Photos (clockwise from Upper Left):
Henry Krieger and Bill Russell of Side Show
Two of the dancers from Forever Tango
John Leguizamo of Freak
Alan Cumming of Cabaret.
Nominees for Best Actor, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Alan Cumming, Douglas Sills, Peter Friedman.
Anthony LaPaglia and Allison Janney of A View From the Bridge.
Center: Julie Taymor and her three Lion King nominations (directing, costumes and score).
Nearly everyone who was advertised -- and more -- showed up at this year's Tony Awards Nominees Brunch, held May 13 at Sardi's restaurant in the Broadway theatre district. The event's name is a bit of a misnomer for, after the artists picked up their plaques and posed for photographers, there was a phalanx of reporters and TV crews standing between them and Sardi's Thanksgiving-like, turkey stuffing-and-cranberry-sauce buffet. Those who ate did so between questions.
The actors, writers, and directors took the situation in stride, however. Best actor nominee John Leguizamo eagerly talked into microphone after microphone, having apparently overcome the laryngitis which rendered him dumb at last week's Drama League luncheon. Betty Buckley discussed the opening number of the Tony telecast, in which she, Patti LuPone, Jennifer Holliday, and host Rosie O'Donnell will sing about the art of being a diva. And Honour nominee and former NEA chair Jane Alexander handled questions with the expertise of someone who had spent the last four years in the public sector.
Others on hand included actors Marin Mazzie (Ragtime), Natasha Richardson (Cabaret), Gregg Edelman (1776), Sam Trammell (Ah, Wilderness!), Alfred Molina (ArtHonour), Allison Janney (A View From the Bridge), Anna Manahan and Marie Mullen (The Beauty Queen of Leenane), Audra McDonald (Ragtime), and Alice Ripley (Side Show), though her other half (and co-nominee), Emily Skinner, was nowhere to be seen; directors Julie Taymor (The Lion King) and Scott Ellis (1776); and playwright Terrence McNally and composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the team behind Ragtime. Playbill On-Line spoke with a few of the embattled bruncheoneers. * While some native actors hugged the walls, shrinking from the event's manic atmosphere, visiting thespian Richard Briers of the British revival of Ionesco's The Chairs could only revel in the attention. "It's great fun," he said. "People are very generous. It's the first time I've ever played Broadway. It's quite an extraordinary time for me. I wish I had had this experience when I was 30, instead of 64." Do Britain's Olivier Awards compare to Broadway's annual Tony mania? The amazing reply: "No. This is more joyful and more relaxed, really."
* Relaxed was the last word you'd use to describe the sky-blue-jacketed Alan Cumming, star of Cabaret, as he waited in line for yet another photo session. Still, he too professed his excitement over the season. "I really love this," he said. "That's the great thing about this award season. There are a lot of people here who really love the theatre and want to celebrate it." Cumming said he would probably stay with the show until the end of 1998, and that the cast of the Tony-nominated revival will likely be performing "Willkommen" at the June 7 ceremony.
* "It would be insane." That was Cumming's co-star Mary Louise Wilson's response when asked what she thought of possible plans to move the popular Cabaret to a larger space, possibly the old Studio 54. "I can't imagine that they could do that. They put so much work into the whole ambiance [at the Kit Kat Klub]. The audience really feels like they're in it." Wilson is enjoying her first musical experience since appearing in the Angela Lansbury Gypsy in 1974. "I tell you, I never liked to sing," she said. "I always felt out of my element: an actor singing. But these songs are so great. I feel I've learned a new way to sing, from my gut."
Aside from the singing, Wilson also had to adjust to the idea that she was not alone on stage, as she has been in recent years, playing Diana Vreeland in her one-woman show, Full Gallop. "Yeah, I love being on stage by myself. There's no one there to screw up your lines. If you get a laugh, you know it's yours. But I also love the interchange and the trust. And I'm in love with this company. The whole cast is one unit. There are not these levels: stars, featured players, chorus. Every person is equally important -- I mean, the orchestra, the drummer, the conductor! They're unsung heroes."
* Actor Peter Friedman, a first-time nominee for Ragtime, is also returning to the musical theatre after a long break. In fact, this job represents his first professional musical gig ever. It all began with a no-strings-attached workshop in December 1995. "It was a 10-day workshop and all you had to commit to on both sides was 10 days," he explained. "If you didn't like each other, so long. So I thought, I can sing for 10 days, and if they don't like me, that's it." Friedman says he'll stay with the production at least until the end of the year. That will mean three solid years of Ragtime for the actor. Does he ever get tired of playing the same role? "The only way I tire is in terms of exhaustion. But, being bored by it, no, because singing is so frightening, I'm about to open my mouth on stage, and that second before I sing -- wooooo -- I can't believe I'm going to do it."
* After Leguizamo, David Henry Hwang was the only other nominated playwright in attendance, the British-born Martin McDonagh (Beauty Queen) and French Yasmina Reza (Art being out of the country. Hwang said he considers the nomination an honor. "Especially this season," he added, "because this is the first time in as long as anyone can remember where there were great plays in this category. And there were a lot that were passed up for nominations, too. It's a great year."
* One notable no-show at the brunch was Best Score nominee Paul Simon. The Capeman producer, Edgar Dobie, who collected the composer's plaque for him, said Simon would definitely attend the Tony ceremony, however. Dobie said the cast album to the musical had been recorded and demo copies sent to the Tony voters. No release date for the Dreamworks disc has been set. Dobie said a concert tour in support of the album may still happen, possibly with Simon taking a part.
Prior to The Capeman's rocky reception and short run on Broadway, Simon had referred to the show as a finale to his career. In light of the aftermath, has the songwriter reconsidered that position? "I think he certainly learned a lot from the experience," said a thoughtful Dobie. "I think he most enjoyed working with the people, the many people who participated in the project. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes another stab at [the musical theatre]."
* Los Angeleno and best featured actor nominee Max Wright is still overwhelmed by his reception in last fall's Lincoln Center production of Ivanov. "It was almost unparalleled for me," he exclaimed. "This was exceptional, especially since this was Chekhov. You don't think of people jumping out of Chekhov into popular acclaim. You just don't expect it." So enthused was he by the experience that he is now back in town playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek in the center's upcoming, star-studded production of Twelfth Night. Rehearsal began this week. "The Chekhov evolved by itself very naturally. The Shakespeare -- I don't know if I'm up to it." Brian Murray, his Sir Toby Belch, is another story. "I love Brian Murray," cried Wright. "He could go on stage right now. Today! He's ready!"
* "I've been in plays that audiences have really responded to in a big way -- The Rose Tattoo and On the Open Road -- but, not to this extent," said Anthony LaPaglia, star of the acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, which collected four Tony noms, including one for LaPaglia himself. The role was a challenge, said the actor. "I had to figure out a way to gauge the progression of the character. There is a tendency in this role where you play the second act in the first act, so that the play has the same volume or tone all the way through it. To me, it's a slow build, so in the events of the second act, you know what's coming but you don't know the ferocity. Working that build-up is the hardest thing." It all adds up to an emotionally wrenching experience every evening. Asked is he did anything to wind down afterwards, LaPaglia replied, "After I finish spilling my guts on stage every night, I am relaxed."