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Looking back at the 2008 Tony Award nominees and winners
Looking back at the 2008 Tony Award nominees and winners
by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

The 62nd annual Tony Awards ceremony was held on June 15, 2008 at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Covering them on the Red Carpet again was fun and exciting.

The day started early with a special gifting of some special items to Tony presenters in gratitude for their participation. During rehearsals for the evening's festivities, stars including the Tonys' host Whoopi Goldberg, Brooke Shields (with her little girl), Lily Tomlin, Alec Baldwin, Mary Louise Parker, Kristin Chenoweth and the cast of Rent, stopped by the green room to pick up some lovely gifts. Gifts included bright, colorfully printed, quilted duffel bags from Vera Bradley, shoes by the popular boot makers Uggs, sunglasses, home workout machines, shimmering jewelry handmade in New York, professional hair care products by Pureology and personal home espresso machines by Nespresso from Italy.

(The Pureology representatives gave me a gift bag of hair care products to try out and I have to report that I was very pleasantly surprised at the positive effects that they have had on my hair. They are some of the better hair care products that I've tried in a while. The Nespresso representative happened to be from Seattle and is a regular reader of the Seattle Gay News. He gave out delicious samples of espressos and lattes to everyone. These espresso machines were the crowning glory of the gifts, valued at about $800.00 each!)

After this surreal scene of movie, TV, and theatre stars, all in a room together trying on sunglasses and drinking espresso, I went off to watch a technical rehearsal for the Tonys. It was fascinating to witness the level of numerous meticulous details involved and the level of professionalism and knowledge of all those involved on the production end of things coordinating cues, lighting, staging and preparation to be televised.

That evening, everyone showed up in their best dresses, including one made solely out of numerous, layered silk ribbons designed and made by one of the male performers from the John Waters' musical, Cry Baby, for his female dance partner. After receiving their awards, the winners came up to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center to answer questions from the media and share their feelings about winning.

After winning the 2008 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her role as Mamma Rose in Gypsy, Patti Lupone said:

"We need to develop audiences, not pander to them. And I think producers should create black boxes for new composers and playwrights. Audiences are very smart and very hungry and the theatre isn't going anywhere. People want live theatre. They are appreciative of that American art form&. Theatre is a great place for us to better ourselves, to be inspired. It's a human connection."

Here are some photos from the Red Carpet and my take on some of the Tony winning and nominated plays and musicals that I saw this year.

August: Osage County is a brilliantly written play. It gets a superlative six stars. Author, Tracy Letts has crafted dialogue, well-defined characters and a story line that keeps one totally engaged and surprised by unfolding revelations for a very quickly passing three hours. Just when you think that this contemporary Oklahoma family is as dysfunctional as it's going to get, it gets more shockingly dysfunctional right till the end. With an uncanny ability to blend drama and comedy, without one sacrificed for the other, Letts and the actors of the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre Company have created one of the best plays I've seen. I left the theater elated. August: Osage County is truly a supreme example of what great theatre is all about and an absolute must see for theatre lovers who appreciate tight ensemble acting, the fine art of pacing, timing and cadence and the deliciously dissected explorations of interpersonal relationships.

August: Osage County has deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize and five 2008 Tony's. The Tony Awards included: Best Play, Best Set Design for a Play, for its wonderful cut away of a three story house, Best Director of a Play, Best Actress in a Play for Deanna Dunagan, who beautifully nailed the intense role of the prescription drug addicted, caustic matriarch, Violet Weston, Best Featured Actress in a Play for Dondi Reed and a nomination for actress, Amy Morton. The play had some cast changes in June, including the arrival of Academy Award winning actress, Estelle Parsons, taking over for Deanna Dunagan as Violet.

As my theatre companion accurately noted, Patti LuPone is a "force of Nature" in this fabulous, must see revival of the great musical, Gypsy. Filled with beautiful music and familiar songs that have been part of our collective consciousness for years, this musical, directed by the prize-winning author of numerous musical plays, Arthur Laurents, is delightful.

While LuPone is the driving force, as anyone playing Mama Rose would be expected to be, fine performances by Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti and a solid ensemble round out this exciting show. All three principals won 2008 Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical. It's thrilling to see and hear the full orchestra, playing the overture from their placement at the rear of the stage.

Gypsy, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is part of American Theatre history and is such a fine example of the best of musical theatre from the golden era of Broadway musicals. It is a thrilling, dazzling, and awe-inspiring experience that puts an un-ending smile on your face. Gypsy is an icon of musical theatre and this revival is gorgeous.

Boeing Boeing
Boeing Boeing has to be one of the funniest plays I've ever seen. This French farce, by Marc Camoletti, won the 2008 Tony for Best Revival of a Play and is filled with non-stop laughs from start to finish and fabulous performances by the entire, wacky, comedic ensemble, including Christine Baranski as the hilarious French housekeeper. It will have you falling out of your seat in tears of laughter. British actor, Mark Rylance truly deserved his 2008 Tony for Best Actor in a Play, as the bumbling, deer-in-the-headlights, middle-aged, milk toast fellow, visiting (and frantically covering for) his free wheeling, playboy, cad, architect friend at his bachelor pad in Paris. The architect is juggling relationships with three sexy flight attendants, from Germany, Italy and the U.S., engaged to and promising to marry each of them and keeping up the ruse by separating their stays at his place by their convenient, different layover schedules. With the advent of the supersonic jet (the play takes place in the 1960s) the women's arrivals in Paris converge and all hell breaks loose as the architect and his bumbling friend from Wisconsin, by default, attempt to keep the three women apart and oblivious to the others presence in the apartment. The wild, fast paced, door-slamming and haywire action that follows is priceless!

The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps is delightful! It won two 2008 Tony Awards for Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Lighting Design of a Play. It is based on Alfred Hitchcock's film and any fan of Hitchcock or great theater performance will really enjoy this wonderful mystery/comedy. Four virtuosic, British actors, three men and one woman, play over 150 male and female roles, with the greatest sense of humor, switching at dizzying speed from character to character in this high energy and very witty and smart play. The men are hysterically funny in women's roles. A number of interesting and surprising artistic devices are used brilliantly. All are simple, wonderfully creative and totally engaging and charming.

South Pacific
Where's the passion?

I grew up listening to South Pacific and singing songs from this incredible, gorgeous musical as a little girl. I think that songs such as the soaring, mystical "Bali Ha'i," are encoded in my DNA. So it was with great anticipation that I went to see the revival of South Pacific, produced with the blessings of the descendants of both composer, Richard Rodgers, and lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein, at Lincoln Center, the first Broadway revival since the original production, sixty years ago. It was going to be especially exciting because our own Bart Sher, artistic director of Seattle's Intiman Theatre, had directed it and the show had received numerous Tony nominations and was all the buzz and the hot ticket around New York. However, what I found was not the musical I loved and remembered, brimming and overflowing with the heightened senses of reality, of hope, immediacy, optimism, passion, mystery, vulnerability, yearning, sensuality, tragedy, dynamism, emotions and the dramatic sense of "living for today" (because you may not be here tomorrow) that I felt coming from the original musical play and subsequent 1958 movie. It was written about World War II, right after World War II, and encapsulated brilliantly what I felt to be the emotional climate in our culture at that historic and tumultuous time.

Instead, I found a much more subtle and low-key production, devoid of passion. While there was certain elegance in the subtlety, it lacked a great deal of dynamism. The musical overture, from the get-go, was all played in a very pleasant, kind of emotionally flat but pretty reading. Where were the yearning violins that would usually bring tears to my eyes? Where were the shimmering, brilliant, swelling melodies of Richard Rodgers that would make my heart open and make me feel rapturous? The music and play felt like someone had put a giant pillow over the whole thing to subdue it. On the plus side, the lighting was some of the best I've seen, it has a great set design and all the performers are capable professionals, if not necessarily the perfect actors for the roles. It could have been directed with greater dynamism.

Brazilian, Paulo Szot, won the 2008 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, but was not the sensual, passionate, assertive lover I would have expected. Kelli O'Hara is beautiful and has a great voice but also lacked that special, certain kind of high energy and unabashed, fearless openness of the character of Nellie Forbush. The gorgeous Matthew Morrison wandered around without much motivation as the young Lieutenant Cable and the characterization of Bloody Mary was dismal, portraying her as a small, grubbing, shrunken head saleswoman, ignoring any part of the character that exhibited dignity in her relationship with nature and its beauty.

Unfortunately, the treatment of "Bali Ha'i" (my favorite) and all other songs, were as passing incidentals, never each given the showcasing that these musical gems so eloquently deserve. The closest this piece got to high energy was a good, uproarious rendering of "Honey Bun," with the whole cast, in which I first felt that the musical really came alive. Larger production numbers were pretty good but could have been better: "There Is Nothin' Like A Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair." The one thing that I thought director Sher captured best, was the heartbreaking racism that existed at that time, which came across with a painful punch, making a very powerful point. South Pacific received seven 2008 Tony Awards including Best Scenic Design of a Musical, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Revival of a Musical and Best Director of a Musical for Bart Sher.

I must add that the front of house staff allowed latecomers in to climb over audience members during the overture and hoards of people arrived part way through Act One, because they showed up an hour late, thinking the show started at eight instead of seven. This disruption was unbelievable and thoughtless towards the audience members who did show up on time, had paid $125.00 a ticket and had waited months to see the show. Like the opera, latecomers should be kept in the lobby until the intermission. It was appalling to watch people suddenly appearing, all over the theater, climbing over others during a very quiet and important scene between the two leads. Also, this was the only Broadway theater that I attended where I had a problem with my ticket for the sold-out performance. The ticket was to be held for me at the box office under the directions of the play's publicist but it had been sold to someone else. I had to go "stand by" and was lucky to get a leftover seat at the last minute in the back, but it cost more than my original, better seat. Not even a simple apology from the box office was offered and I was faced with a gruff, take it or leave it attitude instead. It is clear that the popularity of South Pacific has led these employees to think that they have no need to be polite and that arrogant, rude behavior on their part is not out of the question.

In the Heights
In the Heights, which is meant to celebrate New York's Dominican community of Washington Heights, has beautiful dancers/singers, lively choreography, great orchestrations, with terrific Latin brass and percussion, amazing use of hip-hop, by creator/composer and 2008 Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, but has a clich├ęd, disappointingly hackneyed plot reminiscent of a mediocre sit-com. If you like being surrounded by teenaged girl tourists, audibly ooh-ing and ahh-ing whenever anyone on stage kisses or when the plot reveals that two characters have been sleeping together, then this is the play for you. If not, skip it! It won 2008 Tony Awards for Best Choreography and Best New Musical, but really isn't worth the time or the big ticket cost. Spend your money on one of the truly great pieces of theatre instead.

Sunday in the Park with George
This British production of Sunday in the Park with George, brought over from London, was the first Broadway revival of this 1980s Stephen Sondheim gem of a musical about French pointillist painter George Seurat. This production proved to be as touching, charming and moving as the original, in its own unique way. The musical was nominated for nine Tonys, including Best Actress and Actor in a Musical for elegant performances by Jenna Russell and Daniel Evans. It was only on Broadway for a limited run. I wished that it had a longer run so that more people and especially younger folks, who hadn't been born at the time of the original staging, could have had more of a chance to see it and be inspired by this very special and unique piece of musical theatre.

Passing Strange
Passing Strange is an interesting, fresh, contemporary, rock influenced musical, which follows the maturation process of a young, rebellious, African American boy from Los Angeles, who moves to Europe to discover himself and his music and finds out what it really means to become an adult. Stew, the musical's creator, won a 2008 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. This play had its beginnings at the Public Theatre, off-Broadway, in a more intimate setting, which feels more right for the theme of this piece. I think I would have enjoyed it more there than in the larger Broadway theater where I saw it. It was like taking a pretty foot and putting it into a shoe that was beautiful but too big for the foot, just because the shoe was attractive. I liked the show for the most part, but felt a little ambivalent about it in the end.

Top Girls
Top Girls is a 1980s play, which is a comment on Feminism at a time when it seemed as though women had to give up a lot to have a career. The first act is a conversation around a table amongst disparate, independent women from different centuries, including Martha Plimpton as Pope Joan, who talk over each other, which oddly, is the way this the play is written. This construct drove some frustrated audience members away at intermission because they couldn't hear the dialogue. The second act again features 2008 Tony nominee, Plimpton in an incredible performance as a developmentally disabled teenaged girl and the domestic and career women in her family, that surround her, with a heart breaking revelation in the end. I found this play to be a bit dark and dated, but I'm glad I saw it for the performances by the cast of great theatre actresses, including Mary Beth Hurt and Marisa Tomei, in this all female play.

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