Producers hope for comeback after rough '99

Can co-hosts Rosie O’Donnell and Nathan Lane bring irreverent relief to the Tony Awards in back-to-back shows on PBS and CBS?

Last year was near-disaster when a live feature on the nominated plays turned into a boggled mess and a musical number from “It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues” had to be cut, literally, at the 11th hour.

“We sat down with both the (Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers) and the Dramatists Guild and talked through the whole situation for the presentation of the plays,” said Edgar Dobie, managing producer of the June 4 awards show.

“The plays have been doing a good job of putting together their own B rolls for press purposes, so we are working with them and editing from that material, with full blessings from the guild and SSD&C.”

Playwright Marsha Norman (“ ’Night Mother”) has been appointed liaison to work with CBS exec producer Walter Miller on the taped segment.

As for axing the “Blues” number, Dobie recalled, “It was due to the acceptance speeches, which ran over significantly. We are going to be even more diligent with them.”

“We’ll have some shorter packages available if we get into trouble,” he added.

The choice of presenters — actors whose pedigree is more TV than legit — remains a constant stomping ground for Tony critics.

“It’s a complicated soup of different agents and manager, and of PBS wanting people and CBS wanting people,” PBS exec producer Jeff Folmsbee explained. “My taste in presenters is to go with people who are currently stars on Broadway.”

And who also appear on the tube. This year’s have-it-both-ways presenters include Kelsey Grammer, Susan Lucci, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jack Wagner and Carol Burnett.

Jane Krakowski, Christine Lahti and Megan Mullally will also present. Once upon a time, these TV stars did trod the Gotham stage. Will they tell viewers “how good it feels to be back onstage?”

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Folmsbee said. Also unknown is whether they will once again beg people to see a Broadway show (does anyone on the Emmys insist that we watch more TV?).

Speaking of which, Dobie revealed that arrivals at Radio City Music Hall will be aired a la the Oscars.

“Certainly, Rosie’s fans will be there,” he said.

Well, if Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman don’t show, it’s probably best not to herald the appearance of, say, Marisa Tomei’s limousine.

In 1999, xenophobia reared its head when American legiter “Sideman” took best play, beating out three entries from abroad.

Those odds are reversed in 2000, with the British “Copenhagen” facing three Yankee candidates: “Dirty Blonde,” “True West” and “The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.”

The two-way contest here, between the intellectual “Copenhagen” and the “Blonde” crowd-pleaser, may have less to do with nationalism than the increased influence of Tony voters who are road presenters. (Their percentage rose when 100 League of American Theaters and Producers members — most of them producers and managers in the Gotham area — lost their voting eligibility this past season.)

As one road presenter/Tony voter put it to Daily Variety a year ago, “I can’t help but go in a little biased toward what travels well.” On the road, Mae West is probably more powerful than the atomic bomb. Expect an explosion of “Dirty Blonde” wins.

Very ‘special’ category

Major suspense also hinges on how effectively the Associated Musicians of Greater New York will convince Tony voters — very few of whom belong to the musicians’ Local 802 — that “Contact” is not a musical and the award should go to “James Joyce’s The Dead,” “The Wild Party” or “Swing!”

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