Backstage Notes at the Tonys

'Hairspray' team has plans for 'Catch Me' tuner

“Hairspray” lyricist Scott Wittman revealed backstage that he and collaborator Marc Shaiman are “working on a musical version of ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ developing it as a musical, with Steven Spielberg.”

Wittman said the best thing about winning was “that I got to kiss Sarah Jessica Parker. I wanted to do a full Adrien Brody on her.”

Composer Shaiman had a different take: “You don’t get to feel anything, because you’re just worried about being cut off. (“Hairspray”) is everything we wanted to be and do. The success of the show is the biggest reward. This is a very tasty cherry.”

Shaiman added, “John Waters’ sensibility comes easily to us. There will be other projects in our life that will be more of a struggle. This one was blessed. I’m the fat chubby girl. … I hope to replace Harvey (Fierstein) if he ever leaves the show.”

* * *

But the actor in a musical winner may not give Shaiman the chance. Harvey Fierstein spoke for himself and co-star Marissa Jaret Winokur: “Neither of us are running away. Ethel Merman is our goddess, both of us.

“People say ‘gay’ and ‘Hairspray.’ The gayest thing about ‘Hairspray’ is all the men it took to write it,” he joked. “What happens if you put six gay men in a room and lock the door? You get a Broadway musical.”

On hearing from backstage that “Hairspray” had been named best musical, Fierstein exclaimed, “I’m so glad I Tivo’d this show!”

* * *

Best actress in a musical Marissa Jaret Winokur (“Hairspray”) said, “This role has changed my life forever. I’m a role model for young girls, I’m starring in a Broadway musical, I have a sitcom coming up on ABC. My life has completely changed. I’ve paid off all my college loans.”

* * *

“Take Me Out” scribe Richard Greenberg, asked about “the gay Tonys,” commented, “It is just a big gay world. I think America has reacted positively to show business gayness for a number of years now. I guess they think we’re funny or something.”

* * *

Billy Joel, who shared the orchestrations Tony with Stuart Malina for “Movin’ Out,” said he’s “thinking about doing another show. I have an idea for a book. I want it to be my idea. People have sent me ideas. … I liked Twyla’s because it was about dance, and she had a cohesive vision. The extent of our collaboration was I said ‘OK.’ She had the vision.

Watching backstage as his “Movin’ Out” collaborator Twyla Tharp won the choreography award, Joel raised his fist triumphantly.

“I’ve been looking differently at my music (since seeing “Movin’ Out”). It has a life of its own, it doesn’t need me anymore. … It is an out-of-body experience.”

Of writing “Hairspray’s” winning book, Mark O’Donnell said, “I’ve done Hollywood things where I felt oppressed, but we laughed almost all the time.”

His collaborator, Thomas Meehan, said, “The John Waters movie was a pretty good blueprint (for the stage). ‘The Producers’ took more work, even though you had that wonderful song ‘Springtime for Hitler.'”

Meehan is crafting another Mel Brooks musical, “Young Frankenstein”: “We’ve been working on it six months, and (we have) six songs for Act One and about two-thirds of the book for the first act. It will take another year. We’re slowly moving along. As soon as we finish it, we might throw it away if it stinks. So don’t hold your breath.”

* * *

“Take Me Out’s” Denis O’Hare said of his Tony-winning “Marz” Marzac, “It is a beautiful character. I think he is the one approachable character. It is a play about a superstar, and he is not a superstar. He’s a normal guy. (Director) Joe Mantello taught me not to go for the laugh. Daniel (Sunjata) and I found a deeper, darker relationship.”

Asked about the prevalence of gay subject matter, O’Hare said, “The more it is talked about, the more commonplace it becomes. The less it becomes freakish. The idea is to become bored with it, which would be great.”

Speaking of the Tonys itself, the openly gay actor said, “It is openly gay out there tonight. Even Frog and Toad.”

Of the play’s plentiful male nudity, he said, “It gave the play a higher profile in the media. It is essential to the play. It is about men’s discomfort with other men. And then another element is added: eroticism. It is germane to the play.”

* * *

“Take Me Out’s” Tony-winning director, Joe Mantello, had a different take: “Everyone is fascinated by the nudity in Take Me Out, and I think it is the least interesting part of the play.”

Of his upcoming projects, Mantello said new musical “Wicked,” in a pre-Broadway stand at San Francisco’s Curran Theater, “is going well. The two girls are astonishing.” And he’s scheduled to do Stephen Sondheim’s much-postponed “Assassins” this season at the Roundabout.

* * *

Best actor in a play winner Brian Dennehy admitted backstage, “I didn’t say anything about my fellow players. I’m such a schmuck. I thought Eddie Izzard was the man, and I didn’t thank Vanessa Redgrave. Apologize to Vanessa for me. Well, we self-absorbed actors …”

Dennehy, who won the actor Tony in 1999 for “Death of a Salesman,” was asked if there were any lightweight roles in his future. “No, and not Harvey Fierstein’s either,” he joked.

“Why do anything easy? Let’s do the stuff we’re not even sure we can do. We’re thinking about ‘Lear,'” he said, meaning he and “Journey” director Robert Falls. “I’m anxious to see Christopher Plummer in ‘Lear.’ We’re talking about it. Lear … there is such a thing as being foolhardy.”

* * *

Featured actor in a musical winner Dick Latessa was asked how it felt to be just about the only straight guy to win a Tony Sunday. “How do you like that? I brought my wife and kids to prove it.”

The longtime musical thesp said, “It couldn’t be a better time (to win). I’m not going crazy. I’ll have a couple of drinks. It is perfect timing.”

In fact, he said, “It’s renegotiation time,” as “Hairspray” approaches the end of its first year on Broadway.

* * *

“Nine” co-star Jane Krakowski said she “kind of blanked out” and “forgot to thank Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit” when she accepted her Tony as featured actress in a musical.

Of her co-star, Antonio Banderas, who made his Broadway debut in the revival, she said, “He felt watched by all of us because he was such a gorgeous movie star. But as soon as he opened his mouth to sing, we knew we were in very good hands.

“We are signed on through August,” she added, “and there are talks that Antonio will sign on through November.”

Krakowski’s role calls for an unusual scene in which she descends to the stage wrapped only in a bedsheet. “We do the flying process every night before the show to make sure it goes right. No close calls so far.”

* * *

Roundabout Theater a.d. Todd Haimes confirmed: ” ‘Nine’ is definitely extending at least until November with this cast. We’re doing ‘Assassins,’ finally, and ‘The Caretaker’ with Patrick Stewart and ‘The Cherry Orchard,’ directed by Mark Brokaw.”

* * *

Collecting the regional theater Tony for Children’s Theater Co. of Minneapolis, where “A Year With Frog and Toad” originated, artistic director Peter C. Brosius said, “This award is for sustained excellence. Having ‘Frog and Toad’ here in this town gives us visibility. We did four world premieres this year in Minneapolis.”

“It is the first time that this award has been given to a theater for young people. It is an audience that is not jaded,” Brosius added. “We just got a $5 million bond from the Minnesota Senate to create a theater for teens.”

Of the award presentation, which for the first time in many years was not part of the telecast ceremonies, CTC managing director Teresa Eyring said diplomatically, “We have the opportunity to be seen twice, live and on tape.”

* * *

Christopher Reeve, who presented an award, is focusing on directing these days. He’s working on turning a book into a film: The author has since 1975 turned down eight offers from studios to make the film. He saw ‘In the Gloaming,’ which I directed for HBO, and got in touch with me” and offered the rights if Reeve would helm.

“I keep saying I’ll direct in the theater, especially at Williamstown. … I will do a play. I will do whatever play they need me to direct. For me to read 25 plays, that would be hard. My reading is books on tape. They have not yet figured out a piece of equipment for someone like me to turn pages. So it takes other people’s times to read to me.

“I think I would be useful directing a musical. I love musicals.

“As far as a play, I’d rather direct something brand-new. I’d love to go on a journey from regional theater to Off Broadway or Broadway. I’d rather do that than a revival.”

* * *

Michelle Pawk, who won as featured actress in a play for “Hollywood Arms,” said, “To get nominated after the play closed in January, it was thrilling.”

Carol Burnett co-wrote “Arms,” based on her memoirs, with her late daughter, Carrie Hamilton. Pawk said, “(Carol) was around every day and told me a lot. Carrie had just passed away. She showed up every day.”

Pawk is in previews at Chi’s Goodman Theater in “Bounce,” a new Stephen Sondheim musical that’s “going fantastically well.” The show goes to Kennedy Center in October.

* * *

“Def Poetry Jam” producers Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan were celebrating their win for special theatrical event. “The Broadway community was great to us, rooted for us and supported us. We want to do more theater.

” ‘Def Poetry,’ I hope, is more than a flash in the pan. A number of people saw it who had never been to Broadway.”

* * *

“Hairspray” director Jack O’Brien picked up his first Tony on his fifth helming nomination. “I just got back from London,” he said, “where I directed John Guare’s adaptation of ‘His Girl Friday.’ It is a huge success and sold out. It is a play with 30 people, you do the math. The National Theater of Great Britain can do that. Lincoln Center might want it. I hope so.”

Asked if “Hairspray’s” Edna Turnblad will always be played by a man, O’Brien opined, “I think so. The template there is Divine. That is what gives the show its John Waters twist. Bruce Vilanch is playing Harvey’s part on the road. I’d like to keep it with a man in that part. This is the squarest of John’s work. You don’t want to sanitize it.”

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