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A Tony view from backstage and the red carpet

Monday, June 05, 2000

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

NEW YORK -- Outside Radio City, the stars entered not on Sixth Avenue but along the more constricted 51st Street, meaning the crowds of star-spotters across the street were closer and louder as the nominees and presenters jostled their way down the red-carpeted gauntlet past ranks of genteelly shouting reporters and photographers.

    More from the Tony Awards

Director makes history with 'Kate' and 'Copenhagen'

Complete list of winners

Embedded in that throng, I managed to talk with one star or another, none more extensively than Gabriel Byrne, whom I'd just seen that afternoon emoting his painful way through the nearly three-hour "Moon for the Misbegotten." I'd hardly had time to change into my tux and get over to Radio City myself, so imagine what it was like for him. As he stepped from his limo to enter the red carpet ordeal, I suggested it might be hard to switch from Eugene O'Neill's "heebie-jeebies" to all this.

"You know, I think the DTs might be preferable," he muttered with his slow crinkle of a smoky smile. As he moved farther down the gauntlet, he warmed to the task. "Eugene O'Neill is a great writer, and it's a timeless play," he said, explaining the attraction of "Moon." As a movie actor, he came back to the stage after a long absence because "film is not an actor's medium -- theater is." He succinctly defined the difference between movies and stage as, "it's live, you can't say let's start that again, and you have to say all the lines every night and in the right order." There's talk of taking "Moon" to London, he said.

"The best movie I've seen isn't as good as the best play," said Philip Seymour Hoffman, nominated for lead actor in "True West." "I do theater [five plays in the past three years] so I can do the best work I can do, using all the muscles." He and John C. Reilly (also nominated) alternate the two leads. Asked which role he preferred, Reilly said they were like children -- "I love them both."

Patrick Stewart got large cheers from the watchers. It sounds like you're a hero, I said. He paused. "To some people," he said with a small smile, in implied reference to his public stand in criticizing his own producers' supposed lack of promotion.

Audra McDonald, shining with an unearthly glow, said being at the Tonys was "like going to the prom." But what if she were to break her string, having won each of the three previous times she'd been nominated? "If anything, it'd be a bit of a relief," she laughed.

For her competitor, Marin Mazzie, also up for lead actress in a musical, this was her third nomination: "Let's hope three is a charm!"

I asked Kenneth Branagh if he was going to aim at a Broadway musical career, now that he's sung and danced on screen in "Love's Labour's Lost." He just laughed, but he went on to talk admiringly about the inspiration that Broadway musicals have given the whole world.

Michael Beresse, nominated for supporting actor in "Kiss Me, Kate," put it all in context. "It's fantastic to be here. What can be wrong? I'm walking on the red carpet! [But] If you win a Tony, you put it on the mantel, while if you don't get another job that keeps you busy eight days a week...."

Yes, there does have to be a day after. "It's fun when you win," said presenter Matthew Broderick.

In the first hour of the awards, broadcast on PBS, Pittsburgh lost its Tony right off when Susan Stroman won, as expected, for her choreography of "Contact," beating Pittsburgh native Kathleen Marshall, the other chief contender for her "Kate." But Marshall was featured nicely on the filmed materials, making the point that this was a year when the definition of musicals continued a creative evolution.

Winning his Tony for directing "Kate," Michael Blakemore spoke of Marshall as "so gifted ... that she makes you nervous." On the other hand, there was early good news for "Kate," winning for orchestration and costumes, and it later won the big prize, best revival. Its producer specifically thanked "young, talented and inspirational Kathleen Marshall." She had also been on screen helping accept the Tony honors given the Encores! musicals series of which she is artistic director. All in all, she got lots of screen time.

Another Pittsburgh moment came early, as CMU's John McDaniel gave a short piano demo of what orchestration is all about, before awarding the orchestration Tony (added just recently) to "Kate." And CMU's Jason Antoon was featured in the number from "Contact," his bartender doing his astounding eyebrow wave.

Backstage, winners went through a series of rooms being interviewed by TV, radio, photo and print reporters in sequence -- "like a video game, PlayStation," joked Jennifer Ehle, the young British newcomer who won lead actress in a play for "The Real Thing." That deprived CMU's Cherry Jones (nominated for "Moon"), long recognized as one of the country's best. But there's bad news for Pittsburgh native Tina Benko, who understudies Ehle as Annie. The import from London is supposed to close Aug. 12, but if it extends, would Ehle and Stephen Dillane (who won for best actor) stay with it? "I'm not tired of it yet," Ehle said. "And I hate the thought of anyone else playing Annie."

But Dillane seemed to react differently: Asked if he'd be willing to extend, he grimaced and laughed. "I don't know." By the way, though it was a triumphant Tony year for the Brits, Ehle actually counts as American. Her mother, Rosemary Harris, has long been one of Broadway's favorite transplants, so Ehle has an American passport.

The most remarkable British win was Blakemore's unprecedented double for best director for the spare, minimalist "Copenhagen" and the lavish, full-bodied "Kate." "If I'd known I was going to win two, I might have retired at this point," joked the tall, urbane gentleman. Then he revised his evaluation of his first win after several nominations: "This is like having twins, getting it all over at once." Next on his plate is an Arthur Miller play at the Almeida in London.

Roy Dotrice was asked how he managed to play drunk so convincingly in "Moon": "Well, I learned it at my father's knee, didn't I?"

Asked whether it was difficult to keep dancing like an amateur, as he must in "Contact," winner Boyd Gaines said simply: "No."

Best show in the press room was "Dame Edna," who greeted us as "you busy little mice."

That we were. And then we got to go to the party, about which I'll report tomorrow.

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