A look behind the scenes on Broadway's big night
The much-praised chemistry between Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, who won both leading acting in a play trophies for August Wilson’s “Fences,” “was pretty immediate,” said Davis.
Said Washington: “I’ve known of Viola’s brilliance for a long time — the first movie I directed (“Antwone Fisher”), I had the good sense to cast Viola in it. We were never singled out as leads. The whole cast worked together as one. Kenny Leon’s a great director. August Wilson is music, and it takes the whole band. You can riff, but you have to do it within the confines of the music.”
Asked what would the pair would say to Wilson right now, Davis said: “Congratulations! Well done! It’s so fitting that when he finished the 10th play in the cycle(“Radio Golf”), he passed. There’s an anointing on (“Fences.”)
Washington spoke about thanking God in his acceptance speech, “Troy’s tempting the Devil,” he said. “He’s trying to do it without God, and I need a whole lotta God to play him.”
Washington also gave a shout-out to young black writers. “Somebody’s gotta write it,” he declared. “I’m always happy when I see the parents bringing children to the show, and I hope August will inspire another generation, not just of actors, but writers.”
Katie Finneran said what inspired her Tony-winning perf on “Promises, Promises,” was the kudosfest. “It was watching the Tony Awards. It was really about watching it on TV, the Broadway shows.”
Finneran said she felt a part of the first act, though her character doesn’t come on until the second. “I have a toilet connected to the first box in the house, so I can actually watch the show from my toilet. I call it a view from the loo.”
“Neil and I are old friends,” said Finneran of the tuner’s book writer Neil Simon. “I think his favorite thing was that when my character shows off her coat, she says, ‘It’s owl!’ and there’s an h-o-o written after it, and he said he always wanted the actress to do an owl noise, which I do.”
After a major buildup, explaining the research and the genus of owl imitated, Finneran gave a lengthy “Hooooooo! Hooooo!,” drawing laughs and applause.
“I’ll certainly be here [the U.S.] a big longer,” said Douglas Hodge, lead actor in “La Cage aux Folles,” holding up his award. “There are other projects, and there’s a musical that I’ve written that I think has a better chance here. You can’t develop things like that in England, you can here.”
Hodge said he felt the U.K. was seeing some of its best work come from the Chocolate Factory. “In England before ‘La Cage,’ as an actor I was working with the RSC, and I kept thinking the Chocolate Factory is interesting and edgy and somewhere I should really go. It’s a little like the Almeida was when I was working with Harold Pinter.”
“Red” thesp Eddie Redmayne, winner for featured actor in a play, appeared to be on cloud nine.
“Oh, god, I can’t believe it! I haven’t ever really been to an awards ceremony, and this is an amazing one to start with. I think what’s fascinating is how different people have reacted to the play,” Redmayne said. “Some people are on Rothko’s side and say absolutely, seriousness does matter. Others really say, “Come on, Ken [Redmayne’s character], gird your loins!”
“In America, they’re really engaged — we were worried as two Brits bringing to this city a story that’s been written about it, but we’re really touched by the response.”
Holding up his trophy, “Fela!” helmer-choreographer Bill T. Jones said, “This is pretty good, isn’t it?”
“What a wild ride, huh?” he said smiling. The presence of big-name musicians on his show didn’t surprise him. “You realize of course, that Fela himself, in Lagos, had people like Paul McCartney, Ginger Baker of Cream(playing with him) — there was a point at which if you were anybody in the rock world, you had to show up in Lagos and work with Fela. So I think Fela would have understood that need here.”
For his next gig, the helmer-choreographer said he was looking at stage versions of films “Black Orpheus,” “Superfly” and “Monsoon Wedding.”
Christine Jones dedicated her Tony for the “American Idiot” set design to two husbands: “Dallas Roberts, the love of my life and the father of my children, and Michael Mayer, the love of my other life and father of my other children,” Jones said.
“Michael, you are the Jesus and the Judy of Broadway,” she declared, brandishing her Tony. “Thank you so much for giving me this to hold.”
In the untelevised (but webcast) portion of the ceremony, Karen Olivo and Gregory Jbara presented the awards. The pair entered to laughs — “What’s with the fashion footwear?” asked Jbara when the star of the Arthur Laurents-directed revival of “West Side Story” followed him onto the stage sporting a cast and crutches.
“Oh, this is what happens when you don’t take a note from Arthur Laurents,” Olivo responded.
“Wow, I’ve never been in front of such a huge audience and won such a huge standing ovation,” said honoree Alan Ayckbourn. “Since it’s a lifetime achievement award, you’re supposed to thank everyone from your mother on, which obviously I’m not going to able to do.”
Ayckbourn did thank Manhattan Theater Club’s Lynne Meadow plus 59E59’s Peter Tear and Elysabeth Kleinhans.
When I saw (“Red,”director) Michael Grandage had been talking about it ever since he started working on it,” said Arielle Tepper Madover, producer of the play winner. “The fact that we ended up being in the most perfect, intimate theater was really by luck in a lot of ways.” “Red” book writer John Logan said he was thrilled with the transfer from London’s Donmar Warehouse. “The rhythm, the jokes, the language is American,” said the scribe. “I think it works best in America, actually. I, immodestly, like to sit in the back of the house and watch it.”
“La Cage” producer David Babani was more circumspect than helmer Terry Johnson on the role of a previous revival in the new staging.
“The whole production started as a result of the other Broadway revival,” said Babani. “I saw it and I saw the most wonderful show, and we wanted to explore a different way of doing ‘La Cage’ in London, and make it as warm and funny and heartfelt as we could, and strip away a lot of the showbiz that both the original and the revival had done so brilliantly. I think that’s what made us want to take it to the West End and New York and hopefully the rest of the world.”
Producer Sonia Friedman said “La Cage” was planned to tour, but there was no start location yet. After a lull during which journos on deadline tapped away at their keyboards for several seconds without asking a question, Friedman said, “Sorry we’re not more famous — can you at least pretend to be intersted in us?”
Christopher Oram said his interest in the paintings of Mark Rothko, subject of “Red” (for which Oram won scenic design), went back to his childhood. “The play’s about the commission of the Seagram’s murals, and they’ve been in the Tate since I was a kid,” Oram recalled. “They’ve been in a specific space dedicated to them, which was what Rothko always intended. The play really offered me an opportunity to explore the paintings a bit.”
Joe DiPietro, David Bryan, Daryl Waters took the stage in the press room to show off their three Tony awards.
In answer to a query about what it took to bring “Memphis” to the Rialto, DiPietro said, “It took the right producers, really.”
“There was a good two or three years where it was in limbo and we were about as far away from this podium as you can imagine,” DiPietro added. “We had the right two producers, and David and I are really optimistic people.
Composer Bryan, also the keyboardist for Bon Jovi, agreed: “It’s an original, or as we like to call it, a future revival.” Bryan also said playing out of town for so long worked out well. “It wasn’t a curse, it was a blessing — we got it all right because we ran out of things to do wrong.”
DiPietro gave props to the producers for choosing Montego Glover and Chad Kimball over movie stars.
“Broadway used to make stars,” DiPietro said. “It used to have talented people who worked their way up. Our producers said, ‘You know what, sink or swim, we’re gonna go with these two.'”
Set designer Christine Jones discussed the posters on “American Idiot.” “I have to give a lot of credit to my assistant Damon Pelletier, who I suspect grew up in a room full of posters.”
Jones was all about her collaborators: “Collaborating with this group of people is like playing in a band. This is our second time working together and we’ll just throw out images. Michael (Mayer, the director), though, is a genius, if you look at his work, on, say, ‘Everyday Rapture,’ you can see his range. We’re all running to keep up with him.”
Jones also praised lighting designer Kevin Adams. “I probably say less to Kevin than I do to any other designer; he just figures out what the vocabulary is and just paints the set. He had all kinds of rock and roll equipment that he brings in. There’s not a lot of talking, it’s just kind of making some rock and roll.”
Adams, who followed Jones on stage, finessed a boneheaded query about whether his work on “Idiot” was inspired by “Red” subject Mark Rothko. “Of course, yeah,” Adams responded. “I’ve loved Rothko’s paintings. I’m afraid I don’t look at that stuff as much anymore, though.”
Asked what inspired him to re-create “La Cage aux Folles” in such a small room, helmer Terry Johnson replied, “The size of the room we started in. It was about the size of the footprint you see in the theater — that’s the joy of the (Menier) Chocolate Factory, along with small wages and a small budget.”
When asked about the production’s uncharacteristically early revival, Johnson said, “To be perhaps too candid, I think [Menier Chocolate Factory a.d.] David Babani saw the last revival on Broadway and thought, ‘There’s a show there, and I’m not quite seeing it.’ And he decided to find the people to do it, myself being a slightly odd choice, because I’m not a musical person, I’m a text guy. But it’s a word-based production, and we tried not to get too far away from the words.
Addressing a common objection to the show, Johnson said, “I never saw it as a gay musical for straight people. A lot of my work is about sex and comedy. A lot of it is about hetero sex and comedy, and it was really joyous to make a show about gay sex and comedy.
“The best gift of all was when Jerry told me he liked it. It was second only to when Harvey Fierstein saw it with me. He leaned over and said, ‘I only have notes for the author,'” Johnson added in a surprisingly good impression of Fierstein’s gravelly voice that got plenty of chuckles.
Helmer Michael Grandage said he and his team “don’t want to give anybody a history lesson” with biodrama “Red.”
“The authors for both of those plays offered a perspective for Nixon and Rothko, and in both cases the writers embellished. People get angry about that, they think that’s not right, but it’s not really our job to get it right. It’s our job to get it fun.”
Asked about his upcoming role in a London revival of David Hirson’s “La Bete,” Isabelle Stevenson Award recipient David Hyde Pierce deadpanned, “It’s terrible. It’s going to be a huge disaster.”
Talking about whether he might be in an upcoming prod of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Hyde Pierce said, “It’s absolutely true that I might be.” The thesp said he was eyeing the role of J.B. Bigley.