Broadway’s annual love fest to itself, the Tony Awards, will be broadcast this Sunday on CBS. My pal, Milton, who has seen more of the nominated plays and musicals than me, has donned his critic’s chapeau and has written a witty and insightful post about all the contenders right here.
A few weekends ago I did the unthinkable — I cut short my power sleeping and headed down to the theater district where I photographed the facades of the buildings housing the nominated plays and musicals in morning light. This is not exactly tantamount to snapping a gotcha shot of one’s girlfriend without her makeup, but I realized I had little idea about what most Broadway houses look like. Absent the crowds clambering to enter under the sophistication of nightfall, many of these buildings are surprisingly quaint when viewed in the light of day.
Pictured below is the Ethel Barrymore Theatre located on West 47th Street.
A much-ballyhooed revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman just closed there. It will probably win big on Tony night. This is the theater where in 1947 Marlon Brando originated the role of Stanley Kowalski screaming “Stella!” in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Currently, Blair Underwood is screaming “Stella!” in a revival of Streetcar featuring an African-American cast staged at the Broadhurst on West 44th Street.
Back in 1935, Humphrey Bogart stood on those same boards making his acting breakthrough that led to Hollywood stardom when he appeared as an escaped killer in The Petrified Forest, a role he later recreated in the film of the same name.
The Pulitzer Prize winning social satire Clybourne Park (and my choice for Best Play where you can hear a terrific joke about white women and tampons) can be seen here at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
Back in 1929 when it was then called the Ritz Theatre (undoubtedly to differentiate it from the cracker which Nabisco would debut in 1934 but according to the Lame Adventures brand of (il)logic someone clearly had a premonition that this snack food was on the horizon), Bette Davis starred on this same stage opposite the slightly less well-remembered Etha Dack in a comedy called Broken Dishes.
Over at the Gerald Schoenfeld 81-year-old James Earl Jones and almost 87-year-old Angela Lansbury are energetically co-starring in the revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.
Gerald Schoenfeld was a legendary Broadway producer. Three years before he bought his rainbow in 2008, a theater was named in his honor.
Broadway has several theaters that were renamed for theatrical legends. In the case of the recently renovated Stephen Sondheim Theatre, the theater had been originally named for Henry Miller.
In 1983 the Alvin Theatre was renamed for the playwright Neil Simon. The last play staged at the Alvin was Mr. Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. The first play that opened under his name was Mr. Simon’s Biloxi Blues. Currently a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar is being staged there, the exact type of production that must make this revered Jewish playwright gag.
What about legends in the making? Possibly one day a theater will be renamed for the 28-year-old powerhouse Nina Arianda currently starring opposite Hugh Dancy in Venus in Fur over at the Lyceum.
Nina owned my vote for Best Actress in a play until I saw Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow at the Belasco.
Now I’m completely discombobulated over who should get it, but Milton reasons that even if Nina is stiffed, she’ll eventually win it, so he’s pulling for Tracie.
In addition, I thought Best Actress nominee Linda Lavin was terrific as the mother that loathes both her children and her dying husband in The Lyons over at the Cort.
Stockard Channing is another Best Actress nominee that can be found eight performances a week at the Booth Theatre as the mother in Other Desert Cities.
This show is another Best Play nominee that has scored a hit with both the critics and audiences. The Booth was named for Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes. Apparently, a grudge was not held against him considering whom his brother assassinated.
A viable contender for Best Revival of a Musical is The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess over at the Richard Rodgers. Full disclosure: I loved this wonderful production and the stars, Audra MacDonald and Norm Lewis, blew me away. Oh yeah, and the music’s extraordinary.
For all you sock puppet fans, in 1994 Shari Lewis commanded this same stage with Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse in Lamb Chop on Broadway.
Critics see a horse race between Porgy and Bess and the now closed revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies that was staged at the Marquis Theatre. Follies shuttered to make way for the revival of Evita, which is also nominated in this category, but it is not expected to win. The Marquis is a theater that is literally a massive marquee.
The first, and thus far only time I saw a show there (the most recent revival of Follies), I had no idea where to find the entrance. It’s situated in a Marriott Hotel. Since I was not a guest, I was denied the option to call room service to ask, “Where the hell’s the theater?” Fortunately, Milton arrived first so I was screaming at him, and he was screaming directions at me on his iPhone. I’m sure people unaware that we’re more queer than (accounting for inflation) a nine dollar bill assumed I was yelling at my husband and he at his wife.
Considering that locating the Marquis easily shaved several minutes off my life, I much prefer a classic easy-to-locate Broadway theater like the Nederlander, which is currently staging the Disney production nominated for Best Musical, Newsies.
This is a big, brassy feel good show that has about as much appeal to me as a full body rash.
I’m hoping that Once over at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre will win Best Musical since I relate much more to miserable people in Dublin than singing dancing newsboys in lower Manhattan circa 1899.
In 1927, the first show staged at the Jacobs (then called the Royale) was a musical comedy named Piggy. The producers changed the show’s name to I Told You So in the middle of the run. Apparently, they resisted renaming the show I Told You So That Piggy is a Terrible Name and We’re Bleeding Money.