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Backstage Notes: Tony Awards

Director has twin wins

Michael Blakemore entered the press room with a glass of champagne, having just made Tony history as the first director to win Tonys for both a play and a musical in the same year — for “Copenhagen” and “Kiss, Me Kate.” “If I knew I was going to win two Tonys, I think I would have retired. It’s like having twins,” he said. “You get it over with all at once.” He begins work on Arthur Miller’s “Mr. Peter’s Connection” at the Almeida in London at end of June, with John Collum in the lead.

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Newcomer Jennifer Ehle beat out veteran Rosemary Harris, her mother, for the actress award. “I never viewed it as a competition and she didn’t either. You can’t in different theaters and different plays,” said Ehle, who won for “The Real Thing.” Harris was nominated for “Waiting in the Wings.” As for what they said pre-show, “We were just scrambling around getting ready. We didn’t think either of us would win.”

As for what ran through her head as she went up the stairs to the Radio City Music Hall stage, “I was thinking about not tripping and finding a toilet, it had been a two- and a half-hour wait.”

Her run in “The Real Thing” is supposed to come to an end Aug. 12, but not because of Actors’ Equity rules for British actors. “The Equity regulations don’t apply to me, because I’m an American citizen.” Ehle is a British resident and possesses a very British accent. Can she talk American? “Yes,” she answered in decidedly tough tones.

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Will all the Tonys help extend the run of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing?” “Nothing planned,” said Stephen Dillane, who won the actor Tony. He said the play has changed a bit since it traveled across the Atlantic. “It demands that we be a little bit more outgoing. Maybe audiences here want a bit more razzmatazz than they did in England.”

Dillane denied the rumor that his body language in the role was based on Stoppard’s.

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Liz McCann, one of the many producers of play winner “Copenhagen,” said they were planning a national tour “and all of that is a lot easier when you have a Tony. It is a great trademark.”

As for what actors would be touring, she cracked, “When we cast a play with Mr. Michael Blakemore, it is what the boss wants.” She said tour plans were being finalized.

McCann gave special credit to the Nederlanders for supporting the very intellectual play. “You think of Jimmy Nederlander as a meat and potatoes kind of guy who produces musicals. He told me, ‘We’ll find the money. And if we don’t find the money, we’ll think of something.”

But, it wasn’t easy. “Why do you think we have nine producers?” McCann cracked. “I’m Snow White and I’m not going to tell you who’s Grumpy.” Still, McCann knew she was betting on a winner. “The odds always go with the work of a great dramatist.”

Author Michael Frayn remarked, “I think audiences get underestimated. There was talk audiences wouldn’t come.” A week ago, “Copenhagen” producer Roger Berlind said the play had already returned half its investment.

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Roy Dotrice, who won featured actor for his turn in “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” remarked on a very long career: “I started acting in a German war camp. We had our own professional acting company. My first part was the Fairy Godmother in ‘Cinderella.’ We had to make due with faux women, and I was one of them. I segued into male parts, and my wife is forever grateful.”

As for playing a drunk in “Moon,” he said he had much practice. “I learned it on my father’s knee.”

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Blair Brown got her first Tony, for featured actress in “Copenhagen.” Wearing a floral pattern outfit, Brown remarked, “This dress brought me luck. I wore it eight years ago to the Emmys.”

She was one of the few winners to have her speech get cut off with rapidly rising music. “It’s so rude,” she said. “It’s just not enough time to thank everyone and make a joke.”

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Musical winner “Contact’s” creator Susan Stroman — addressing the “is-it-a-musical” controversy — said the show balanced several elements that were essential to a musical. “When we created the show, we didn’t have to be in a category. There is no dance in ‘Les Miz,’ but I wouldn’t not call it a musical. The pre-recorded music was unique to this show. It doesn’t mark a trend.”

Stroman had two shows on Broadway this season, “Contact” and “The Music Man.” Next season, she may have Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” and “Oklahoma,” which she choreographed. “There’s a possibility and I’m ready to take it on.”

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Boyd Gaines, winner for featured actor in a musical, said he had no opinion on the “Contact” “is-it-or-isn’t-it” a musical controversy. “I really don’t care what people call it. It’s a beautiful piece. It stands on its own merit. I came across the original outline when we did the workshop. It said conceived by Susan Stroman and John Weidman, book by John Weidman. And I thought, oh, this is a musical.”

As for being a non-dancer in a show filled with dancers, he added, “I have all of the bruises and none of the talent.”

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Heather Headley, winner for actress in a musical for “Aida,” said she had a “funny feeling I might” be working for Disney the rest of her life. As for Elton John, she said that the composer had sent the entire cast, the orchestra and the crew gift candles. “He has this special candles, (with) his gold insignia.”

She said the cast didn’t know of John’s infamous walk-out during a preview of “Aida,” when he was unhappy with some of the orchestrations. “In the pop world they deal with things differently. To say you don’t like something means you remove your presence from the room. We didn’t find out about (his walk-out) until the end of the performance.”

She said it “hurt us a little” when “Aida” didn’t get a nom for musical. There was some revenge in that the show got four Tonys. “It felt so great, even if we didn’t get nominated (for musical) we got these awards.”

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Karen Ziemba, who won for featured actress in a musical for “Contact,” was introduced to the press room as the girl in the red dress, a take off on her girl in the yellow dress co-star, Deborah Yates.

As for the “Contact” controversy, she opined, “It’s tough. A lot of it has to do with setting a precedent about live musicians on Broadway, but ‘Contact’ was conceived in the CD rack of these characters. But theater has to evolve … if it is ‘Contact’ …it moves people, and that’s good theater and it should be honored.”

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Richard Nelson, winner for book of a musical for “James Joyce’s The Dead,” said there was talk about changing the name of his tuner, based on the James Joyce novella. “We started calling it just ‘The Dead,’ but people thought it was the Grateful Dead,” he said.

Concerning the play’s future beyond its Ahmanson engagement in Los Angeles this summer, Nelson said, “We’re making it available to regional theater, absolutely, we’re putting together a regional tour on our own but it will also be available to regional companies… There’s talk of a commercial run in London … There are Irish commercial producers who are interested.”

As for “The Dead” starrer Christopher Walken not singing and dancing on Tony night, Nelson commented, “He flew in today or last night. It was too dangerous (to put him in the number) without any rehearsal.”

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Barry Humphries accepted the special honor for his “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour,” as Dame Edna herself was downstairs, torn between her hairdresser and her gynecologist.

“My joy is tinged with disappointment,” Humphries bemoaned. “I had hoped to be nominated in the dramatic acting category, however, Edna with her irresponsible ad-libbing has trivialized this work of art and turned it into a frothy crowd pleaser.”

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Dame Edna weighed in on Barry Humphries accepting her special honor Tony. “There’s always been tension between us since I found Barry’s hand in the till.”

The Melbourne housewife said she didn’t know what happened to Elton John, the Tony’s biggest no-show. “He’s in a world of his own. He is in the superstar stratosphere. I believe in mingling with people like yourselves, I don’t feel sullied.”

In 2001, Dame Edna might have been nominated in the just-created special theatrical event category. “It would have been nice to be in competition. But I’ve always been a separate category,” she said. As for future Gotham engagements, Dame Edna commented, “I’ve been thinking of slipping into Donna Hanover’s slot in ‘The Vagina Monologues.’ Slot is the appropriate word.”

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Kelsey Grammer, who was a presenter, took umbrage at the bad reviews he got in Boston for his “Macbeth.” “Two were negative, and we were savaged by the ignorant.” Does he dismiss the curse of the Scottish play? “I didn’t until those two butt-heads from Boston. I dismiss the curse as best I can.”

He realizes it’s a gamble and fears the Gotham critics. “I may be the largest target to present itself in some time.”

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Martin Pakledinaz, costume designer for “Kiss Me, Kate,” nabbed his first Tony. As for being lip attacked by Dame Edna, he said he had no idea his face was covered with Revlon. “I just thought she was doing major mojo behind me,” he quipped. The designer is at work on costumes for Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” in Seattle this summer and an original Peter Sellars opera in Salzburg.

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Rosie O’Donnell begged the winners, “First and foremost make your speech without any paper instrument. Say something emotional and important. No one cares who your agents are. All the agents are going, ‘That is not funny.’ Trust me, no one cares.”

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Tony presenter Kristin Chenoweth is shooting 13 episodes of her new NBC TV series, “Kristin,” so had to opt out of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at the La Jolla Playhouse this fall. The West Coast may see her in a revival of Jerry Herman’s “Mack and Mabel” with the Reprise! Series. “It’s a musical I really, really want to do,” she said. A concert version in Fort Worth, Texas, according to the actress, has gone south.

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“Why am I here?” asked presenter Kathie Lee Gifford. As for who’s taking her role on TV, she answered, “Those that are being seriously considered in the papers are not being seriously considered. They may not announce until the end of the year.”

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“This topic has been exhausted,” producer Andre Bishop said of the “Contact” controversy.

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