At the 1982 Oscars, the screenwriter of the multiple award winning Chariots of Fire Colin Welland famously collected his award by proclaiming, “The British are coming!” And at last night’s Tony Awards on Broadway, it was like we were reclaiming the colonies.
Brits and/or British-originated productions took ten awards (out of 26 categories), including six for the Donmar-originated Red that saw it take the all-important Best Play Award as well as Tony’s for director Michael Grandage and his designer Christopher Oram (whom Grandage touchingly referred to as “my inspiration and my rock”), another for featured actor in a play Eddie Redmayne, and two more for Adam Cork’s sound and Neil Austin’s lighting.
That was the highest number of any Tony wins for a single production.
Meanwhile the Menier Chocolate Factory - who had scored the highest number of nominations for any single theatre, with 15 shared between its productions of La Cage Aux Folles and A Little Night Music — saw it take four: the former saw the predicted Douglas Hodge win for Best Actor in a Musical for reprising his performance as Albin, as well as the largely unpredicted win for Terry Johnson (for Best Director of a Musical) and the year’s win as Best Revival of a Musical; while Night Music won the Best Actress in a Musical award for its star Catherine Zeta-Jones. Poor David Babini - onstage with his co-producers to collect the win for La Cage as best revival - saw Broadway’s Barry Weissler leading the thank you speeches, then Sonia Friedman had a word, before she passed the baton onto him; only to have the orchestra strike up to silence him before he’d even uttered a word. Never mind - it was still the Menier’s night (after it was the Donmar’s night).
Then there was an additional Tony win for Alan Ayckbourn who, presented with a lifetime achievement award, said he had recently been asked by a journalist what it was like to get one, and he replied he didn’t know as this was the first time he’d received one. In fact, he seems to have already forgotten his recent Critics’ Circle Annual Award, which also acts as a kind of barometer of lifetime achievement. But never mind again: both honours are richly deserved.
The Americans, meanwhile, romped home with big wins for Memphis — Best Musical, best original score, best book and best orchestrations - as well as the National Theatre bound production of Fela just behind it with three consolation prize wins, for choreography, sound and costumes; a couple of wins for American Idiot and one each for A View from the Bridge, Promises Promises, Mllion Dollar Quartet and The Royal Family. Then there was the Fences phenomenon that saw Denzel Washington named Best Actor in a Play alongside two other wins. Just yesterday the New York Post was pointing out how Washington had been this season’s most bankable star at the Broadway box office. Michael Riedel noted that when it began its run back in April, it opened with “almost $5 million in the bank, an impressive figure for a non-musical play. It grosses more than $1 million a week and returned its $3.8 million investment in just two months. Officially, the top ticket price is $325, but ticket brokers say scalpers are getting as much as $600 for orchestra seats. ‘It’s the only show that’s worth anything on the secondary market right now,’ says a top ticket broker. ‘And it’s all because of Denzel Washington’.” =
There was another lifetime achievement award for the veteran Broadway actress Marian Seldes, who - for the last sixty years - has forged a career mainly as a stage actress; and in a Broadway season that was dominated by celebrity actors, it was a particular celebration of the fact that theatre actors can get their own recognition and reward. Though not, clearly, enough for the person seated to my right, who asked me with some surprise, “Who is that?” as Seldes took her award.
But the publicly unrecognised also got their due last night,. In an “in memoriam” slide show on people we have lost in the last year, Michael Kuchwara - for so long theatre critic of Associated Press until his death just a few weeks ago that I wrote about here, Kuch was featured. As his one-time AP colleague Matt Wolf said in an e-mail to me over the weekend, “[The Tony’s] won’t be the same without Kuch”; and they weren’t..
Also receiving their welcome due were the two Manhattan police precincts, Midtown North and Midtown South, whose respective beats cover the Theatre District, and who were presented with special Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre. As a story in Saturday’/s New York Times put it, they have helped to “make Times Square synonymous with something other than extreme sleaze. Unlike the situation, say, two decades ago, an evening at the theater no longer routinely involves running a gantlet of assorted predators, pimps, prostitutes and pickpockets. Midtown North, which has the main concentration of Broadway theaters, recorded 16 murders in 1990; the 2009 figure was 2. Reported robberies in that period plummeted to 123 from 2,135. The robbery numbers do not include box office prices. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) “
But if Broadway is often, nowadays, about fleecing its customers for everything they’ve got, the Theatre is also a world that encourages altruism; and Saturday morning’s announcement of the Queen’s Birthday honours confirmed the appointment back home of Blanche Marvin to a honorary MBE. Regular readers of this blog will know what a personal and professional champion I am of Blanche; but even if she is determined always to extend the range and reach of British theatre, she is also one of the kindnest people I know, too, which counts for even more.