Titanic, a musical epic about the sinking of the luxury ocean liner, survived problematic reviews to win the 1997 Tony Award as Best Musical June 1, sweeping all five categories in which it was nominated, including Best Score for Maury Yeston and Best Book for Peter Stone.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo, the story of tensions between ethnic German Jews and ethnic Russian Jews in 1930s Atlanta, won Best Play for Alfred Uhry, who adds it to his Pulitzer Prize and Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy.
Walter Bobbie's stylish revival of Chicago won the most Tonys for a single show -- six, including Best Musical Revival, Best Actor and Best Actress in a Musical for James Naughton and Bebe Neuwirth, respectively.
Several major musicals and plays were completely shut out of the Tonys, including Steel Pier, Jekyll & Hyde, Dream, Play On! and the 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner The Young Man From Atlanta Chicago jazzed up the first hour of the Tonys, taking three quick Tonys for best choreography, lighting and director of a musical. Chicago scored further victories for best actor and actress for James Naughton and Bebe Neuwirth, respectively. As expected, Christopher Plummer won his second Tony, for Barrymore (the show's only nomination), Janet McTeer and Owen Teale took acting honors for the Doll's House revival, which also earned best revival and best revival director.
One of the biggest surprises of the night was the appearance of presenter Mandy Patinkin, who arrived in dark glasses and explained that "11 days ago, I received a cornea transplant." Likely to wear dark sunglasses on Monday morning will be the producers of Jekyll & Hyde, The Gin Game and Steel Pier, which all got goose-egged.
On May 5, at Sardi's Restaurant in the New York theatre district, Rosie O'Donnell, Raquel Welch and Alec Baldwin announced the nominees for the 1996-1997 Tony Awards. The Life led the field with 12 nominations; Steel Pier followed with 11. The American Theatre Wing and League Of American Theatres & Producers bestowed the Tonys Sunday, June 1, 1997, at a ceremony televised first on PBS (8-9PM) and then on CBS (9-11PM), hosted by Rosie O'Donnell.
Here are the winners of the 1996-97 Tony Awards. Winners in CAPITAL LETTERS:
BEST PLAY: THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO; Skylight; Stanley; The Last Night Of Ballyhoo; The Young Man From Atlanta
BEST MUSICAL: TITANIC; Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass; Steel Pier; The Life
BEST PLAY REVIVAL: A DOLL'S HOUSE; London Assurance; Present Laughter; The Gin Game
BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL: CHICAGO; Annie; Candide; Once Upon A Mattress
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY: CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER (BARRYMORE) ; Brian Bedford (London Assurance); Michael Gambon (Skylight); Antony Sher (Stanley).
BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY: JANET MCTEER (A DOLL'S HOUSE); Julie Harris (The Gin Game); Shirley Knight (Young Man From Atlanta); Lia Williams (Skylight).
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: JAMES NAUGHTON (CHICAGO); Bob Cuccioli (Jekyll & Hyde); Jim Dale (Candide); Daniel McDonald (Steel Pier).
BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: OWEN TEALE (A DOLL'S HOUSE); Terry Beaver (The Last Night Of Ballyhoo); William Biff McGuire (Young Man From Atlanta); Brian Murray (The Little Foxes).
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: LYNNE THIGPEN (AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER); Helen Carey (London Assurance); Dana Ivey (Last Night Of Ballyhoo); Celia Weston (Last Night Of Ballyhoo)
BEST FEATURED ACTOR (MUSICAL): CHUCK COOPER (THE LIFE); Joel Blum (Steel Pier); Andre' De Shields (Play On!); Sam Harris (The Life).
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE: MAURY YESTON, (TITANIC); Juan Darien (Elliot Goldenthal musical and lyrics); Steel Pier (music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb); The Life (music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Ira Gasman).
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL: PETER STONE (TITANIC); Leslie Bricusse (Jekyll & Hyde); David Thompson (Steel Pier); David Newman, Ira Gasman, Cy Coleman (The Life).
BEST ORCHESTRATIONS: JONATHAN TUNICK (TITANIC); Michael Gibson (Steel Pier); Luther Henderson (Play On!); Don Sebesky/Harold Wheeler (The Life)
BEST SCENIC DESIGN: STEWART LAING (TITANIC); John Lee Beatty (The Little Foxes); G.W. Mercier/Julie Taymor (Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass); Tony Walton (Steel Pier)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: JUDITH DOLAN (CANDIDE); Ann Curtis (Jekyll & Hyde); William Ivey Long (Chicago); Martin Pakledinaz (The Life).
SPECIAL AWARD: BERNARD B. JACOBS for lifetime achievement.
BEST REGIONAL THEATRE: BERKELEY REPERTORY, Sharon Ott - artistic director.
In contrast to the previous year, controversy over this year's Tonys has been minimal. Julie Andrews may have boycotted last year's ceremony because her fellow players in Victor/Victoria weren't nominated, but this time she served as a presenter, to an enthusiastic ovation. Last year, the producer of State Fair became upset over that show's near-ostracism from a slate dominated by Rent and Noise/Funk. This year, "Jekkies" promised to raise a fuss because Jekyll & Hyde was overlooked for best musical honors (and stars Christiane Noll and Linda Eder were similarly passed over for acting awards), but even rabid Jekkies had to be consoled by Robert Cuccioli's nomination for Best Actor. Grumbles that the Tonys should have been held in a Broadway Theatre, rather than cavernous Radio City Music Hall, were also quieted by the fact that for once, the public had a reasonable opportunity to buy tickets and attend the event.
Among those interviewed in the PBS 7-8 PM (EST) "Launching The Tonys" broadcast were Bebe Neuwirth (Chicago) ("There's something so honest and innocent about someone who'll sing I love you onstage..."); Fred Ebb (Steel Pier, Chicago); Glenn Close; Cy Coleman (The Life); Joey McKneely (The Life), and Julie Taymor (Juan Darien) ("I work cinematically in the theatre, long shots, close-ups... Scale helps you feel things more potently."). Said Charles Nelson Reilly, "I go underneath the stage and listen to the sound of the pulley. It's wonderful, it's like giving birth to something." Discussing visual factors that go into set design, John Lee Beatty (The Little Foxes) noted that staircase banisters in his show were three inches lower than normal "to give Stockard [Channing] a better line." Judith Dolan told of using the circus as her inspiration for Candide.
The half-documentary, half-life, hour-long broadcast was divided into segments about Dance, Design and Directing.
Video segments also included clips from Jekyll & Hyde, Wayne Cilento rehearsing the dancers of Dream, Susan Stroman choreographing Karen Ziemba in Steel Pier, Ann Reinking ("Movement just isn't movement, it's really acting - according to me") staging Chicago, Leigh Zimmerman being fitted for her Chicago slip.
In a tearful speech, Best Choreographer Ann Reinking thanked "the one man who stood up for me so many times - this one's for you, Bobby." (Fosse).
Winning the first-ever Orchestration award, Jonathan Tunick punned on Titanic's nautical theme by saying he appreciated being welcomed aboard. Fellow Titanic passenger Peter Stone, winner of Best Book of a Musical thanked his "egregiously overlooked" director, Richard Jones and, tongue firmly in cheek, thanked the drama critics for their "unbelievable reviews." Maury Yeston was soon to take the podium for Best Original Score.
Costume winner Judith Dolan thanked the Candide ensemble for embracing her sketches for the costumes. She also thanked Hal Prince for his belief that "What we say onstage really does matter."
Five-time nominee (and first-time winner) Ken Billington thanked fellow lighting designer and mentor, Tharon Musser. Anthony Page, director of A Doll's House thanked teacher Sanford Meisner.
"Like Mother Teresa, I always wanted to direct," said winning director, Walter Bobbie (Chicago). "If you're out there memorizing musical comedies like I was in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Don't listen to what anybody tells you. One day you might be here."
Marisa Tomei presented the Regional Theatre Tony to Berkeley Rep, "which is especially known for its bright new interpretations of classics." Artistic director Sharon Ott thanked the Wing and RCA Victor for the $25,000 stipend that comes with the award. Bernadette Peters presented the lifetime achievement award dedicated to Bernard Jacobs.
Rosie O'Donnell opened the CBS broadcast with a medley that used "On Broadway" as its center and featured the ensembles of Rent, Cats, Smokey Joe's Cafe, Bring In `Da Noise, Bring In `Da Funk (with Rosie drummin' on a bucket), Grease! and Beauty And The Beast.
Live musical sequences on the CBS broadcast included "Everybody Dance" from Steel Pier, "My Body" from The Life, "Tomorrow" from Annie (with a brief pre-song scene for Conrad John Schuck & Nell Carter); the opening sequence of Candide, Sarah Jessica Parker singing "Shy" from Once Upon A Mattress and part of the boarding sequence from Titanic. A video montage of Juan Darien was also screened.
Lynne Thigpen, featured actress winner for An American Daughter, repeated the name "Wendy Wasserstein," saying, "That's my mantra for tonight! Come see us, we are good." Featured actor winner Owen Teale (A Doll's House) thanked Janet [McTeer]: "You've led from the front."
Chuck Cooper, featured actor winner for The Life said, "Gosh, this is awesome - I won a Tony! Oh my God, HI-DIDDLE-EE-DEE!". Like Cooper, Lillias White thanked her family, notably her children, sobbing in the audience. Like co-winner Ann Reinking, musical actress winner Bebe Neuwirth thanked Bob Fosse, for "teaching me how to work, and knowing that the work is empty unless it contains joy. I love my job." Said best actor winner James Naughton, "I heard on New York 1 that fewer than 2 percent of actors are working, so just to be here..."
Barrymore's best actor, Christopher Plummer, who'd previously won a Tony for the musical Cyrano, thanked William Luce, Gene Saks and Garth Drabinsky ("for having the audacity to produce a straight play.").
Here are the nominated plays and musicals, and how they fared:
American Daughter: 1 (featured actress play) out of 1 nomination.
Annie: no wins out of 1 nomination.
Barrymore: 1 (actor) out of 1 nomination.
Candide: 1 (costumes) out of 4 nominations.
Chicago: 6 (musical-revival, choreography, lighting, director-musical, actress-musical, actor-musical) out of 8 nominations.
A Doll's House: 4 (play revival, director-play, actress-play, featured actor-play) out of 4 nominations.
Dream: no wins out of 1 nomination.
The Gin Game: no wins out of 3 nominations.
Juan Darien: no wins out of 5 nominations.
Jekyll & Hyde: no wins out of 4 nominations.
The Last Night Of Ballyhoo: 1 (play) out of 4 nominations.
The Life: 2 (featured actor-musical, featured actress-musical) out of 12 nominations.
The Little Foxes: no wins out of 2 nominations.
London Assurance: no wins out of 3 nominations.
Once Upon A Mattress: no wins out of 1 nomination.
Play On!: no wins out of 3 nominations.
Present Laughter: no wins out of 1 nomination.
Skylight: no wins out of 4 nominations.
Stanley: no wins out of 3 nominations.
Steel Pier: no wins out of 11 nominations.
Titanic: 5 (Musical, Orchestration, Book-Musical, Original Score, Scenic Design); out of 5 nominations.
Young Man From Atlanta: no wins out of 3 nominations.
-- By David Lefkowitz