Next generation triumphs on B'way

This article was updated at 9:04 p.m.

After winning a Tony and hosting the show, Hugh Jackman came backstage and said presenter Nicole Kidman told him, “If it’s not your night, I’m going to read your name anyway.” With a laugh, he said, “I think that would have been the last time I did the show!”

And his wife told him before the show, “I’m so confident you’re going to win, that if you don’t win I’ll run down Broadway naked.” “I wouldn’t have minded not winning,” he admitted: “I’d like to have seen that.”

Jackman said his last performance in “The Boy From Oz” will be Sept. 13, and then he’s off to shoot “The Fountain,” a movie about finding the fountain of youth, which, he said, “After doing Broadway for a year, I’ll need!”

* * *

“I would love to come back” to Broadway, Sean Combs declared backstage. “How the community has embraced me! Everyone has answered my questions as I grow as an actor. It has been a life-changing experience. There is no place like Broadway. I’ve done concerts. There is nothing like this. I can’t describe in words.”

“I haven’t gotten past what I’m doing after we wrap up. It has been the least stressful thing I’ve ever done,” he added.

“Tonight was a historical night for ‘Raisin’ and Audra and Phylicia.

“This is the greatest weekend in the world. as far as the Lakers game and ‘The Sopranos’ and J.Lo got married and the Tony Awards and ‘Raisin’ has been repped.”

“A movie is like masturbation and theater is like making love. Macaulay Culkin said that.”

Seeing everyone connected with “Avenue Q” heading to the stage when its win as best musical was announced, Combs said, “Everybody is going up there. That’s what they do at rap awards. I guess Broadway people have entourages, too.”

* * *

Best play winner Doug Wright, asked about the possibility of anyone other than Jefferson Mays starring in “I Am My Own Wife,” replied: “I was hoping some of the puppets from ‘Avenue Q’ would be available, but I think they’ll be busy for some time.”

As for the string of pearls he was wearing under his suit, he said, “Absolute good luck. A lot of us did (wear pearls tonight). Jefferson didn’t. He said it was one of the few nights he wasn’t required to wear pearls, so he didn’t. Charlotte always wore pearls.”

* * *

“Wicked’s” winning witch, Idina Menzel, admitted backstage, “I was very surprised. I went in and out of (greenface) twice today. … It has been worth it. I had to use a different shower here (at Radio City Music Hall), and the pressure makes all the difference.

“I played Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in fourth grade,” she said. “Maybe that was a good omen.”

* * *

“Avenue Q” producer Jeffrey Seller said the Tony-winning tuner “is a classic American musical about movingn to New York City and following your dream.”

Producer Kevin McCollum said, “People love the show. We used the same sense of humor as the show” for the much-talked-about ad campaign.

And producer Robyn Goodman said, “It is the next generation on Broadway. The cast and writers were all new to Broadway.”

* * *

Michael Cerveris, winner for “Assassins” as featured actor, said the show has again extended its run at Studio 54: “It looks like we’ll go until early October. We’re working on that, and it looks like it will happen.”

Of the controversial Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman tuner, he said, “It seems people are more eager to look at difficult questions about our country and how we’re in the position we are in these days. It doesn’t have a political agenda. It is a big open question.

“I would personally like to invite every Republican delegate to our show. There aren’t that many Democrats to keep the show open that long. There weren’t enough Democrats last election to sway things. It is a show about America. There is something peculiarly American about these assassins.”

Producer Todd Haimes confirmed the extension and, regarding the Republicans, agreed: “I don’t think we’re on the approved list. I didn’t expect to be.”

Lyricist John Weidman, who accepted the show’s Tony for revival, said, “I wouldn’t call it vindication. it is enormously satisfying, after its odd history for 13 years, to see it this well done.”

* * *

“Avenue Q’s” winning book writer, Jeff Whitty, said: “I’ve got two play commissions. I have to cough up some plays.” He’s also working on a TV pilot for Fox and writing a movie for Jennifer Aniston.” I’d never pitched a movie before, a true story. I’m looking at some musical projects, but can’t talk about it yet.”

“This is the beginning. What is the name of that horse? I feel like Smarty Jones right now. Hoping we’ll win some more.” Referring to the tuner’s theme –finding one’s purpose in life — he said, “My purpose now is to write Broadway musicals, which I wouldn’t have known four years ago. I watched ‘Sweeney Todd’ a hundred times, but winning a Tony wasn’t a dream of mine until ‘Avenue Q’ came along.”

Of the producers’ aggressive, political-style Tony campaign, Whitty said he was nervous about it. “I’m so pleased. They’re much braver than I would have been,” he added. “It didn’t feel aggressive, other than promoting ourselves. Maybe it helped. It became fun for all of us, seeing what they’d come up with next.”

* * *

Celebrating her fourth Tony win, Audra McDonald (“A Raisin in the Sun”) stopped to watch co-star Phylicia Rashad accept her award, saying, “It’s hard to talk now.”

When she found her voice, she said, “I guess (the win) puts me in an exclusive club. Can’t touch Hal Prince, who has 400. I can’t believe it has happened.”

Asked about the possibility that black women could win in all the female acting categories, she said, “I certainly hope it happens. It would be a wonderful moment in theatrical history. (Fellow nominee) Sanaa (Lathan) and I talked and hoped it would happen for each other. African-American women have been given a chance to have a voice, more than any other time in history.”

“Something has changed,” she added. Black women may be playing maids on Broadway, but “these are maids who have voices. And we’re hearing their lives. You’re in the basement with Caroline, who just happens to be a domestic worker.”

Of her “Raisin” co-star Sean Combs, making his Broadway debut, McDonald said, “He exceeded my expectations. Many people have said many things about his performance. He has a work ethic unlike any I’ve ever seen. He is tireless. And he is a cheerleader and a clown.”

* * *

“Raisin” winner Phylicia Rashad also had kind words for the Broadway newcomer: “Sean Combs brought the aud to ‘Raisin,'” she said. “There were those who questioned his ability, but there will be people eager to see him. Whatever they thought before the curtain went up, five minutes into it, they were into ‘Raisin.’ We thank him for the diversity we see in the theater of ‘Raisin.'”

Informed backstage that she was the first black winner of the featured actress in a play Tony, she was surprised. “I am? I didn’t know that. I hadn’t thought about it like that. One of the great things is that art transcends these things. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of ethnicity. I don’t know what to say.”

Expanding on her acceptance speech, she said, “I grew up when Jim Crow laws were in full effect. My mother is a poet. When we were little children, my mother made the determination she would do everything to see that her children weren’t scarred by legal racism. As little children, there were amusement parks that were segregated. My mother wouldn’t say we couldn’t go there because we were black. (She said) you have to belong to a special club. So we thought you had to belong to a club. It wasn’t that we were black.”

Rashad said her next project will be August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” starting at Boston’s Huntington Theater and reaching Broadway in late October.

* * *

“I feel as though my head has been picked up and dropped into 40 pieces,” said Jefferson Mays (actor in a play, “I Am My Own Wife”), who was considered one of the evening’s sure things. “I’ve managed to keep everyone straight, so to speak.”

Known for his wardrobe of hats, he made it backstage without his chapeau, and admitted, “I feel naked. I left it under the seat.

“This is my first time on Broadway,” he added. “I’m a rank neophyte. Anything could have happened. I thought I’d be Smarty Jones.”

* * *

Brian F. O’Byrne (featured actor in a play for “Frozen”) said, “Right now on Broadway, (in) new plays, there are five actors onstage right now. We are endangered, those of us who do new plays.”

“I fly to L.A. in the morning,” he added. “It was something I got before the play moved to Broadway — ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ with Clint Eastwood. I get three scenes with Clint.”

* * *

Presenter Joel Grey struck a political note, saying, “I’m going to be part of the Kerry campaign. Time for change.”

Compared to 50 years ago, when he made his Broadway debut, Grey said, “Broadway has lost a lot of heart; so has Hollywood. Maybe it will change.”

* * *

Jack O’Brien, who took the Tony for direction of a play, has a full plate: “I’m doing ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.’ (We) start that at the Globe like ‘The Full Monty’ and bring it back (to Broadway). And then I do the Stoppard trilogy ‘The Coast of Utopia,’ but that is a year out at Lincoln Center. It starts in 2005.” Stoppard is hard at work rewriting, O’Brien said: “He is relishing going back and looking at it.”

Known for alternating between plays and musicals, he said, “Our world is so specialized now, but if you do regional theater like I do you have to stretch yourself in a lot of directions. I’ve had a lot of terrific opportunities. I work both sides. The problems are the same, keeping people awake and in their seats.”

* * *

Billy Joel, who with Jane Krakowski presented the Tony for featured actress in a musical, said: “I’m working on a book for a musical. We need a good book. I’m not a book writer, I’m a musician. I’ve been talking to people about it. I have sketches of music, and that’s where I am at this point.” He added he may collaborate with other writers on the show.

“The show will be about the music business. I’m going to take it apart. You know what Mel (Brooks) did to Broadway with ‘The Producers,’ and Paddy Chayevsky did to TV with ‘Network’ — I want to do that (with this musical). The title is ‘Good Career Move,’ which is death. What’s sexier than a hit record? Death. Can’t have a hit? Die.”

Onstage, Joel referred to his father’s participation in D-Day. Backstage, he said, “Nowhere in the show were they mentioning D-Day. Which allows us to do our silly stuff. I handed (a speech about D-Day) to the (show) producer. ‘This will take 40 seconds,’ he said. I said, ‘Someone should say something about all the casualties 60 years ago. They ended the war.’ ”

* * *

Anika Noni Rose, who took home the Tony for featured actress in a musical (“Caroline, or Change”), plays a teen in the show and said it’s not hard playing a younger character. “Adults are taught to be a certain way. And we let things go — how to be free, and have fun — and I’m paid to let all that go.”

She said she doesn’t find the 1960s-set tuner to be dated: “I don’t know if we have democracy yet. I didn’t vote for Bush.”

On what looked to be a good night for black actresses, she opined, “I hope it is a sign for the better. There are a lot of people on Broadway from a lot of different ethnicities. If nothing else, it will inspire hope.”

* * *

Broadway vet Chita Rivera said backstage: “Terrence McNally is writing an autobiographical play of my life. Graciela Daniele is directing. It is from when I started up to now. It is exciting and scary. No title. It is me being me and telling fun stories.”

Of her presenting duties, she commented, “It was nice giving it to Kathleen (Marshall). (Her brother) Rob (Marshall) was in the chorus of ‘The Rink,’ and he saved me in ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman,’ ” on which he was the choreographer.

* * *

Presenter Edie Falco gave a tip of the hat to her main job: “I have HBO-on-demand,” she said, so she didn’t have to stay home for “The Sopranos” finale. “I don’t remember (it); we shot it a year ago. I am also in the NBA finals,” she joked about her busy night.

“I will be doing a play in the fall,” she promised. ” ‘Night Mother” is a possibility. I am choosing from a number of plays.”

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