2 Bloor Street W | Toronto, CAN.
Info Line: +1 416-923-3044

Saturday, 11 June 2016 15:26

And the Tony Award Went to…

Written by  Dennis Kucherawy
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Euphoric Joy! What a marvelous party!

Life, especially life in show business, unfolds in the strangest ways.

At Livent, I was the original publicist for "Kiss of the Spider Woman” that premiered at Toronto’s Bluma Appel theatre, then went on to win seven 1993 Tony Awards including “Best Musical.”  It was director Hal Prince’s first production since his smash international hit “The Phantom of the Opera” and was eagerly anticipated.

 

Yet 23 years previously, his world premiere production of “Fiddler on the Roof” was the first Broadway musical I ever saw.  It was 1970.  I was 16 and I was laid over in Manhattan while waiting for a flight to France where I was to begin a French language immersion course.

I was a kid from Welland, Ontario, population approx. 50,000.  Who would have thought that one day I would be working on a production directed by him, one of the greatest directors in Broadway musical theatre history? “Highly unlikely” would be an understatement.

The airlines were on strike, so tour organizers offered us a ticket to a Broadway musical of our choice.  But what to choose from - “Hello, Dolly,” “Company,” “Promises, Promises,” “Man of La Mancha” and “Hair,” just to name a few? Those dazzling marquees formed a galaxy of seductive, starry temptations.  I wanted to see them all!

Around the corner from our hotel, the Royal Manhattan, at the Majestic Theatre was “Fiddler on the Roof,” in its sixth year on the Great White Way.  I chose to see it. Although I’m not Jewish, both my parents were Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian and the story is set in the fictional Eastern European village of Anatevka.  (Later, I learned author Sholem Aleichem, on whose “Tevye” stories the musical is based, grew up in Voronko in Central Ukraine.)

I loved everything about the show, especially the music and dancing.  Being a pubescent teenager, I fell totally in love with the well-endowed actress playing Hodel,

a then-unknown Adrienne Barbeau.  Shortly after, she shot to fame on the hit comedy TV series, “Maude,” playing the title character’s daughter Carol Traynor. Bea Arthur played her mom, Maude Findlay.

Hal Prince was a protégé of the legendary George Abbott, who either wrote, produced and directed such hits as the 1935 play “Three Men on a Horse” and musicals including “On Your Toes (1936), “The Boys from Syracuse” (1938), “Pal Joey” (1940), “Where’s Charley” (1948), “The Pajama Game” (1954), “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) and “Damn Yankees” (1994).

As a producer, Prince himself had created classic Broadway musicals including “West Side Story” in 1957 with a score by Leonard Bernstein, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim.

Yet, after a series of flops in the early 1960s, Prince had considered abandoning theatre.  But he hit pay dirt with his directorial debut, Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret” in 1966 followed by “Company” in 1970 that began his legendary and successful collaboration with Sondheim that led to more classic productions including “Sweeney Todd” in 1979..

In 1992, with Toronto rehearsals for “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in full swing, Livent threw a Tony Awards viewing party at the then-named Pantages Theatre.

Prince attended.  With 21 awards, more than anyone else, he was the ultimate Tony party guest!

Like most people, Hal confessed he’d rather be watching the TV show in his hotel clad in his pajamas.  The same was true for other members of the “Kiss” creative team including Tony Award winning songwriting team John Kander and Fred Ebb and Broadway’s dancing diva Chita Rivera, who shares the record with Julie Harris for the most Tony nominations – 10.  She has won only two Tonys, both in the Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, in 1983 for “The Rink” and a decade later for “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”  Kander and Ebb wrote both musicals.

None of them stayed for the broadcast; they just dropped in to say “Hi.”  Yet having such Broadway history among us added excitement and a touch of inadvertent glamor, though you’d never know it from their casual clothes.

A year later, and it was time for the big game.  That October, “Kiss” had travelled to the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End where it received five Olivier nominations, including Brent Carver for “Best Actor in a Musical” and Hal Prince for “Best Director,” but won only for “Best Lighting Design” by Howell Binkley.  However, it did win the 1992 Evening Standard’s Award for Best Musical.

Then, it opened at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre on May 3rd, receiving 11 Tony nominations for a musical that had premiered in Canada. I was ecstatic after the dreary mid-  to late 1970s when Canadian musicals such as Cliff Jones’ “Rockabye Hamlet” and John Grey’s “Billy Bishop Goes to War” closed after only a few performances following great ballyhoo from Canadian critics. Charles Strouse’s “A Broadway Musical,” produced by Garth Drabinsky, opened and closed in one night!

Livent was throwing a Tony Award party for those of us who didn’t have tickets to the ceremony at the Gershwin Theatre at W. 51st St. and Broadway.  It was at the Symphony Café located just six blocks away in the Symphony House apartment complex on Eighth Avenue at W. 56th Street.  Carnegie Hall was just a stroll away.  It was June 6th, 1993 and a humid Sunday night, typical for Manhattan in late spring, so hot that asphalt pavement squished under your feet like sponges.

Before the awards, we decided to zip down to Greenwich Village and see the hit production of Paul Rudnick’s heartbreaking and hilarious play “Jeffrey” at the tiny WPA Theater on W. 23rd St.  Few people were there, except for singer Barry Manilow.  He sat in the back orchestra, with a few friends.  He wore glasses and a baby blue suit that made us laugh.  Oh Mandy!

I agreed with the New York Times’ Stephen Holden who said “Jeffrey” was “just the sort of play Oscar Wilde might have written had he lived in 1990s Manhattan.”  Quentin Crisp, Sting’s legendary “Englishman in New York,” too. “Jeffrey” was timely as the HIV/AIDS plague was rampaging and ravaging, earning notoriety as what one critic described as the first “comedy about AIDS.”

The omnipresence of AIDS became dramatically evident that night when a man with dark, purple colored Kaposi sarcoma lesions on his face sat down a few rows in front of us.  In “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” the title figure represents death.  Seeing this poor man’s face, I was reminded of Tony Kushner’s description in Part One of his play “Angels in America – Millennium Approaches:

“The wine-dark kiss of the angel of death.”

Another man came down and set next to him. When he turned and saw the unfortunate’s face, he screamed, leaping up in horror and running to another row to get as far away as he could.  It was disgusting…and horrifying.  The poor KS man, a victim of such fear and ignorance!

Curtain time for the Tony Award party and telecast was approaching, so we jumped into a Yellow Cab the minute the play ended and flew uptown, our teeth chattering at each pot-hole we hit.  We ran into our hotel room, tearing our clothes off along the way and hitting the “power” button on our TV.

As we pulled on our clothes… me, my suit and Karen, her New York party gown … the winner of the Best Original Score was announced …” John Kander and Fred Ebb for Kiss of the Spider Woman!” Our clothes flew all over the place as we screamed and hugged.  It was exciting madness.  Only later did we realize we had tied with “The Who’s Tommy.”

“C’mon, hurry!  We’ve gotta get there,” we urged each other, laughing hysterically.  The next category came up immediately – Best Book of a Musical.  “The Tony goes to Terrence McNally,`Kiss of the Spider Woman!’” Yowza!  Two categories, two awards!

Commercial.   “Great, let’s go,” we said as we dashed to the elevator and out the door and onto the street.  Minutes later, our taxi arrived at the restaurant where Rosie, Chita Rivera’s assistant, was waving and screaming at us.  “Hurry,” she called, “we’ve already won three Tonys!”  “Three!?”  I think it was for Best Lighting Design.

Inside, we grabbed our drinks, some food and joined friends and colleagues at various tables, hugging, laughing and celebrating in the giddy atmosphere.

Various celebrities mingled at the bar, coming and going.  Bea Arthur presided regally.  I had hoped she brought Adrienne Barbeau.  How about a hug, honey?

As the telecast continued, I cheered for other shows as well, especially Tony Kushner’s brilliant “Angels in America”:  Millennium Approaches.  It took four Tonys, including “Best Play.”

“Kiss” went on to receive a total of seven Tony Awards, matching the number won by “The Phantom of the Opera.”  Surprisingly, Hal Prince did not win “Best Direction of a Musical.”  That one went to Canadian-American director Des McAnuff for “The Who’s Tommy.” I suppose Tony voters had decided Hal had enough prizes already.

All three of our stars swept the “Best Performance in a Musical” categories:  Brent Carver and Chita Rivera for “Leading Actor and Actress,” and Anthony Crivello as “Featured Actor.”

Our crowd went especially crazy when Canadian Brent Carver, a veteran of the Stratford Festival, regional theatre and now London’s West End, won.  Before “Kiss” opened in New York, I knew he would blow Broadway audiences away as they had never before seen a singer/actor with such an extensive background in the classics perform musical theatre. He had excelled as Hamlet.  Rex Harrison’s performance in “My Fair Lady” did not come close to what he was capable of delivering.

Brent brought many of us to tears as, cupping his award in his left hand, he dedicated his Tony to his friend, actress Susan Wright.  She had died the previous year in a house fire in Stratford.  “Death be not proud,” he declared in emotional defiance, quoting John Donne, as he lifted his right fist into the air and peered into the heavens.

We got ourselves ready as the “Best Musical” category approached.  Michael Crawford would present, the Phantom himself!  All night, every time “Kiss” won, we destroyed our knees by leaping up and smashing into tables in front of us, spilling our drinks.  Now, we got smart and moved the tables away from us.

So we thought.  It didn't matter.  "Kiss of the Spider Woman!" bellowed Crawford, unleashing a tsunami of deafening cheers and screams as we leapt into each other’s arms, hugging and kissing!  The Symphony Café was in full Allegro mode; this was our Ode to Joy!

The telecast was over, but the celebrating kicked into overdrive as celebrities and civilians flooded into the “Best Musical” party.  Liza Minelli, the ceremony’s hostess, arrived and held court at the bar as did Bea Arthur. She knew from the start which horse to pick in the race!

Hysteria erupted when Brent Carver arrived.  As he stepped out of the limo, partygoers ran to the front of the restaurant and roared their congratulations.  He was startled. He just stood there, in his tuxedo, his red AIDS ribbon on his lapel.  His curly, shoulder-length, long, angelic blond hair flowed and bounced as he moved.  He looked like Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince.  Then, like a three-year-old at his own birthday party, he raised his hands above his hand, beaming, and began to clap his own hands.

What euphoric joy!

"Kiss" had made theatre history. It had become the first musical to go from a Toronto stage to international success, winning seven Tony Awards including “Best Musical” and the Evening Standard award in London.  Significantly, it had become the first musical since “Les Misérables” to sweep every “Best Musical” Broadway award given in New York City.

Productions of “Kiss” were staged around the world from Buenos Aires (“El Beso de la Mujer Araa”) to Vienna (“Küss der Spinnenfrau”) where it was conducted by the gifted David Krane.

In his acceptance speech, Brent had rhymed off the names of friends, his family and extended family, and colleagues, expressing his gratitude and thanking them.  He mentioned cities and places such as his hometown in B.C., Cranbrook, Stratford and Edmonton and “all the wonderful Canadians that are out there.”  Those names had never been heard at a Tony ceremony.

Neither had anyone ever quoted John Donne.

And he left New Yorkers wondering who Susan was.  She had made it to Broadway and the Tonys after all when Brent, with deepest love, shared her memory with those present and those watching internationally on TV.

Yes, Canada had arrived on Broadway, taking its place with the best and greatest on the international stage.  And we all had contributed in some way to that success!

To paraphrase Noel Coward, we had been to a marvelous party!

“Yes, there is no place like home,” Brent had said.  “I’ve been kissed by some `Angels in America,’ I know.”

So had we all.

By Dennis Kucherawy

Last modified on Saturday, 11 June 2016 15:32
You are here:   HomeBlogWhats HotAnd the Tony Award Went to…

Support

Legal

Address and Hours

Our doors are open Monday to Saturday 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Sunday 12 pm to 5 pm.

Our Address

2 Bloor Street W, Suite #C07
Toronto Ontario M4W 3E2
Tel: 416-923-3044