to present someone else with an award. I mean that." MacLaine was asked to present a special Tony to commemorate the recent, record-breaking performance of A Chorus Line. MacLaine explained, "This is an award that relates to the thing closest to my heart, and that is the celebration of the Broadway gypsy. When I first saw A Chorus Line, it must have been in May 1975. I was sitting in the theatre, and before the curtain went up I began to cry. On the glittering night of September 29, 1983, theatrical history was made. Fifteen-hundred extraordinarily lucky people were privileged to be sitting in the Shubert Theatre when A Chorus Line broke the record and celebrated becoming the longest-running Broadway show of all time. That performance was a performance like no other since or before. Three hundred-and-thirty-two actors, actresses, gypsies, singers, dancers from all over the world, who had appeared in their own countries' productions of this legendary musical, flew into New York and dazzled us with their specially staged numbers arranged just for the celebration. And when it was all over, there wasn’t a dry eye in that house either. To crown that celebration, here is the first actual 14 karat gold Tony. To accept is producer Joseph Papp."

Papp delivered a somewhat lengthy acceptance speech. Said the late Public Theater founder: "You know what happens to people when they get past 40. Two things. One is they sort of lose their memory, and the second is [long pause] . . . I’m going to read these remarks because I don’t want to exclude anybody. I think of this Tony as a golden pie, baked by many people and institutions and therefore to be equitably divided and shared. The first big slice must certainly go to the audience, who bought and are still buying the tickets, which permitted us to break the record for the longest-running show in Broadway history. Thank you, dear audience. Almost half of this pie must go to Michael Bennett for conceiving the show but especially for his miraculous staging of 332 worldwide Chorus Line performers at the Shubert Theatre last September. We celebrated the record-shattering 3,389th performance of this unstoppable musical, an event of amazement and theatrical wizardry whose logistics alone would have staggered the commander of a division of soldiers. But the prowess of Michael’s army was not especially in arms, but more in legs, in voices, in acting, in love, all coming together through the consummate skills of a highly trained and disciplined core capable of responding swiftly and magnificently to Michael Bennett’s inspired leadership, so a big slice for those on the line. A goodly portion indeed must be reserved for the irrepressible composer Marvin Hamlisch, whose heavenly music carried A Chorus Line to fame and fortune, and there’s a lot of Tony pie for the men whose sparkling prose, whose inspiration and witty poetry made millions of people laugh and cry — Ed Kleban, James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, the writers of A Chorus Line. And, finally, with the emotion provoked by the words and music came the motion, the dancing, under the urgent and demanding direction of co-choreographer Bob Avian, a juicy slice to you Robert. And more of the same to stage designer Robin Wagner for those stunning mirrors, which reflected the dancers in the striking costumes of Theoni V. Aldredge, all made beautifully visible by the genius of the lamp, lights, Tharon Musser. This is a great time, a great show and a great captain. Thank you very much.

A Chorus Line's Michael Bennett then took to the stage and presented the evening's final Tony Award to La Cage aux Folles for Best Musical. The evening concluded with all of the evening's performers singing Jerry Herman's other La Cage anthem, "The Best of Times."


Veteran singing actress Shirley Jones, most recently on Broadway in 42nd Street, will be part of the Reagle Players' 37th summer season. The film and TV icon will star in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, which will be presented at the Waltham, MA theatre July 14-23. Jones, who played Julie Jordan in the film of Carousel, will play the maternal Nettie Fowler in the Reagle Players production and will get the chance to sing two R&H classics, "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." The upcoming production celebrates the musical's 60th anniversary and will feature direction by Robert Eagle and choreography by Gemze De Lappe. The cast will also include Broadway's Sarah Pfisterer as Julie Jordan and Nat Chandler as Billy Bigelow. The Robinson Theatre is located at 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, MA. Tickets, priced $20-$42, are available by calling (781) 891-5600. Visit www.reagleplayers.com for more information.

Following acclaimed benefit concerts of Dreamgirls, Funny Girl, Chess and Hair, the Actors' Fund of America will present an all-star concert of Cy Coleman-Betty Comden-Adolph Green's On the Twentieth Century Sept. 26. The one-night-only event will be held at Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre, home to The Lion King. The 7:30 PM concert will feature a star-studded company to be announced at a later date. Seth Rudetsky, who conceived the idea for the Actors' Fund's annual concerts, will return as artistic producer and musical director. Tickets for the concert are priced $75-$2,500 and are available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133 or by e-mailing ccooke@actorsfund.org. For more information visit www.actorsfund.org.

Speaking of On the Twentieth Century, Side Show's Alice Ripley will star as Lily Garland in a concert version of that musical Sept. 23-25 at Emerson College's Cutler Majestic Theatre. Presented by Overture Productions, the concerts will feature a full on-stage orchestra. Tickets, priced $20-$60, are available by calling (800) 233-3123. Emerson College is located in Boston, MA at 219 Tremont Street.

The Empire Plush Room — located within San Francisco's York Hotel — will reopen in September with a brand-new act from Tony Award winner Linda Lavin. Lavin will kick off the season at the cabaret room, which is now under the management of Rrazz Productions, Inc. The actress, who scored a Tony Award for her work in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, has titled her program The Song Remembers When and will be accompanied on piano by jazz artist Billy Stritch. Lavin plays Sept. 6-18. Tony, Grammy, Emmy and Academy Award winner Rita Moreno will follow, playing Sept. 20-Oct. 9. Entitled Between Love and Fascination, Moreno's act will highlight her decades-long show-business career. Debby Boone, who recently made her New York City cabaret debut with Reflections of Rosemary, will bring that Rosemary Clooney tribute to the Plush Room Oct. 25-30. Hairspray's Bruce Vilanch will then offer Almost Famous Nov. 8-20. Vilanch's show examines his encounters "with the glamorous, ego-driven, pansexual denizens of Tinsel Town." The fall season at the Plush Room concludes with former Supremes star Mary Wilson. Wilson, who recently completed a tour of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies, will perform Up Close & Personal Nov. 29-Dec. 11. Subscription tickets for the Empire Plush Room season are now on sale by calling (415) 885-2800. General tickets will be available beginning Aug. 1; for more information visit www.plushroom.com.

The official "Rent" blog, which includes postings by the film's stars and members of the creative team, is an interesting read. In his June 27 blog, director Chris Columbus speaks about each of the actors. He writes, "Anthony Rapp lives and breathes the whole spirit of 'Rent.' For me, Anthony is the heart and soul of this group. His focus and intensity are amazing. Adam Pascal is the only person who ever could have played Roger. He brings an honest rock and roll sensibility to the role. His voice is powerful and awesome. He's a terrific actor. Idina Menzel is incredibly funny, incredibly charismatic, and has one of the strongest voices I've ever heard in my life. She sparkles onscreen. She's totally unique, and very real. Wilson Heredia...well...no one looks better in a dress, male or female. And he is absolutely heartbreaking in his performance as Angel. Every nuance and moment of reality that Wilson brought to the stage, he brings to this performance. Jesse L. Martin. Every time Jesse sings, I'm overcome with emotion. His vocals are rich and filled with intensity. Yet there are two sides to his personality. When he sings 'Santa Fe,' you get caught up in the charm of his performance. But in the 'I'll Cover You' reprise, Jesse can actually make you feel the depths of his pain. Tracie Thoms, one of our new cast members, is truly one of the brightest new, young performers I've seen in a long time. I think Tracie truly has it all. A gifted comedic actress, she's also an extremely realistic and sensitive dramatic actress with a voice that will make Aretha Franklin jealous. Rosario Dawson, obviously one of our new cast members, has done a phenomenal job in her portrayal of Mimi. Her vocals on 'Out Tonight' are stunning. And she has brought the character of Mimi to life. Her performance is astounding." Filming is now complete for the eagerly awaited movie musical; visit www.sonypictures.com/movies/rent/blog for more.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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