The Tony Awards are coming! I thought I’d spend this column telling some fun stories about this year’s nominees. This is not a complete list at all! I just googled the list of nominees and if I saw a name that sparked a hilarious memory, I wrote it down. Here we go!
Brooks Ashmanskas is up for a Best Actor in a Musical for The Prom. Back in 2007, we both did The Ritz, starring Kevin Chamberlin and Rosie Perez. It was only a three-month limited run, but so many fun things happened during that show. First of all, I was his understudy and he’d constantly come up to me at half-hour and put on the most horrific, raspy voice and say, “I feel fine…” Second of all, there was a chase scene in Act 2 that, thankfully, we were not in. But we still had to sit right behind the set. Rosie Perez would run by us, frantic to get to her next entrance during the chase, and as she would pass, he would yell (as an acting note), “I don’t believe you!”! On other nights, Rosie would pass us, exhausted because she was forced to run in incredibly high heels, and Brooks would yell towards her “Good news! We’re extending!”
Alex Brightman is nominated for the title role in Beetlejuice. He was also nominated a few years ago for playing the lead in School of Rock (coincidentally at the same theatre!). Before School of Rock, he played Boq in Wicked, and had a bizarre onstage mishap. One day, for some reason, he thought he had finished all of his scenes in Act 1. Suddenly, he heard his cue coming and fled to the stage directly from his dressing room. As he was running to the stage, he was able to quickly throw on his Boq jacket. However, he didn’t have time to put on his other article of Boq clothing… his pants. Well, he did the whole scene, literally pantless, and it was then the most serious moment he has as the character: Glinda calls him the wrong name, he corrects her through tears and then flees. Sadly, his blocking wasn’t just to turn around and quickly flee into the wing. He had to exit on the opposite of the stage. Yes, he had to run across the entire stage, with the rest of the cast standing there and watching him run…. wearing a tiny, tiny Boq jacket on top and on the bottom: boxer shorts. Cut to: He’s now on his second Tony nomination.
Derrick Baskin is nominated as Best Actor in a Musical for Ain’t Too Proud and yet he moved to New York to be a jingle singer (which didn’t work out because it’s no longer the 1970s) and…a hand model. Sadly the hand model thing didn’t happen, so he has to settle for starring on Broadway in a hit musical. Oh, well… we all have dreams that don’t come true.
Julie White is nominated as Best Featured Actress in a Play for Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus. She told me that when she met her husband at a bar-b-q years ago, she knew she was older than he was. He was flirty with her and at one point asked her, ‘What are you? Like 30?” And she told me, “So, I said yes. Because I was 35… and that is ‘like 30.’” Brava!!!
Back in the early ’90s, I was the music director for the Candlewood Theater production of A Chorus Line. On the way to the theatre with my drummer, Kerry Meads, we had a slight car accident. It didn’t hurt us, but the car was out of commission. Kerry had to stay with it for a while, but I had to do the show so I got on a train and made it to the theatre for curtain. Well, we knew Kerry was going to miss most of the show and I knew the show would clank without drums. There’s so much drumming sass in the opening number as well as tunes like “Hello, 12, Hello 13…” and “Music And The Mirror.”
Well, I was in my early 20s at the time and we had an even younger teenage assistant sound person…and he told me he played the drums. He wound up sight reading the drum book fantastically…and this year, he’s up for two Tony Awards! Yes, Peter Hylenski is nominate for sound design for both King Kong and Beetlejuice and he saved a production of A Chorus Line in Danbury, Connecticut, back in 1991!
Eva Noblezada was nominated as Best Actress in a Musical for Hadestown, and James and I first saw her amazing performance in Miss Saigon when she was starring (as a teenager!) in the West End production. After the show, I was complimenting her amazing belting and she told me sometimes she feels bad for the little kid playing Tam and will literally cover his ears with her hands so she doesn’t blast his eardrums. When I saw her perform a year later on the Tony Awards, I saw she had the same courtesy for the hearing of the kid who played Tam on Broadway! Watch!
The fantastic Robin De Jesús is up for a Tony Award for his wonderful performance in The Boys In The Band (which is also being filmed!) I remember him telling me about the time he turned down the audition for the role of Jacob, the butler/maid in La Cage. He felt there was nothing new he could bring to it. Then one day he looked at the script again, and he suddenly thought that maybe the Jacob character wasn't French. He noticed the weird florid language and the sometimes bizarre grammar, and he wondered if he could make Jacob a Latino from New York. As for on whom, specifically, he would base the character, he remembered back to one of his friends who had once commented about a patch of eczema Robin got on his hands. The friend looked at it and said slowly, and with great concern, "Girl… you have syphilis." Robin said to me, "You know those people that are completely over-the-top and bizarre… but they actually exist?" He went in to the audition and based Jacob on those people and got the role! I referred to that story when I texted him on Tony nomination day… It’s been so many years since I heard the exact sentence that I mixed up the sexually transmitted disease…but it’s still along the same theme:
One of my favorite Tony award stories is not from one of this year’s nominees, but from Joanna Gleason, who I just interviewed on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show. Joanna has her fabulous show coming back to Feinstein’s/54 Below on July 2, 5 and 6. When she was a girl, she saw Joel Grey on TV win the Tony Award for Cabaret and she started crying. She was basically overcome with emotion and told her mom she wanted to be doing that… running onstage and winning a Tony Award. Years later, she was nominated for Into The Woods and saw Joel Grey at a luncheon and got to tell him the story. Then, on the night of the Tony Awards, she won and was handed her Tony Award…by Joel Grey!!! Afterwards, she got to take home the piece of paper with her name on it as the winner, and when she looked at it later that night, she saw that Joel Grey had handwritten: “Full circle.” Isn’t that amazing!?!?!
Happy Tony Awards weekend!