Jordan Baker is Dana H. in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s West Coast premiere of Lucas Hnath’s Dana H., directed by Les Waters. Photos by Calvin Nguy/Berkeley Rep
The premise of Lucas Hnath’sDana H. may sound, at first, bizarre: a lone actor spends the 75-minute show lip syncing to a recorded interview. It’s certainly a novel approach to theatrical storytelling, and within minutes, the reason for this approach begins to reveal itself. By the end, it’s clear that there could be no more effective or powerful means of relaying this particular tale, which just happens to be the real-life story of Dana Higginbotham, who just happens to be Hnath’s mother.
The simple facts are these: in 1997, Higginbotham had been working as a chaplain in a Florida hospital psychiatric unit, met and counseled a patient named Jim. Upon his release, he ended up kidnapping and holding her for a life-altering five months.
The show, which just won two Tony Awards (for lead actress in a play and for the sound design by Mikhail Fiskel, who reprises his stunning work for this Berkeley Repertory Theatre production), is based on a 2015 interview Higginbotham had with Steve Cosson, who taped several days’ worth of audio. Higginbotham says she had not really talked about the events of her kidnapping in the nearly 20 years since they occurred, and it remains unclear how much her son, who took on the task of editing down many hours of the interview into the show’s short hour and 15 minutes, knew about his mother’s harrowing experience prior to this interview.
When the show begins, the actor Jordan Baker enters what looks like a cheap hotel room set (perfectly detailed design by Andrew Boyce), sits in a chair and is outfitted with earphones that will feed her the audio of the interview that we also hear. The real Dana H. then tells us her story as best she can. We hear Cosson asking questions, and whenever Hnath has made an edit in the audio, we hear a beep before the segment. So even though Hnath (who was away for his freshman year at NYU when the events of the story happened) is only peripherally a character in the play, he’s very much present as a playwright, shaping how we hear his mother’s story.
And what a story. There’s much more here than just the recounting of trauma. There’s deep psychological and emotional wrestling with the very essence of what it means to be human and how fragile our worlds are, even when we think we’re on solid ground. Dana H. is a play that aims to shake our foundations, and it does so with surprising force. It’s not nearly as difficult as we might think to slip into an underworld where none of what we might consider the usual rules apply.
The notion of lip synching, as strange as it might seem, is utterly fascinating. It demands a kind of concentration from the audience that even the best actor probably could not command if she or he were simply acting the material with voice and body. We’re used to that, but we’re not used to this. As a piece of documentary theater, we are and we aren’t relying on Baker’s performance. We have Dana Higginbotham herself telling her story in her own words. But then we have Baker’s uncanny ability to make us forget she’s lip synching and to create the illusion of the real person.
Baker and director Les Waters (also nominated for Tony Award for the New York production), have worked out so many fascinating details that it’s impossible not to hang on every word, every laugh or big intake of breath, every rustling sound or tinkling bracelet captured in the audio. In one way, the lip synching keeps us at a distance – we are dissociated from the action by Baker, who serves as a bridge between the real Dana H. and the theatrical version she is presenting. You might think this technique would minimize the emotion or the shock of the violence or the horror of a life turned completely upside down, but it actually has a powerfully opposite effect as the details and complexities coalesce into a relentlessly captivating, devastating experience that is, mercifully, not without hope or humor.
Many questions emerge from this story, and it seems that Hnath has perhaps pushed himself too far out of the narrative. Every beep in the audio stream reminds us of his presence, and as the story comes into its final chapters and skitters through a number of years, we can’t help wondering where he was and how he fits back into his mother’s life in between the end of events recounted in the story and the creation of this play.
Dana H. stands (or sits, actually) as a wholly unique theatrical experience. It’s real and it’s artificial. It’s at a remove and yet it digs down into our depths. It’s a bold theatrical experiment and its resulting power is such that you’ll feel deeply moved if not more than a little bit terrified of the cracks and terrors it exposes.
[free event] Dana H. director Les Waters will talk about his superb new book, The Theatre of Les Waters: More Like the Weather at a free Berkeley Rep event on Monday, June 28 at 8pm in the Roda Theatre. The event, Celebrating the Theatre of Les Waters, is free but registration is required: https://tickets.berkeleyrep.org/16522/16825. And the book is essential reading for all theater lovers, especially Bay Area theater lovers who have been lucky enough to see Les’ work on local stages through the years.
[for more information]
Lucas Hnath’s Dana H. continues through July 10 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $22-$115 (subject to change). Call 510-64702949 or visit berkeleyrep.org.
Bobby baby bobby bubbe: The starry cast of the New York Philharmonic’s Company, which hits movie screens across the nation. Photo courtesy of the New York Philharmonic. Below: Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose (portrait) and Rose (far left), Christina Hendricks and Chryssie Whitehead perform “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”
After performing on the Tony Awards last Sunday with her fellow Company cast members, Anika Noni Rose, all glammed out in a gorgeous white gown, devoured a giant plate of nachos.
The Tony Award-winning actor laughs at the thought of herself devouring the late-night snack in all her red-carpet glory. “There I was grubbing on nachos. They were delicious.” And how do we know that Rose enjoyed the snack? She posted a photo of the meal on her Twitter feed (@AnikaNoniRose).
Rose, 38, is having a good week. The American Conservatory Theater-trained actor enjoyed the Tony Awards ceremony – one of the best I’ve seen in years” – because, as she puts it, “I was there to have fun, put on some pretty clothes and root for my friends. You see people you don’t get to see very often, and you meet some fantastic people. I met (best actor winner) Mark Rylance, who is just amazing. God took amazing and put skin on it. That’s Mark Rylance. I met(best actress nominee) Patina Miller and got to hang out with (best actress winner) Sutton Foster, who I’ve known for years but never get to see. I’m an investor in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but that was the first time I got to meet Daniel Radcliffe, who could not be lovelier. And he’s so good in the show.”
And that was just Sunday night.
The rest of the week, Rose will be making a splash across the country. She’s part of a starry cast that the New York Philharmonic pulled together for three concerts Stephen Sondheim’sCompany presented last April but forever preserved in an HD broadcast to be screened in movie theaters from coast to coast.
The first screenings start Tuesday, June 15. At San Francisco’s Embarcadero Cinema, for instance, it screens June 15, 16 and 19, but there are also screenings in Cupertino, Rohnert Park, Napa, Pleasant Hill, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Walnut Creek, San Rafael, San Jose, Hayward and many more. As you can see, this Company is inviting lots of company.
Rose plays Marta, one of the many girlfriends of the main character, Bobby (played by stellar Tony host Neil Patrick Harris. Her big number is “Another Hundred People,” and in a tiny bit of delicious irony, the woman who debuted the song in the original 1971 Broadway production, Pamela Myers, is now on stage at Rose’s old stomping grounds as an ensemble member in ACT’s Tales of the City (and she’s wonderful).
This is only the second time Rose, a 2004 Tony winner for best featured actress in Caroline, or Change, has performed Sondheim on stage (the first was a tune from Sunday in the Park with George at a tribute to George C. Wolfe), and she says, learning the ins and outs of Sondheim is “no walk in the park,” especially when, like the Company cast, you have a week and two days of rehearsal.
“Being in this show was like being shot out of a cannon,” Rose says on the phone from New York. “It ended up being a spectacular experience because, to a one, we were surrounded by brilliant, caring, lovely, fun, funny, smart professionals. No one brought nasty behavior, no one brought an ego to rehearsal. It was fantastic to be with each other.”
No egos? That’s impressive, especially given the pedigree of a cast that includes current “it” boy Harris (who was filming his sitcom, How I Met Your Mother in LA), Tony-winning diva Patti LuPone, TV’s favorite fake pundit Stephen Colbert, Mad Men vamp Christina Hendricks and Tony-winner Katie Finneran (from last season’s revival of Promises, Promises).
Because the busy actors were busy acting in all their various projects, rehearsals were … interesting. Not everybody was actually in the same room until dress rehearsal, which happened to be two hours before the opening-night performance. But director Lonny Price hired musical theater students to stand in and learn the parts for the benefit of the principal actors who were able to show up.
Rose says the pressure was on, and what could have been a disaster was a triumph. “It clicked because it had to,” she says. “Thank God for training and professionalism and dedication. It made for a pretty wrinkle-free production.”
She was far from embarrassed. The show opened on a Thursday and repeated Friday and twice on Saturday. “By Saturday night,” Rose says, we were brilliant.”
Rose was involved in a previous live broadcast into movie theaters, only that one was truly live from Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Rose was Juliet to Orlando Bloom’s Romeo in a Los Angeles Philharmonic evening of Tchaikovsky music.
“I think these broadcasts are wonderful,” she says. “They allow people access who wouldn’t otherwise get to see these things. And people can’t always afford a ticket to a show, never mind a ticket to the city, a hotel room, food, car rental. If you’re a family, it’s not even just you anymore. They also welcome people to an art form who might not think it’s for them, then they see it actually is for them and want to see the live thing. It’s a welcome mat to our art form, especially for people who might never have seen a live performance before. They see what it is we do, makes it familiar to them. It’s not so scary, not really stepping out of their realm.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Find a Company screening at a theater near you. Click here.
Live (well, the West Coast version of live, which is actually three hours NOT live, but hey, we’re on the West Coast) 63rd Annual Tony Awards blogging!
Please comment and join the conversation! Hit refresh for anything new. P.S. Comments will be shared (with your permission) in the main part of the post as they arrive.
Warning: there’s liable to be a lot of gushing ahead because I LOVE Dolly Parton, Neil Patrick Harris, Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, Next to Normal, Billy Elliotand Broadway itself. It’s party night because it’s Tony night.
To get things going, here’s a handsome photo of our host for the evening, Neil Patrick Harris, who, after watching him host “Saturday Night Live,” deserves his own variety show (btw, so does Justin Timberlake, who was also brilliant on “SNL”). NPH sings, dances, has impeccable comic timing and is just cool as hell. Can we please bring back the variety show (and not the way Rosie O’Donnell, bless her Broadway-lovin’ heart, did last fall — that was a disaster!)??? Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris (Photo by the Associated Press)
It’s showtime! Fantastic opening number with Billy Elliot and fantastic counterpoint between West Side Story’s “Tonight” and Guys & Dolls’“Luck Be a Lady.”
Not entirely sure Stockard Channing (who looks AMAZING) should have been opposite the very young and very alive Aaron Tveit.
Shrek the Musical’s “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” was cute, but it looks like Disney gone haywire.
If only Dolly Parton were actually IN 9 to 5, I’d be there every night. Still, big love to Alison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty, who actually are in the show.
Love Liza, but the vocals? Not so much.
The Hair revival definitely lets the sun shine in.
I’m so happy to see Dolly Parton on a Broadway stage. Don’t think she’ll be going home with any trophies, so let’s get her photo up here. Photo by Associated Press
Jane Fonda showing some major cleveage in a black gown. She presented the best performance by a featured actor in a play to Roger Robinson in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. That’s the play the Obamas saw last weekend. Photo by Associated press
The Shrek number: Trying too hard to blend Beauty and the Beast with Spamalot.
Says commenter “bracelets”: “The guy clapping after the SHREK number sums it up exactly.”
Tracy writes of the opening number: “Bret Michaels on the Tony’s? That’s a surprise. He called me when I was 21. I sent him fan mail and a poem. That crush is long over.”
James Gandolfini says he and Shrek are no relation. Fuggedaboutit. He and Jeff Daniels presented the best featured actress in a musical award to Angela Lansbury!!! This is her fifth Tony. God love her. She is the essence of gratitude and happiness and joy! Photo by Associated Press
Ah, a Mamma Mia moment — something for the viewers in the great Midwest.
Pre-broadcast award: Lee Hall best book of a musical for Billy Elliot. Now best score: winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey for Next to Normal. Well deserved. Fantastic cast album. How do you beat Elton John and Dolly Parton? Well, you write a kick-ass score. Kitt won for best orchestrations as well. It’s so incredibly rude to cut people off mid-speech. Sorry, guys.
West Side Story number: “Dance” at the Gym, “Tonight.” Could Matt Cavenaugh and Josefina Scaglione be any more adorable? And she almost didn’t hit that high note.
Could I look that good if I sleep with Tim Robbins? Kidding. All due respect to the wondrous Susan Sarandon. She gave the best director of a play award to Matthew Warchus for God of Carnage (he was also nominated for the trilogy The Norman Conquests).
Commenter Ms. Small, commenting on the West Side Story number says: “Josefina almost didn’t hit that high note because Matt Cavenaugh is de-LISH!mmmmm….” Um – that is probably true.
Sarandon also handed the best director of a musical award to Stephen Daldry of Billy Elliot — he also directed the movie on which the musical is based. Photo by Associated Press
Journey on the Tonys! I never stopped believin’ (neither did Liza Minnelli, all evidence to the contrary). Rock of Ages looks like a blast. And has anyone noticed that Journey, and specifically “Don’t Stop Believin'” has become super hot? (best use of the song on TV’s “Glee”) Photo by Associated Press
Commenter Trixie says: “I could use a glitter gun and some ginormous angel wings.” Honey, they’re in the mail.
Commenter Mike says: “Rock of Ages looks like the Hair of the 80’s. I want to SEE that.”
Edie Falco (stunning) presents the Tony for special event to Liza Minnelli and her boys for Liza’s at the Palace. Sorry, Will Ferrell. Thank God Slava’s Snow Show didn’t win. Boy did I hate that show on tour. What can you say about Liza except maybe: baby, take a breath. A really long breath. Photo by Associated Press
God of Carnage clip — not a great selling point (and what’s with that cracked mud artwork in the background?). Guys and Dollsnumber — saved by a hand mic. The guy in charge of sound tonight ought to look for work in the wonderful world of fast food.
Commenter Dyan says: “Some of these shows look like a big, fat, hot mess.”
We’re on a hot mess trend here. Ms. Small says: “Ok…Liza is just a hot mess…I’m sorry. `a great America treasure’ ok, Ok..OK…OKAY!!!…fine…hot mess. BUT, great hold tactic! Whenever I’m being played off the stage I’m totally pulling the `Wait, not yet! I have to thank my crazy-famous parents’ card!!!”
Creative arts Tonys (presented pre-broadcast): Regional theater Tony to Signature Theatre of Arlington, Va. Tie for orchestrations, Billy Elliot and Next to Normal. Blah blah blah, www.americantheatrewing.org.
Ghost of Broadway yet to come: John Stamos in Bye Bye Birdie. Could Bob Saget be far behind?
Gregory Jbara wins best featured actor in a musical for his role as Billy Elliot’s dad in Shrek — kidding — in Billy Elliot. He dragged his wife, Julie, up on stage with him. Really sweet speech.
And best featured actress in a musical goes to Karen Olivo as Anita in West Side Story. Her first Tony Award. Her advice: surround yourself with people who love you. Photo by Associated Press
Brilliant idea to have Carrie Fisher introduce Next to Normal: bipolar lady, meet bipolar musical. I know how brilliant this show is on disc — not sure it’s really coming across on the tube. OK. Alice Ripley, J. Robert Spencer and Aaron Tveit pulled it off. Electrifying.
Jessica Lange — a long way from Big Edie in HBO’s Grey Gardens — she makes reading glasses gorgeous and classy. She handed Geoffrey Rush his award for best actor in a play for his performance in Ionesco’s Exit the King. This is the Oscar winner’s first Tony. Classy Aussie. Photo by Associated Press
Bebe Neuwirth’s tribute to Natasha Richardson was affecting. Sorry they chose “Memory” as the underscore. Broadway Inspriational Voices’ “What I Did for Love” was lovely as we remembered Estelle Getty, Dale Waserman, Edie Adams, Bruce Adler, Horton Foote, James Whitmore, Sydney Chaplin, Clive Barnes, Marilyn Cooper, Tom O’Horgan, Bea Arthur, Ron Silver, Robert Prosky, Robert Anderson, Lee Solters, Pat Hingle, Anna Manahan, Sam Cohn, George Furth, Eartha Kitt, Hugh Leonard, Rodger MacFarlane, William Gibson, Tharon Musser, Paul Sills, Lawrence Miller and Paul Newman.
Commenter Ms. Small: “not to be vulgar during a sensitive time….the `in memoriam’ section…but you know someone thought about it being appropriate to have the vampire-hued Bebe Neuwirth introduce the dead people. right? very nicely done segment.” P.S. Ms. Neuwirth will be playing Morticia in the upcoming Addams Family musical.
Frank Langella, in whom awards season brings out the best, chided nominators for missing his brilliance in A Man for All Seasons last season. On with business: best actress in a play goes to Marcia Gay Harden for God of Carnage. I’m a little sad Jane Fonda didn’t win because I wanted to hear her speech. Whoops — in the intros they mixed up Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. Shame, Tonys! Photo by Associated Press
Sir Elton introduces Billy Elliot, the show for which he wrote a wonderful score that, for the most part, doesn’t sound remotely like Elton John. Billy’s angry dance amid a riot is pretty phenomenal. Photo by Associated Press
Why oh why are we wasting precious prime time on Legally Blonde the Musical? Tours should get their own show — this is all about Broadway.
Harvey Fierstein, his clarion voice a thing of beauty, presents the best revival of a play award to The Norman Conquests, which is actually three plays. Delighted to see Jessica Hynes in the crowd up on stage accepting the award. She was in one of my favorite TV shows, the British series “Spaced.”
And best play goes to Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage. Not really much of a surprise there. Why does everyone associated with this play seem so downbeat? Photo by Associated Press
Commenter LY has a fashion note: “As my roommate put it, Marcia Gay Harden looks like an asparagus.”
Time for the tribute to Jerry Herman, a worthy and deserving candidate. He’s a true American treasure. Lots of good footage from the terrific documentary Words and Music by Jerry Herman. Lifetime achievement indeed. Great shot of a tearful Harvey Fierstein. “It just doesn’t get any better than this, does it?” the 77-year-old Herman said to the audience in mid-standing ovation. “The thing I want you to know is I will hold this moment fast because the best of times is now, is now, is now, is definitely now.” Photo by Associated Press
Anne Hathaway (scrumptious) should bolt from the Central Park production of Twelfth Night and join the cast of Hair. She’d probably have more fun. The well-heeled audience probably didn’t expect to have cast members’ crotches in their faces tonight. Lucky them.
Oh, look! It’s Kristin Chenoweth and the girls! They’re all up and out to present the best revival of a musical to Hair. Yay Oskar Eustis (artistic director of the Public Theater) — “Equality now!” Photo by Associated Press
Commenter Tracy says: “That hair number was kind of scary. I wouldn’t want Fringe Guy gyrating on my armrests.”
Commenter bracelets says: “Thanks, Oskar!”
David Hyde Pierce comes out to present leading actress in a musical. Oh hooray! It’s Alice Ripley from Next to Normal. Wow. She is fierce. And wonderful. And incredibly talented. Photo by Associated Press
Audra McDonald presents leading actor in a musical to the trio of Billys from Billy Elliot. Tony history is made as three actors win a single award. Completely adorable. David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish and Trent Kowalik. Photo by Associated Press
Ms. Small says of the winning Billys: “1. Precious! 2. Poised! and 3. Perfect!! Love those boys…”
Five Frankie Vallis makes this gratuitous tour moment worthwhile!
A final thought from commenter Tracy: “Sweet surrender! I want to see Jersey Boys again and again and again and again.”
And we’re coming to the finish line. Here’s Liza. Best musical goes to — no surprise here — Billy Elliot. Great to see all those kids on stage — Broadway needs young people. Photo by Associated Press
And that’s all, folks! A highly enjoyable evening. Neil Patrick Harris did a wonderful job (again, someone please get this man his own variety show!!!). At last they gave him a song! Apparently Angela Lansbury hooked up with Poison backstage. Great lyric about performing on your knees only working for Golden Globes.
In spite of the state of the world, Broadway looks to be in good shape — at least that’s how it seemed on TV.
A final thought from commenter Mike: “OMG. Five Frankie Vallis, Elton John, Dolly Parton and a cast of literally thousands. I have never seen an even comparable performance. Well, maybe Jersey Boys. But what a production! That was fantastic. I’m totally glad I got culture.”
Thanks to my commenters for making this evening so enjoyable for me. Now let’s all go see a Broadway show!
Set in a Pittsburgh boarding house in 1911, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone centers on a group of African-Americans searching for their place in the world and coming to grips with the legacy of slavery. Lincoln Center Theater produced the play, which first ran on Broadway in 1988; this production was directed by Bartlett Sher, who has been nominated for a Tony for his work.
The Tonys will be handed out next Sunday night. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is in a tough contest for best play revival against three other oft-praised Broadway productions: Mary Stuart, The Norman Conquests and Waiting for Godot.
Seems like after a First Family visit, that Tony might be a distant second in the thrill category.
Best Play Dividing the Estate, Author: Horton Foote God of Carnage, Author: Yasmina Reza Reasons to Be Pretty, Author: Neil LaBute 33 Variations, Author: Moisés Kaufman
Best Musical Billy Elliot, The Musical Next to Normal Rock of Ages Shrek The Musical
Best Book of a Musical Billy Elliot, The Musical, Lee Hall Next to Normal, Brian Yorkey Shrek The Musical, David Lindsay-Abaire [title of show], Hunter Bell
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre Billy Elliot, The Musical Music: Elton John Lyrics: Lee Hall
Next to Normal Music: Tom Kitt Lyrics: Brian Yorkey
9 to 5: The Musical Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton
Shrek The Musical Music: Jeanine Tesori Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
Best Revival of a Play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Mary Stuart The Norman Conquests Waiting for Godot Best Revival of a Musical Guys and Dolls Hair Pal Joey West Side Story
Best Special Theatrical Event Liza’s at The Palace Slava’s Snowshow Soul of Shaolin You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow James Gandolfini, God of Carnage Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Hope Davis, God of Carnage Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish, Billy Elliot, The Musical Gavin Creel, Hair Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Stockard Channing, Pal Joey Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical Alice Ripley, Next to Normal Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests Roger Robinson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical Will Swenson, Hair
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical Karen Olivo, West Side Story Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Best Direction of a Play Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Best Direction of a Musical Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical Michael Greif, Next to Normal Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages Diane Paulus, Hair
Best Choreography Karole Armitage, Hair Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Best Orchestrations Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical
Best Scenic Design of a Play Dale Ferguson, Exit the King Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests Derek McLane, 33 Variations Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Best Scenic Design of a Musical Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical Scott Pask, Pal Joey Mark Wendland, Next to Normal
Best Costume Design of a Play Dale Ferguson, Exit the King Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart
Best Costume Design of a Musical Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical Michael McDonald, Hair
Best Lighting Design of a Play David Hersey, Equus David Lander, 33 Variations Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart
Best Lighting Design of a Musical Kevin Adams, Hair Kevin Adams, Next to Normal Howell Binkley, West Side Story Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Best Sound Design of a Play Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart Gregory Clarke, Equus Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Best Sound Design of a Musical Acme Sound Partners, Hair Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages Brian Ronan, Next to Normal
Special Tony Award® for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Jerry Herman
Regional Theatre Tony Award® Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.
Isabelle Stevenson Award Phyllis Newman
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre Shirley Herz
Before we get to the news, here’s a clip from the Tony Awards broadcast featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning best musical In the Heights.
OK. Now the news.
Like gas prices, the Tony Awards broadcast ratings were higher this year.
Official word from CBS is that “The 62nd Annual Tony Awards” was up 5 percent in households and was even in viewers and adults 25-54 compared to last year’s broadcast as it faced major sports competition from both The U.S. Open and Game 5 of the NBA Finals, according to preliminary Nielsen live plus same day ratings for Sunday, June 15.
And here’s even more ratings jargon that only network executives love: THE 62nd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS posted a 4.4/08 in households with 6.19m viewers, 1.5/04 in adults 25-54 and 1.1/03 in adults 18-49. Compared to last year’s awards ceremony (6/10/07), THE 62nd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS was up +5 percent in households (from 4.2/07) and even in viewers (6.22m) and adults 25-54 (1.5/04).
Translation: the ratings news wasn’t dismal this year, but it wasn’t good either. Last year’s Tony ratings were the worst ever, so even a five percent jump, though encouraging, is minor. The estimate is that the show — a giant commercial for Broadway shows (nothing wrong with that, though would it kill them to put more award winners on the air?) — was watched by 6.2 million people. If they all go out and buy theater tickets, everything’s good.
ABC won the Sunday-night ratings game with Game 5 of the National Basketball Association championship. NBC came in second with coverage of the final round of the U.S. Open golf championship and a “Saturday Night Live” special about Mike Myers — just to give you an idea of what the average American prefers over theater, or, more specifically, New York theater.
For the last four days I’ve been in Ashland, Ore., reviewing shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the San Francisco Chronicle (more on that later), and while the Tonys were on Sunday night, I was at the opening of a new musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Of course I’ll watch the whole awards show on TiVo when I get home, but I was able to catch glimpses here and there (thanks to the spotty www.tonyawards.com online coverage), and of course I couldn’t wait to find out the winners.
I must say I’m disappointed that Passing Strange only one award (for best book of a musical). I guess I’m feeling territorial because the show had its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Still, it’s better than nothing. Here’s what co-creator and star Stew had to say about his win:
“Music is something that comes easy to me, and I’ve received numerous accolades for my songs – but to be honored for my writing means a whole hell of a lot, especially when it comes from theatre people for whom words really mean something. Those words took shape at Berkeley Rep, a place that makes space for people like me to take risks and try out things that theatre isn’t used to seeing. We loved working there, and we miss that Berkeley scene.”
More on the Tonys later. In the meantime, here’s a complete list of winners:
Play (and playwrights): “August: Osage County” (Tracy Letts).
Musical: “In the Heights.”
Book-Musical: “Passing Strange” (Stew).
Original Score (music and/or lyrics): “In the Heights” (Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda).
This Sunday, the Tony Awards will be handed out.
Here’s what you need to know (and get busy organizing your Tony party — we’ve got to get those dismal ratings out of the basement so CBS will continue broadcasting the darn things).
For the first time, there will be pre-ceremony Tony Concert chock full of juicy musical numbers from all the nominated shows. In the Bay Area the concert will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 15 on KPIX-TV. Mario Lopez (currently playing Zach in A Chorus Line) hosts, and we’ll see numbers from 10 musicals: A Catered Affair, Cry-Baby, Grease, Gypsy, In The Heights, Passing Strange, South Pacific, Sunday in the Park with George, The Little Mermaid and Xanadu—on stage at the Allen Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, with its spectacular, floor-to-ceiling views of Central Park South visible to viewers of the telecast.
Nominees who perform on the program include Laura Benanti (Gypsy), Daniel Breaker and Stew (Passing Strange), Kerry Butler (Xanadu), Daniel Evans (Sunday in the Park with George), Faith Prince (A Catered Affair) and Loretta Ables Sayre (South Pacific).
“We’ve tried very hard not to cannibalize anything that will be on the actual Tony telecast, but just to whet people’s appetites for June 15,” says The Broadway League’s Jan Friedlander Svendsen, who is an executive producer of the special. “We purposely didn’t want this in costume, we didn’t want big production numbers. We wanted it to feel very intimate. And we wanted to have those up-close-and-personal profiles.”
Actor nominees who are interviewed during the pre-Tony telecast include Laurence Fishburne, who talks about his role as a Supreme Court justice in Thurgood, and Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, who reveal a touching story from the casting of their revival of Macbeth. Steppenwolf Theatre Company members Laurie Metcalf (November) and Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed from the Best Play nominee August: Osage County celebrate the success of Steppenwolf-ers on Broadway this season—the roster also includes Martha Plimpton and Kevin Anderson—who all told represent six different Broadway shows.
“One of the issues with the Tonys is, often times, not all of our nominees are as well known as, say, Oscar nominees,” says Svendsen. “It’s great to let audiences be exposed to some of those who aren’t as well known. It’s kind of like the Olympics. Many of those athletes aren’t as famous, and one of my favorite parts of watching the Games is getting to know those athletes from a human interest side. Then I have an emotional connection with them and a more rooting interest in who’s going to win.”
The Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg (thank God someone on “The View” cares about theater since Rosie O’Donnell’s departure) begin at 8 p.m. on TV, but watching the tape delay is so retro. Why not tune into the live Webcast? Past Tony winners Michael Cerveris and Julie White host. Log on to www.tonyawards.com for all the details.
On the broadcast, we’ll get musical numbers from all four of the Best Musical nominees (Cry-Baby, In The Heights, Passing Strange and Xanadu) and the four Best Musical Revival nominees (Grease, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific).
Also represented will be three other new Broadway musicals: A Catered Affair, The Little Mermaid and The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein. And just for good measure, Rent and The Lion King will also make appearances.
Video memories from past Tony winners, clips from nominated shows and a whole lot more await you at www.tonyawards.com, your one-stop shop for Tony Award information.
To whet your appetite, here’s Passing Strange on “The View.”
Sure the Tony Awards celebrate NEW YORK theater and Broadway and all that jazz, but what about US?
Not a problem. We can even make the Tonys Bay Area-centric. It’s a little harder this year because we’re not getting as many pre-Broadway tryouts as we have in past years, and our local geniuses are content with being local, so their output is expressly for us and not those NYC theater aesthetes.
So here’s how we factor into the Tonys:
First off, Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, a nominee for best play, will be part of the American Conservatory Theater season later this year. It’ll be a different production but the same play. So root for that one to win (it won’t –it’s all August: Osage County this year, but stay tuned — there’s buzz that one way or another, Bay Area audiences will be seeing that next season as well).
The big Bay Area tie comes courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which co-produced the world premiere of Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s rock musical Passing Strange, which then went on to the Public Theater in New York and then BroadWAY. Passing Strange, as you’ll recall, earned seven Tony Award nominations on Tuesday.
Here’s Stew on the Berkeley Rep connection:
Passing Strange is all about pilgrimages to the Real, and my first real-life pilgrimage was to Berkeley when I was a teenager. This is why it was so moving and important to me that the play premiered at Berkeley Rep. Berkeley embodies many of the ideals that are celebrated in the play – a place where people live as if their thoughts have meaning and consequence. Berkeley Rep was the perfect place for a crazy rock band with no idea what theatre was to make a play. I can’t think of a better environment to have given birth to Passing Strange. Probably because there is none.
Finally, fine folks at TheatreWorks are always right on top of this stuff and provide the following list of their Tony connections:
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL Danny Burstein,South Pacific – at TWorks in Everything’s Ducky (World Premiere from Bill Russell and Henry Krieger)
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL Laura Benanti, Gypsy – at TWorks in Caraboo (written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning author Marsha Norman) at New Works Festival reading
BEST CHOREOGRAPHY Andy Blankenbuehler, In the Heights – at TWorks for Kept and A Little Princess (world Premiere from Andrew Lippa and Brian Crawley) Dan Knechtges, Xanadu– at TWorks for Vanities (world premiere from David Kirshenbaum and Jack Heifner)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL Catherine Zuber, South Pacific – at TWorks for A Little Princess