NEW YORK — The Tony eligibility cutoff May 1 marked a seasonal ending of sorts, but it also kicked off the annual flurry of parties, galas and benefits that constitute a brief but inordinately busy season of their own.
Topic No. 1 is usually the Tony Awards, with the current state of the theater coming in a close second. Herewith, some memorable moments culled from the first two weeks of celebrations.
- Sutton Foster serenaded James L. Nederlander at his 80th-birthday bash on April 29. She sang “Jimmy” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which provided the evening’s high point. As one non-“Millie” producer put it, “She just picked up every undecided Tony voter in the room.”
- On May 10, John Lithgow may have achieved a similar feat with his inspired hosting of the Drama League Awards. Nominated for “Sweet Smell of Success,” Lithgow read a self-penned eight-minute poem linking 49 thesp names in rhyme, from Alan Bates to Jeffrey Wright. Best couplet: “And Bill Pullman ignited a marital duel/Preferring a goat over Mercedes Ruehl.” From there, things sagged as all 49 actors present took the microphone to essentially repeat the words “thrilled to be here.”
- Edward Albee took the Lucille Lortel Lifetime Achievement Award May 6 at the late patroness’s own theater on Christopher Street. The 74-year-old scribe began with the usual “We shouldn’t give lifetime achievements too early” speech, then went on to predict he would “die about 25 years from now” and that there were “three more plays in my head,” which probably sent John Simon reeling.
In a refreshing departure, Albee said he would thank no one for his award but quickly took aim at some unfavored directors: “There isn’t time — but I can name the three or four I haven’t enjoyed working with,” he said.
Calling all producers
- Unlike the past two years, the Dramatists Guild’s third annual gala at the Hudson Theater did not bring out legit producers in force. The scribes and the money guys are locked in a quiet war in the U.S. Congress. The recently introduced Playwrights’ Licensing Relief Act essentially would authorize collective negotiations between the two groups, and from the looks of Monday night’s event, producers aren’t about to lend their support to the guild by show of face or coin.
An exception was “The Crucible” producer David Richenthal, who brought Arthur Miller to the fete.
“Oh, I’m sure there are others here,” said Richenthal, who may have had to search the balcony to find them.
Dramatists Guild prexy John Weidman commented on all the no-shows. “The stage was filled with guild members like Arthur Miller, Christopher Durang, David Henry Hwang, Stephen Sondheim and John Guare. It’s hard to believe these are the kinds of writers that producers don’t want to talk to.”
Regardless, the guild put on the best gala of the spring season. This year’s features scenes and songs excised from various shows.
Miller introduced a segment cut from “The Crucible.” Of his failed play “Face Value,” Hwang remembered one Boston critic labeled it “M. Turkey.” Charles Strouse and Sheldon Harnick sang tunes that didn’t make it into their respective tuners “Applause” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Sondheim offered the first perf ever of the original opening of “West Side Story,” complete with such 1950s comic-book jargon as “moonaroonie” and “frabajabber.”
“We spent a month on it,” Sondheim said in introducing the number. “Why we cut it will become obvious.” Sondheim credited Jerome Robbins with throwing out the lyrics and using Leonard Bernstein’s music for the show’s now-legendary dance prologue.
Awards went to Cy Coleman and the team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, as well as Neal Bell and Tony Kushner. Sign of the times: The three veterans did not mention their spouses, whereas Bell honored his late partner, playwright Tom Babe, and Kushner said of his agent, “Joyce Ketay would like to thank my boyfriend, Mark Harris, for not having to go to these events and pretend she is my girlfriend.”