Kennedy Moore – founder of Ask A New Yorker – and I were recently invited by Cristyne Nicholas – chairman of The Broadway Association – to their annual Tony Awards Luncheon. Founded in 1911, this not-for-profit business association’s main focus is the cultural and economic betterment of the Broadway Theater District. Never having been to an event of this nature, I wasn’t sure what to expect — but was very eager to meet and mingle with some of the association’s distinguished members, as well as potentially, a couple of people from the Tony Awards panel.
Kennedy and I arrived in front of Sardi’s at noon. With an obvious old school New York feel, the space was framed by deep burgundy walls – decorated with dozens of celebrity caricatures that date back to the twenties – and carpeting to match. Upon entering the room, we were handed a couple of Annual Tony Awards Printable Ballots – which listed all the categories and nominees – for us to select our picks for the 2014 award winners.
Right away we were greeted by Pat Addiss – lead producer on A Christmas Story: The Musical – and currently producing Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike, as well as The Fantasticks. She was refreshingly colorful, in a silk scarf and a necklace adorned with dozens of zipper pull tabs. Pat later introduced us to Kathleen O’Connor from the New York Historical Society. Kennedy, Pat, and Kathleen discussed a recent trip to Barcelona – celebrating the famous Dali house and museum – and I found myself at a loss, never having been to Barcelona myself; but was surprised by the infectious energy in the room.
We casually conversed with a couple of other guests – including Drew Davis, Chief Brand Ambassador of the Concierge Sales Network – prior to sitting down for lunch.
Once most of the meals were finished and the coffee and tea was served, Cristyne walked up to the podium and began to introduce the panel.
First to the front was David Rooney, moderator for the event, and also film and theater critic for The Hollywood Reporter; a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone; and most recently served on the nominating panel for the acting categories of the 2013 Gotham Independent Film Awards. David was followed by Jesse Green – the theater critic for New York magazine, formerly a writer for the Times Magazine and the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times, as well as the author of several books – and the lovely Imogen Lloyd Webber- author, broadcaster, and the News Editor at Broadway.com. Last but certainly not least was Jeff Lunden – an arts reporter and award-winning radio producer, that has been heard on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition — as well as Studio 360, Marketplace, and Voice of America. As a theater composer, Jeff wrote the score for the award-winning adaptation of Arthur Kopit’s Wings – produced at the Public Theater in New York, and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
David started the discussion with the mention of Broadway’s economic impact. According to The Broadway League, the industry contributed $11.9 billion to New York City’s economy. Recently having been to see Wicked, I knew it wasn’t cheap – but the figures were impressive nonetheless. David also went on to state his surprise with the wide assortment of Broadway audience members he recently encountered. “I’ve never seen this many teenagers and 20-somethings at a Broadway Play on a weeknight,*” he said in regards to a showing of Les Mis.
I began to take video after about five minutes – mainly because I’m a terrible note taker; but later thought I could perhaps use a clip or two on Ask A New Yorker. Unfortunately, the energy and dynamic in the group was so refreshing and entertaining, that not much audio can be heard above my constant eruption of laughter; however I was able to make out enough of the discussion to find some gems.
After a bit of an overview on how the nominees are selected, we reached, according to David, “the fun part – the handicapping […]” He said, “Jesse, let’s start with you; for best musical, what should and what will win?*”
“Well, the nominees are,” he replied – pausing for the laughter to subside. “Aladdin, Beautiful […], A Gentleman’s guide to Love and Murder, and After Midnight. There’s controversy everywhere; as Imogen said, why wasn’t there a fifth? Well we know why, but there were several musicals that certainly would’ve made a good fifth; and in my opinion, a good fourth and third as well,” he said, almost as an aside. “[…] The word around town is that Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, is going to win; that would be the traditional choice insofar as it’s tourable, it’s a big hit now, and it has a great central performance […] I thought the musical that best fulfilled what it intended to do and gave me the most joy, personally, was After Midnight […]”
Imogen responded with, “[…] I would like it to be Beautiful, but I think it’s probably going to be A Gentleman’s Guide […]”
“Believe it or not, I agree with you, Jesse,” said Jeff. “I think the best time I had in a musical was After Midnight — just because I thought it was kind of joyous, it was inventive, and of course it was a great score – it wasn’t a new score but it was a great score […] I think Gentleman’s Guide is going to win […]”
“I agree,” said David. “I do think it’s going to go to Beautiful […] That show connects with audiences who grew up with Carole King’s music […] Personally I would be happy to see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder win. […] Now let’s move on to Musical Revivals – is there any competition at all?*”
“No,” said Jeff definitively, whose concise answer appeared well received by the audience – and agreed upon by the panel. While it may not have been Jesse’s favorite, everyone felt that Hedwig and the Angry Inch was definitely going to win that category.
Imogen followed up with, “And if you look at the grosses and everything else, that’s the big hit; I mean, you cannot get a ticket for it.”
Skipping ahead down the list – David said, “[…] lets just do a quick sweep of the actors. Who’s the slam dunk for the Actor in a Musical?*” Right away, the group unanimously agreed Neil Patrick Harris – as Hedwig – would be the winner in that category; adding, “Does he deserve to win?*”
“Does he deserve– who deserves? Who deserves?” Jesse replied with a shoulder shrug and a quickly following guffaw from the audience. “No, I didn’t actually think his was the best performance in the year, but I’m fine with it. I think he’ll do more […] to bring people in, than anybody else would.”
They reviewed several other categories and, running short on time, David breezed through some of the shows that are going to be seen next season — asking, “what are the sure bets you think we’ll be talking about this time next year?*”
Without missing a beat, Imogen retorted, “Harvey Weinstein will be very angry you didn’t mention Finding Neverland.”
After a short back and forth among the group, Jesse responded with, “the only announced new musical […] for the fall is Sting’s musical, The River –”
“The Last Ship,” interrupted the other panelists.
“The Last Ship,” Jesse echoed, “The River is Hugh Jackman’s […]– all this maritime theatrics […]” a roar from the crowd interrupted; “[…] I liked it very much […]”
“[…] I imagined from what I heard of The Last Ship, it’s an intimate little show—*”
“No, no. It’s a very big production,” corrected Jesse. “I mean, there’s a giant ship.” His slightly sarcastic response drew one last laugh from those in attendance – and with a bit more banter, the discussion ended.
Cristyne and her crew reminded the crowd to hand in their ballots – stating that anyone whose entire list of predictions is correct, would be rewarded with tickets to see the winning show. I didn’t hand in my ballot because, A: I wasn’t exactly able to mark my selections and listen to/record the discussion – I didn’t think I would win anyway; and B: my journalistic ethics forbid me from being anything but objective and impartial; but it was mostly A — either way, it was an amazing and slightly surreal experience for me. I will definitely be watching the Tony Awards tonight, if at the very least, to see how right the panelists were.
*David Rooney’s quotes, pending approval.