<b>Daily Dispatch: May 29, 2001:</b> A Critic's Journal, Part II

As you may recall, I had fallen behind these Daily Dispatches of late. In the last column, I attempted to catch up on all the events, award shows, and reviews by submitting a journal to you. We left off at the beginning of May in the midst of awards season madness. We continue...

Tues., May 8

This afternoon is the annual meeting of the New York Drama Critics Circle to pick the Best Play of the season. This organization was founded in 1935 when Gotham drama scribes were sick of the choices made by the Pulitzer Committee.

Being the obsessive-compulsive list-maker that I am, I got myself elected as group archivist and was drafted to compile a list of every show which opened during the preceding season. I arrived at the Conde Naste building with 20 copies of said list and my choices all picked. Our president Michael Sommers of Newhouse Newspapers and Treasurer-Secretary Ken Mendelbaum of Broadway.com presided over the meeting. After two rounds of voting, Tom Stoppard's "The Invention of Love" was chosen as Best Play. This is the fifth victory for Sir Tom, one for every decade of his career. The others are for "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" (1968); "Travesties" (1976); "The Real Thing" (1984); and "Arcadia" (1995).

Picking a Best American Play was tougher. The group was almost evenly divided between advocates for David Auburn's "Proof" and Edward Albee's "The Play about the Baby." After four rounds of voting, "Proof" proved the winner. There was much less contention over Best Musical. After only one round of voting, "The Producers" was the overwhelming favorite, with scattered support for "Urinetown," "And God Created Great Whales," and "The Full Monty." The awards will be presented on May 22 at the Palm Restaurant.

Thurs., May 10

Tonight I caught up with the only Drama Desk-nominated show still running I had not yet seen--Ruben Santiago-Hudson's "Lackawanna Blues" at the Public. In this solo piece, the actor offers a loving portrait of Nanny, the strong-willed lady who raised him in a boarding house in the titular upstate New York town. With blues guitarist Bill Sims, Jr. accompanying him, Santiago-Hudson enacts all the roomers of the house and Nanny, a caring woman who extended herself to an entire community. This is not merely a showpiece to display the actor's facility with accents and body language. He manages to convey the emotional currents of a scene between all the characters he's playing. Early in the play, he grabs your heart when he plays Nanny and his mother discussing young Ruben's care. Nanny points out that Ruben's mom can't properly attend to his needs because of her workload and offers to provide him with attention and meals. The mother can't speak for a minute because she knows Nanny is right but she doesn't want to admit it. It's a powerful moment in an evening full of them.

Sun., May 13

Had a radio interview with a Chicago station about the Tony nominations.

Mon., May 14

The Theatre World Awards were presented at Studio 54 (home of "Cabaret") in a mid-afternoon ceremony. These citations are for performers making outstanding Broadway or Off-Broadway debuts. Peter Filichia of the Newark Star-Ledger and Theatre.com hosted. Previous winners were the presenters. Alec Baldwin revealed that he used to be a bartender and waiter at the venue when it was still a mega-popular disco and that he served male customers drinks in the balcony where they "got to know each other" (if you know what I mean). He segued into his presentation by saying he was still bearing gifts for handsome men and handing over a Theatre World Award to Chris Noth for making his Main Stem premiere in "Gore Vidal's The Best Man." Kathleen Freeman, veteran performer of "The Full Monty," gave an emotional acceptance speech, detailing her love of acting over the 50-plus years of her career. Lea DeLaria of "The Rocky Horror Show" was slated to give out the next award. "Here I am sitting next to Mary-Louise Parker, trying to be this big, sophisticated bull dyke," she joked "and Kathleen Freeman makes me cry." She went on to say she was not able to accept her Theatre World Award for "On the Town" in person a few years back because she was touring in "Chicago" and "It would have cost [producers] the Weisslers an extra $1.50 to replace me."

Upon accepting his TW, John Ritter spoke of the joy of performing on Broadway in "The Dinner Party." His opening night euphoria came crashing down when a fan outside the stage door accosted him and asked "Where's Chrissy?" For those of you who were not couch potatoes 20 years ago, Chrissy was the character name of one of Ritter's roommates on his long-running sitcom "Three's Company." The hour-long presentation was suffused with love and admiration of John Willis, the long-time editor of Theatre World, the picture and statistics annual which sponsors the awards. The publication will receive a special Tony this year.

Wed., May 16

A busy day. First, it's the weekly deadline for the print edition of Back Stage. The pages must leave for the printer's by 12 noon. Then it's the Tony Nominees Luncheon, followed by an interview with Stephen Holt for his local, cable-access TV show, and then a visit to the Drama Desk's accountant Stuart Margolis to count the ballots for this year's awards. The Luncheon is held this year at the Marriott Hotel rather than the traditional Sardi's. There's more room to breath than at the legendary theatrical eatery.

Thurs., May 17

All hell breaks loose on Broadway as two shows ("Seussical the Musical" and "Jane Eyre") announce they are closing. Their demise can be almost completely attributed to their dim prospects for winning Tony Awards; that and a poor box office. "Seussical" is only up in category--Best Actor for Kevin Chamberlin. Though "Jane Eyre" has a respectable share of nods including Best Musical and Best Actress for Marla Schaffel, it has as much chance of beating "The Producers" as does "George Gershwin Alone" (which isn't even nominated). Schaffel might win for Best Actress but this is not enough of a boost to save the production. This is a disturbing trend. In previous seasons, non-Tony shows would at least wait until after the awards to post their closing notices. But "The Producers" is overwhelming all in its path.

Fri., May 18

"Jane Eyre" gets fresh oxygen in the form of $150,000 from pop star Alanis Morrisette, a fan of the show and friend of the composer. The show will run for another week, closing on May 27. The producers later cough up enough dough to keep "Jane " running through June 10. But their time is cut on the Tony Awards. More on this controversy later.

Sun., May 20

The Drama Desk Awards are presented at the La Guardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts and telecast live on New York-1 News. Unlike the Tonys, the DDs include both Broadway and Off-Broadway equally in all categories. But the DD voters (over 130 New York theatre reviewers, editors, and reporters) go solidly for a Broadway winner in the form of "The Producers," awarding the show in 11 categories. This is a record, beating the previous high-water mark of nine which was shared by "Sweeney Todd" (1979) and "City of Angels" (1990).

The evening starts with a pre-show party at the Russian Tea Room. Guests are then shuttled to the school by double-decker bus and limo. We are greeted with another reception at the school as well as doodles and drawings made by the nominees. The Drama Desk "Art-kives" are mounted and displayed courtesy of the New York Observer. The show itself runs smoothly. As President of the Drama Desk, I can't be entirely objective. I know how difficult it is to mount a production like this. There are some slight problems with the sound but considering our limited budget, it's an impressive ceremony. Lily Tomlin hosts and delivers a few well-placed barbs at Mayor Guiliani. Polly Bergen of "Follies," Andre De Shields of "The Full Monty," and Cady Huffman of "The Producers" bring the house down with their numbers. Christine Pedi and Robert Gallagher offer parodistic moments from "Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Spoof Odyssey" and the cast of "Bat Boy" gives us a taste of that wacky show. A post-show party at Josephina puts a capper on the evening.

Thanks to Bob Blume (executive producer), Lauren Class Schneider (producer), Jeff Kalpak (director), Jeff Dobbins (writer), Randie Levine-Miller (executive director for Drama Desk), and all who worked so hard on the production.

Mon., May 21

The Village Voice presented its annual Obie Awards for excellence in the Off and Off-Off-Broadway season at Webster Hall, far from Times Square and the Main Stem theatre district. Brian Murray and Marian Seldes of "The Play about the Baby" host and receive awards: Murray for his performance in the Albee play and Seldes for Sustained Achievement. Jackie Hoffman of "The Book of Liz" gives the funniest acceptance speech: "Well, I guess I'll stop being bitter for a minute. How big did my ass look coming up the steps?"

Thurs., May 24

Yet another awards event. The Outer Critics Circle Awards are given out in a late afternoon dinner ceremony at Sardi's. I was seated next to Gary Beach of "The Producers" who won as Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical in a tie with Andre De Shields for "The Full Monty." Recipients were more relaxed since the outcome is already known and there is no live TV. The event is recorded for posterity by Bradshaw Smith of "Broadway Beat." Richard Easton of "The Invention of Love" (Oustanding Actor in a Play) told of coming to New York in the 1950s, winning a Theatre World Award, and "I went on... remarkably award-free." He went to say he'd played Tyrone Power's son, Ellis Rabb's uncle, John Gielgud's brother, and Eva LaGalliene's husband. "I'm probably winning this award now because I'm playing Robert Sean Leonard as an old man."

John Ritter was once again hilarious. "This guy should stop judging me!" he mockingly shouted at one of the caricatures on Sardi's wall. This time he was a presenter along with entire cast of "The Dinner Party" which received a special award for Ensemble Performance.

Memorial Day Weekend

Finally, a chance to catch my breath. The Drama Desks are repeated on Channel 13 on Fri. May 25 and on NY-1 News on Sat. May 26. On Tuesday, May 29 I will participate in a debate on the merits theatre awards at New Dramatists. I must prepare. Then it's the Tonys on June 3.