DIVA TALK: A Backwards Glance—the 1986 Tony Awards PLUS McDonald and Evita Recordings

News   DIVA TALK: A Backwards Glance—the 1986 Tony Awards PLUS McDonald and Evita Recordings
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Bernadette Peters won her first Tony Award for her performance in 1986's Song & Dance
Bernadette Peters won her first Tony Award for her performance in 1986's Song & Dance Photo by Kenn Duncan


This week I've chosen to view (and write about) the 1986 Tony Awards, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the theatre’s highest honor. The two-hour broadcast was chock-full of musical moments and concentrated more on past shows than the musicals that were nominated that season, which included Big Deal, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Song & Dance and Tango Argentino.

Following the swirling “CBS Special Presentation” logo, the TV screen provided a tight shot of Nell Carter, standing centerstage in a sparkly purple gown. The Tony winner opened her mouth and sang, “I love rock and roll. I love country, pop and soul — love the rhythms of today.” Then, the camera switched to Tony Randall, who added, “But when I’m tired of that beat, and I long for something sweet, I go back to old Broadway.” Jack Lemmon and Stefanie Powers continued singing “Wanna Sing a Showtune” as the announcer bellowed, “Live from the Minskoff Theatre in New York City, the 40th Anniversary Tony Awards.”

All of the evening’s guest stars — who joined in on “Wanna Sing a Showtune” — proceeded to walk down one of the two giant staircases that framed the stage. George Rose, one of the evening’s nominees for his performance in Drood, then introduced a list of other actors who would be part of the special anniversary telecast.

A cocktail party was the setting for the 1986 Tony Awards broadcast, and Lee Remick and former Mayor John V. Lindsay each descended from opposite sides of the stage to start the salute to the (mostly) Tony-winning musicals that had graced Broadway from 1947 through 1986. David Wayne kicked off the musical salute by offering a selection from Finian’s Rainbow, the 1947 that cast the late actor as leprechaun Og. The year-by-year musical tribute continued with performances by Lee Roy Reams and Susan Anton (“Papa, Won’t You Dance With Me” from 1948’s High Button Shoes), Tom Wopat and Karen Morrow (“So in Love” from 1949’s Kiss Me, Kate), Dorothy Loudon (“Wonderful Guy” from 1950’s South Pacific), Rex Smith (“I’ve Never Been in Love Before” from 1951’s Guys and Dolls), Cleo Laine (“Hello, Young Lovers” from 1952’s The King and I), John Rubinstein (“It’s Love” from 1953’s Wonderful Town), Stefanie Powers and Hal Linden (a duet from 1954’s Kismet), Ann Reinking, Juliet Prowse and Sandy Duncan (“Steam Heat” from 1955’s Pajama Game) and Bea Arthur (“Heart” from Damn Yankees). All of the performers joined Arthur for the rousing Damn Yankees tune, which concluded the first of several musical tributes.

Hal Linden then presented the first award of the evening — Best Score of a Musical — to Broadway newcomer Rupert Holmes for his Edwin Drood songs. Holmes made special mention of his ten-year-old daughter Wendy as well as producer Joe Papp, “who makes Drood possible, [and] who made theatre in New York exciting.” Holmes would quickly return to the stage to accept his second Tony Award — for Best Book of a Musical — from presenter Susan Anton. Holmes quipped, “God, I hope my home video tape recorder is working right now!”

The second year-by-year musical section continued with Stefanie Powers, who sang a snippet of “I Could’ve Danced All Night” from 1957’s My Fair Lady. Duncan, Prowse and Reinking returned to offer a bit of “America” from 1958’s West Side Story, and Leslie Uggams belted out “Love, Look Away” from 1959’s Flower Drum Song. Since Fiorello! and The Sound of Music tied for Best Musical in 1960, songs from both shows were offered, and then Lee Remick stated, “That was an extraordinary year in any event because we also had Gypsy.” At that moment Bernadette Peters, who was then starring in Song & Dance, took centerstage to offer an exciting portion of Gypsy’s “Some People,” perhaps the first time the future Momma Rose would sing that song before a live audience.

The Best Choreography Tony Award was presented to Bob Fosse for the all dancing Big Deal. Fosse’s brief speech made special note of three of the show’s stars, Cleavant Derricks, Alan Weeks “and the wonderful Loretta Devine.” Tony Randall presented the Best Scenic Design award to Tony Walton for his work on The House of Blue Leaves, and Leslie Uggams announced that the winner of the Best Lighting Design Tony was I’m Not Rappaport’s Pat Collins, who was working in London and therefore unable to attend the ceremony. Before Nell Carter presented the Best Costume Design Tony, the sassy actress joked, “Whoever wins must make me a dress — or don’t come up here!” Patricia Zipprodt, who won that award for her work on the Sweet Charity revival, said, “I’m so glad I won. If I had lost one more time I think I would have been eligible for ‘The Guinness Book of World Records.’”

Bea Arthur introduced the selection from the first of the year’s Tony nominated musicals, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Onstage George Rose began singing a portion of “There You Are,” and then he was joined by several members of the cast — Cleo Laine, Betty Buckley, Howard McGillin and Patti Cohenour — who made their way to the stage via the audience. “There You Are” segued into a portion of “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead,” which featured brief solos from co-stars Laine, Buckley, Cohenour and McGillin.

More awards followed: Lily Tomlin presented Robert Brustein, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre, with the Regional Theatre Tony Award, and Sandy Duncan awarded Jerry Zaks with the Best Director of a Play for his work on House of Blue Leaves. In his speech, Zaks joked, “Perhaps my mother will [now] give up the idea of medical school.” Wilford Leach then received the Best Director of a Musical Tony for Drood.

The musical salute continued with 1961’s Tony-winning musical Bye, Bye Birdie. Chita Rivera, who had been injured earlier in the season, was wheeled out on a prop cart and sang “Put on a Happy Face” while showing off the new cast on her leg, which drew a large applause from the audience. The segment also featured Tom Wopat singing Camelot’s “If Ever I Would Leave You,” also from 1961; Karen Morrow performing “I Believe in You” from 1962’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; Tony Randall, Jose Ferrer and Jack Gilford insisting “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” from 1963’s A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum; and Randall, Ferrer and Gilford saying “Hello, Dolly!” from the 1964 musical of the same name. The Dolly! tribute also featured Susan Anton, who sang a bit of the lovely ballad “It Only Takes a Moment.”

Alfonso Ribeiro, Lee Roy Reams, Ben Vereen and Hal Linden joined forces for “Tradition” from 1965’s Fiddler on the Roof, and then several tunes from 1966 were presented: John Rubinstein’s “Dulcinea” from Man of La Mancha, Stefanie Powers’ “That’s How Young I Feel” from Mame, and Dorothy Loudon’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the musical of the same name. Loudon then noted that 1966 also brought Sweet Charity, which was back on Broadway that season. The introduction preceded Debbie Allen, who performed a minute’s worth of “I’m a Brass Band.”

Lee Remick sang a portion of the title song from 1967’s Cabaret; Leslie Uggams, who won a Tony Award for her performance in Hallelujah, Baby!, reprised a moment from that 1968 musical; and Nell Carter belted out the anthem from 1969’s Hair, “Aquarius.”

After a commercial break, Susan Anton introduced the second nominated musical of the evening, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song & Dance. Video clips were shown of the Dance portion, and then the camera focused on Bernadette Peters, sitting alone onstage dressed in jeans and a Nebraska sweatshirt. Peters delivered a beautiful version of “Unexpected Song” that built to a belty ending and the song’s ethereal final note. Enthusiastic applause followed.

The Featured Actress and Actor in a Musical Awards were then presented. Bebe Neuwirth, who was co-starring in the Sweet Charity revival, was presented her award by Ben Vereen. In her speech Neuwirth admitted, “It’s hard not to do work that you’re very proud of when you’re around Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon . . . . It’s the most fun I’ve had maybe all my life.” Her Charity co-star, Michael Rupert, picked up the Featured Actor in a Musical Tony, which was presented to him by Ann Reinking. A thrilled Rupert exclaimed, “Are you sure?! . . . This is great!!”

William Hurt and Isabelle Stevenson spoke about the American Theatre Wing on a pretaped segment, and then Tom Wopat introduced the third nominated musical Big Deal. The cast offered the show’s spirited first-act finale, “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar.”

Sweet Charity may have nabbed the Best Featured Actor/Actress in a Musical awards, but it was The House of Blue Leaves that took both Featured Actor/Actress in a Play prizes. Sam Waterston presented Swoosie Kurtz with the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Bananas in Blue Leaves, and Stefanie Powers presented John Mahoney with his Tony. In her speech Kurtz remarked about the miracles in her life, including Blue Leaves playwright John Guare, director Jerry Zaks, her castmates and Bernie Gersten and Greg Mosher “for being so unproducerlike.” The actress also thanked the theatre “for teaching me all about madness and Bananas, who will live in my heart forever.”

A nearly 15-minute segment devoted to 40 years of Tony Award-winning plays followed, perhaps the greatest tribute the Tony broadcast has ever dedicated to non musicals. The set-up was simple: A Playbill cover featuring the year’s Tony-winning Best Play was shown on screen, followed by an actor dressed in black reciting a few lines from that show. Jose Ferrer began the Best Play tribute with a section from 1947’s Cyrano de Bergerac. The complete list of plays and actors follows:

1948: Mister Roberts, David Wayne
1949: Death of a Salesman, Bea Arthur
1950: The Cocktail Party, Stefanie Powers
1951: Rose Tattoo, Maureen Stapleton
1952: The Fourposter, Jessica Tandy
1953: The Crucible, Lee Remick
1954: The Teahouse of the August Moon, David Wayne
1955: The Desperate Hours, Hal Linden
1956: The Diary of Anne Frank, Sandy Duncan
1957: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Jack Lemmon
1958: Sunrise at Campobello, Tony Randall
1959: JB, Hume Cronyn
1960: The Miracle Worker, Colleen Dewhurst
1961: Becket, Richard Kiley and Tony Randall
1962: A Man for All Seasons, Hume Cronyn
1963: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Marlo Thomas
1964: Luther, Sam Waterston
1965: The Subject Was Roses, Leslie Uggams
1966: Marat/Sade, Rene Auberjonois
1967: The Homecoming, Stacy Keach
1968: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, John Rubinstein
1969: The Great White Hope, Ben Vereen
1970: Borstal Boy, Jack Lemmon
1971: Sleuth, Gene Barry
1972: Sticks and Bones, Rex Smith
1973: That Championship Season, Charles Durning
1974: The River Niger, Cleavon Little
1975: Equus, Anthony Perkins
1976: Travesties, Frank Langella
1977: The Shadow Box, Lee Roy Reams
1978: Da, Jack Gilford
1979: The Elephant Man, Philip Anglim
1980: Children of a Lesser God, John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich 1981: Amadeus, David Birney
1982: Nicholas Nickleby, Susan Anton, Sandy Duncan, Dorothy Loudon and Tom Wopat
1983: Torch Song Trilogy, Ron Silver
1984: The Real Thing, Ann Reinking
1985: Biloxi Blues, Matthew Broderick

A standing ovation followed the Best Play tribute, and then Bea Arthur presented the 1986 Tony Award for Best Play to playwright Herb Gardner for I’m Not Rappaport. Gardner, to the delight of the audience, said, “This is ample evidence that there is life after [New York Times critic] Frank Rich.” Dorothy Loudon presented the Best Revival of a Play or Musical to producer Jerome Minskoff for Sweet Charity. Minskoff said he was especially proud to receive the award on the stage of the Minskoff Theatre and made special mention of Joe Harris, Gwen Verdon and “the genius of Bob Fosse.”

Another musical tribute followed: the evening’s performers sang the title number from 1970’s Applause; Ann Reinking, Juliet Prowse and Sandy Duncan offered “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from 1971’s Company; and the segment concluded with selections from 1972’s Two Gentlemen of Verona and Follies. The latter featured Nell Carter, Dorothy Loudon, Leslie Uggams and Karen Morrow all lamenting the life of a “Broadway Baby.”

The Best Actor and Best Actress in a Play Tony Awards were presented to, respectively, Judd Hirsch (for I’m Not Rappaport) and Lily Tomlin (for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe). Hirsch brought co-star Cleavon Little onto the stage during his somewhat overlong speech, and Tomlin managed to thank just about everyone who worked on her show — from the head usher to playwright Jane Wagner.

The final musical segment featured Tony-winning musicals from 1973-1985, including songs from A Little Night Music, Pippin and Gigi as well as Alfonso Ribeiro’s “Ease on Down the Road” from 1975’s “The Wiz,” Rex Smith’s “Who Am I Anyway?” from 1976’s A Chorus Line, Dorothy Loudon’s “Easy Street” from 1977’s Annie, Nell Carter’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” from the 1978 musical of the same name, Bea Arthur’s “Not While I’m Around” from 1979’s Sweeney Todd, Karen Morrow’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from 1980’s Evita, Lee Roy Reams’ “We’re in the Money” from 1981’s 42nd Street, Duncan, Prowse and Reinking’s “Folies Bergeres” from 1982’s Nine, Nell Carter’s “Memory” from 1983’s Cats, and the entire company singing La Cage aux Folles’s “The Best of Times” (1984) and Big River’s “Muddy Water” (1985), which flowed back into the evening’s opener “Wanna Sing a Showtune.”

Karen Morrow introduced a brief video clip of Tango Argentino, the final nominated musical, and Lee Remick presented the Best Actor in a Musical prize to The Mystery of Edwin Drood’s George Rose, who said, “Sometimes a show comes along that makes you really glad you became an actor.”

John Rubinstein then took the stage to announce the winner of the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. This year marked Bernadette Peters’ first win in that category for her remarkable performance in Song & Dance, which cast her as Emma, a British hat designer newly arrived in New York. A visibly thrilled Peters made this acceptance speech: “Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m overwhelmed. I appreciate this so much. I want to thank my mother for insisting I had talent and continuing with my lessons. I want to thank my father and my sister and my brother for their loving support. And I have to thank a person for whom I wouldn’t be standing here today getting this, my manager and dear friend Tom Hammond. And I have more! I want to thank my acting teacher David LeGrand and my singing teacher Adrienne Angel because I couldn’t have sung eight shows a week and I can’t sing eight shows a week without her. The dancers — the dancers in the show are so talented and so committed and so uplifting. They uplift the show and they uplift me every night. I want to thank my standby, Maureen Moore. And Richard Maltby — this show wouldn’t have happened on this side of the Atlantic without Richard Maltby, our director, and Don Black, who I adore, rewrote the lyrics with Richard, and Andrew Lloyd Webber for his gorgeous music. And Bernie Jacobs and Gerry Schoenfeld — my second great experience with them. And Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Company and the FWM Producing Group. And, that’s it. I’m out of cards. [Laughs.] I want to thank the audience because they’re so warm, and thank you for coming, the audience, to the show. And thank you for this very, very much. The final award of the evening, Best Musical of the Year, was awarded to The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Joseph Papp, producer of the musical, accepted the prize and remarked, “I’m very proud tonight. I’m proud for all of us here: my colleagues in the theatre — those who have won prizes and those that did not. It’s a great thing to be in the American theatre. I’m particularly pleased that the Broadway community has seen fit to choose a newcomer in our midst — an extraordinary, talented composer and writer, who I think will be on the boards once again next season. I’m talking about Rupert Holmes. Thank you all for a good night.”

Credits rolled as the entire company sang “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

Four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will release her latest solo recording Sept. 26. Entitled “Build a Bridge,” McDonald’s first solo effort since 2002 will be available on the Nonesuch label. The 13-track recording will feature songs by Tony-winning Light in the Piazza composer Adam Guettel as well as Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Neil Young, John Mayer, Rufus Wainwright and Nellie McKay. McDonald is scheduled to perform songs from “Build a Bridge” during a fall concert tour; venues and dates will be announced shortly. About her forthcoming recording, McDonald said in a statement, “I just choose material that moves me. My hope with this album is that people who are familiar with the artists will enjoy a different take on them. . . . It’s still me. I’m not singing these songs with a different voice or style. As always, I chose songs that I enjoy mining for their emotional gold.” Doug Petty wrote the arrangements for the CD, which includes such tunes as “Dividing Day” and “Build a Bridge,” both by Guettel, as well as “My Heart,” “Cradle and All,” “My Stupid Mouth,” “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” “I Wanna Get Married,” “Wonderful You,” “God Give Me Strength,” “Bein’ Green,” “To a Child,” “Tom Cat Goodbye” and “Damned Ladies.”

The cast recording of the West End revival of Evita — starring Argentine actress Elena Roger in the title role — has been delayed. Originally scheduled for release on the Polydor label June 19, the single CD will now arrive in U.K. stores Aug. 14. The recording of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical will feature 19 tracks, including "You Must Love Me," which was penned for the motion picture of Evita, which starred Madonna as the famed wife of the Argentine dictator.

Marni Nixon, who will play Mother Abbess in the Hollywood Bowl's upcoming presentation of The Sound of Music, has penned her memoirs. Entitled "I Could Have Sung All Night," the tome — co-written by Nixon and Stephen Cole — will be released by Billboard Books in September. The hardcover autobiography, which features a foreword by Marilyn Horne, will retail for $24.95. Nixon is perhaps best known for dubbing the vocal performances of such film stars as Audrey Hepburn (in "My Fair Lady"), Deborah Kerr (in "The King and I") and Natalie Wood (in "West Side Story"). In "I Could Have Sung All Night," the singer actress recalls her numerous Hollywood and Broadway experiences, including working with Julie Andrews, Leonard Bernstein, Liberace, Cary Grant, Otto Preminger and Victor Borge.

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

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