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The 63rd Annual TONYS, presented at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday 8 June, had Broadway rejoicing as, despite gloomy warnings of crunch and depression, ticket receipts for the Great White Way, both on- and off-Broadway, exceeded the previous year, blowing out the doom and distress predicted in January.

And as for the Brits… well, it was cheers all the way as Billy Elliot swept off with ten of the coveted awards, including Best Musical, Stephen Daldry, best director of a Musical, the three boys who play Billy, David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish and Trent Kowalik, sharing best actor, and Gregory Jbara (Billy’s father) best featured actor. Add best choreography Peter Darling, best sound Paul Arditti and best scenic design Ian MacNeil, you can see why the Brits were so happy.

Admittedly Sir Elton John missed winning for best original score, losing to rock musical Next To Normal, but as a Watford Supporter, he knows you can’t always beat the opposition.


God of Carnage, written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton walked away with best play, and Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests had the Old Vic cast out in force grabbing the award for Best Revival. Both Harriet Walters and Janet McTeer had been nominated as best actress, but Marcia Gay Harden beat them for her part in God of Carnage.

Up in the Media room, which is the Rainbow Room, 64th floor of Radio City, with a magical view over Manhattan, it was wonderful to greet Angela Lansbury, who has already many TONYS for her musical performances, but this time it was the home-grown Noel Coward revival Blithe Spirit and her stunning performance as Madame Arcati which honoured her as best featured actress.

Her long time friend, and writer of such great musicals as Hello Dolly, Mame and Cage aux Folles, Jerry Herman was given a special award for services to American Theatre. It was good to see him looking well, and very much on form, as he recalled he was in fact born on that street, facing the Winter Garden Theatre, and that was seventy seven years ago. Great. Except some of us recall his celebrating his 80th at the Cabaret Festival two years ago.


Sonia Friedman (producer and sister of Maria) came to collect for the second year in succession, and we hope she will make it a triple whammy as she announced they are bringing in the London version of Cage Aux Folles next season, with Douglas Hodge. Other recipients of special awards were the charming Shirley Herz, one of the most helpful of PR ladies, and Liza Minnelli, for her one-woman extravaganza Liza’s at the Palace.

Liza is always larger than life, exuberant and bubbly, and praised her parents (Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli) for their love and encouragement. At the actual award ceremonies, of course, every winner has a five minute list of all the people he or she wants to thank for ‘making it all happen’… and most of them never finish.


Australian-born Geoffrey Rush won best actor for an outstanding performance in Ionesco’s Exit the King (Ethel Barrymore Theatre). Unusual to have Theatre of the Absurd wowing them on Broadway, but that’s what it’s doing, together with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (Studio 54) starring Nathan Lane, John Goodman together with Bill Irwin and John Glover.

It makes me laugh when the audience go back to the foyer to read about what they have just seen, as these are certainly a long way from such light pieces as Nine to Five – Dolly Parton’s musical of her hit film, where the male chauvinist boss meets his match times three. Nathan Lane’s co-star from The Producers, Matthew Broderick, is now appearing in Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist at the American Airline Theatre (also part of the Roundabout Company) This is directed by David Grindley and was originally produced at the Donmar in 2005.


Neil La Bute’s Reasons to be Pretty transferred from Off-Broadway to the Lyceum, where a strong story of misunderstanding is extremely well-acted, and I am sure will come into London. Another candidate for a West End Production is Irena’s Vow – starring Tovah Feldshuh. Tovah was not entered for the TONYS this year, but won the people’s choice vote as most popular actress, in this extremely moving piece about a righteous Christian who saves the lives of many Jews during the Holocaust.

The Manhattan Theatre Club production of Accent on Youth by Samson Raphaelson stars David Hyde Pierce, in a play directed by Daniel Sullivan, set in the l930s, and very reminiscent of similar Noel Coward drawing-room comedies.


Off-Broadway, I went to Playwright’s Horizon to see Our House, a new and provocative piece of writing by Theresa Rebeck, showing the dangers of mindless television and reality programmes. This was directed by Michael Mayer.

59E59, another home of new writing, had a most interesting play Pure Confidence by Carlyle Brown directed by Marion McClinton, telling the story of Simon Cato, who was a slave and a champion jockey. Set in l861 and 1877 it shows life during slavery and after; co-produced by Mixed Blood Theatre Company it was educational as well as entertaining.

Other light Off-Broadway offerings included Danny and Sylvia at St.Luke’s Theatre, the story with music of the relationship between Danny Kaye and his wife Sylvia Fine.


The Cabaret scene also had some fine offerings with Stacey Kent and her husband Jim Tomlinson, on Tenor Sax, always a joy to hear, at Birdland; Claire Martin at the Algonquin’s Oak Room, accompanied by Richard Rodney Bennett giving a wonderful Cy Coleman programme, and my all-time favourite Mark Nadler, playing Thursday nights at The Metropolitan Room in his own inimitable style.

He plays the piano, sings, story-tells, shmoozes, and has a permanent love affair with his audience as he regales you with ‘ And His Beautiful Wife Ira’ the story of Ira Gershwin, with and without brother George, the title coming from the British broadcaster’s confusing their relationship. Wonderful music, full of nostalgia, it is like meeting up with an old friend, and delights you every time.

Special mention is always made at the TONYS of theatre people who have passed away during the year, and this time included were Bea Arthur, Cyd Charisse, Harold Pinter, and Natasha Richardson.


En route for New York we were in Toronto, where we went to see a delightful production of Tuesdays with Morrie, starring Hal Linden and Rick Roberts. Based on the book by Mitch Albom, this was at The Winter Garden Theatre, a charming venue, worthy of a visit in its own right. It was presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, and I would urge anyone travelling to this part of Canada to look them up.

2009-06-24 00:51:57

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