DRAMA DESK AWARDS
Harvey Fierstein and John Lithgow
Norm Lewis and Lovette George
Randie Levine-Miller and friend
Patrick Cassidy, Shirley Jones and
Positively Wicked Event
An All-Night Marathon
Story: Edward Callaghan
Photos: Rob Rich
AYBE its because the Drama Desk honors not only Broadway, but the best of off- Broadway and off-off-Broadway too, that the evening – beyond the hugely anticipated awards – also included three parties!
Rarely do we don our dinner clothes at 3 p.m., weddings and bar mitzvahs excepting, but we gladly put on our best bib and tucker to catch the arrivals at Club Black for the VIP pre-show reception, which kicked off promptly at 5 o’clock.
Show people are always on time whether on the Great White Way or the lower East Side. At once – at least when our eyes adjusted from the blinding sunlight to the cave-like environs of the club – we ran into Idina Minzel (the usually green Bad Witch in Wicked) with her husband, the dynamic Taye Diggs, nominees Andre DeShields, Judy McLane and wherever there were flashbulbs, the amazing Tonya Pinkins.
Randie Levine-Miller, a key organizer and the Drama Desk’s secret weapon, had thoughtfully arranged a herd of double-decker buses to ensure that no one was lost on the trek to La Guardia High School.
There, awaiting us in the enormous reception hall was a crush so great Theatermania’s Barbara and Scott Siegel noted, “You didn’t just rub shoulders with stars at this gathering, you shared each other’s DNA”.
Sloughing off some spare cells were the incandescent Shirley Jones with sons Patrick and David Cassidy, Christopher Plummer, Tovah Feldshuh, John Lithgow, Tony Kushner, Audra MacDonald, Bebe Neuwirth and scores of producers, writers and artists galore.
With the incomparable Harvey Fierstein at the helm, the show took off like a rocket with the awards and jokes coming in rapid-fire succession. Sure, the show ran longer than most awards fetes but with all the theatrical turf the Drama Desk covers, no one minded a whit.
Harvey set the tone of irreverence, warning musical director Billy Stritch to watch out or “Liza will rise up from the piano and smack you in the head.”
As in most live presentations there were a few flubs. Director Joe Mantello, nominated for two musicals, Assassins and Wicked, was announced as winner for Assassins. Only later at the post-show party did guests learn he had really won for Wicked, which swept the night with six wins.
Kathleen Marshall, who puts the kick in a lot of high kicks in Wonderful Town, almost didn’t make it to the stage, catching her dress on the rickety steps on the way to pick up her Outstanding Choreography prize.
Funny/sweet moments included Wicked co-stars and co-nominees Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel arriving onstage in bandages, slings and neck braces spoofing their alleged feud.
Later, with the vote split, the award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical went to Donna Murphy for Wonderful Town, who delivered one of the longest acceptances in theater history, thanking everyone from her herbalist to her manicurist.
Presenting with Raisin in the Sun co-star Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad talked about “the real life rats scampering around the backstage.”
Not to be outdone, composer Jeanine Tesori, who picked up the Outstanding Music award for Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change, quipped “They had rats, we had a flood, next it’s boils and leeches for Broadway.”
Producer Carol Ostrow of Jim Simpson’s Flea Theater, in accepting the Desk’s Distinguished Achievement Award for the theater company, was “pleased we succeeded in getting under your skin.” A little creepy and crawly all this talk, but funny.
A breathless Raul Esparza, running from his performance in The Norman Heart, arrived in time to accept his Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical award for the $10 million Taboo which tanked early on in the season. The young talent gratefully dedicated the award to his beautiful wife Michelle “who paid all the bills for years when I earned 0.”
No surprise that Hugh Jackman trounced the competition with only one of his competitors, Alfred Molina of Fiddler, still on the boards. His co-star Isabel Keating also walked away with honors for her portrayal of Judy Garland in The Boy From Oz.
In the final tally there was something for everyone with only Assassins and Lincoln Center’s Henry IV scoring big.
The highlight of the evening for us came with the performance of the Orlando, Florida bred Toxic Audio, five of the most brilliant young voices to hit our town in years. Like Bobby McFerrin and other purveyors of vocalise and scat, they recreated the sounds of a full orchestra with their voices.
On “Turn the Beat Around” the five singers/acrobats whirled, twirled and electrified the crowd. Paul Sperrazza did back flips worthy of the Peking Circus. At the after party, the modest performer was more interested in showing off his wife Angie than his award. The group’s appearance is certain to guarantee Toxic Audio a long run at Theater Row’s John Houseman.
Compass Restaurant kept the party moving ‘til early in the a.m. with a crowd that kept re-charging with arrivals like Boy George. By our reckoning the evening had now gone on for nine hours! Long, maybe, but exhilarating enough to make us reserve for next year.