Broadway producer-director Harold Prince, dramatist Horton Foote, and singer-performer-director-producer Barbra Streisand added more awards to their groaning mantelpieces Wed., Dec. 20, when they received the National Medal of Arts. Other recipients at the ceremony included poet-actor Maya Angelou, dancer-actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, violinist Izhak Perlman, singer Eddy Arnold, and musician Benny Carter. Painter Chuck Close, sculptor Claes Oldenburg, and arts patron Lewis Manilow rounded out the list of human recipients, with the National Public Radio Cultural Programming Division named as the 12th recipient of the year.
The award was created by an act of congress in January 1984, and was first presented 15 months later. Each president is authorized to award a maximum of a dozen medals each year, "to individuals or groups who, in the president's judgement, are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States." The list of recipients this year shows an emphasis on performing arts of all types, but especially legit theatre.
Prince is often credited, with Stephen Sondheim, as someone who has reinvented the art form of the American musical. He has frequently quipped that he "wiped the smile off the musical," a statement that fails to make his detractors laugh as heartily as his fans. Some critics and audience members complain that by making musical theatre more intelligent, he has detracted from its capacity to amuse. Prince, however, is unapologetic, saying "to be entertained is not the same as being tickled." He can afford to be opinionated about his accomplishments: he has won eight Tony Awards (more than anyone else) and has been extremely successful as the director of such hits as "Phantom of the Opera," "Evita," and the recent revival of "Show Boat." His latest project is "3hree," an evening of three one-act musicals, which opened last month in Philadelphia at a theatre named for him. That property may move to Broadway next season. Other future projects are "Wise Guys," Sondheim's current musical-in-progress, and a new non-musical play authored by Carol Burnett.
Foote, an inductee to the Theatre Hall of Fame, has written dance plays for Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins, the book to the musical version of "Gone With the Wind," comedies, and dramas, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Young Man from Atlanta." He won an Oscar for his screenplay of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1964 and another for his original screenplay, "Tender Mercies," in 1983. He won an Emmy for "Old Man" in 1997, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Drama, two Christopher Awards, one Luminas Award, the Writers Guild of America, East's Ian McLellan Hunter Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement, the William Inge Lifetime Achievement Award at the William Inge Festival, the Evelyn Burkey Award and the Screen Laurel Award from the Writers Guild of America. His latest play, "The Last of the Thorntons," is now playing at the Signature Theatre on W. 42nd St.
Streisand, although now known internationally as a movie actress and recording artist, began her career in New York cabarets, regional theatre, and Off-Broadway. Naturally gifted with a lovely voice, she sharpened her acting technique by working in summer stock at the Cecilwood Theatre in Fishkill, New York, the Malden Bridge Playhouse in Malden Bridge, NY, and the Clinton Playhouse in Clinton, CT, then in New York City at the Cherry Lane, Gramercy Arts, Garret, and Jan Hus Theatres, all while still a teen. Her first Broadway appearance was at the age of 19 in 1962, in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale." She literally stopped the show every performance with the song "Miss Marmelstein," and was nominated for a Tony Award. Her next Broadway production was "Funny Girl," with her name over the title. She took the show to London and then went to Hollywood for the film version, never to return to the legit stage. After winning the Oscar for "Funny Girl," she has directed films, produced television movies and documentaries, recorded multi-platinum albums, and, despite her well-known abhorrence of live performing, performed live concerts. She is the only person to win Oscar, Tony (a special one, presented in 1970), Emmy, Golden Globe, Cable Ace, and Peabody awards.
Among the recipients, both Angelou and Baryshnikov have also been nominated for Tony Awards, for "Look Away" and "Metamorphosis," respectively. Angelou was also nominated for an Emmy for her role in "Roots," and a Pulitzer Prize for her first published poetry collection, "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie." Baryshnikov was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "The Turning Point," and won a Drama Desk Award for "Metamorphosis."
The presentation of the awards was taped by C-SPAN for subsequent broadcast. Check www.cspan.org for scheduling information.