Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"The 2008 Theatre World Awards - Or There and Back Again"

Call me Odysseus. I had the most horrifying commute into the city for the Theatre World Awards, where it seemed that all that was missing was the woman with the baby carriage from The French Connection. The morning was set to begin early; my friend and I were going to drive in. Originally, he was going to go with me to the awards, then backed out when the prospect of an audition came up. However, the plan was still that we would head into Manhattan together. I call that morning, wake him up. I proceed to get ready, with a warning that he might not be able to swing it into NY until later in the afternoon. Okay. I requested a ride from the train station as I was pretty much out of luck otherwise. He had just commenced shaving, so I made the garrulous decision to call a taxi. It was 11:29 - and the train was at 12:12. I figured that was plenty of time to get into the cab, have a nice relaxing ride to the station with some genial but rather meaningless conversation with the cab-driver. Standing there, my panic and anxiety started to skyrocket - also, it was practically 100 degrees and felt like I was breathing through a moist face towel. At 11:56 I call the cab company again - and, would you believe it, I am put on hold. At this point, I begin to quietly have an aneurysm or some other *insert medical hyperbole here*. I'm told that the cab would be arriving shortly. So I wait with frenzied tension, checking both ways for the sound of an engine - you know, I had no idea my road was so well traveled - until finally at 12:05, I see the blue blur emerge in front of my house. Yes - I haven't even left the house at this point.

Okay. It's 12:05, the train leaves Peekskill at 12:12. I'm mildly optimistic, but the optimism cannot override the increasing dread that has been building up inside me for the past half hour. There is another fare in the car with me, a very genial fellow who decided to be the world's greatest conversationalist at a moment where I wanted him to go to hell. Not his fault by any means, when I have something important going on, it typically demands all my attention. We drive down the hill, and the another cab comes riding past. They honk at each other. I die a little inside realizing that they had dispatched another cab to get me. Then in a series of unavoidable circumstances, it turns into quite an adventure. We sit at a traffic light for an inexorably extensive period, then get behind someone who's decided to go twenty miles under the speed limit. And in making matters even richer, we hit road work and are sitting staring at the little orange man and his stop sign which might as well have said, "I win! Love, the Universe."

As we pass the construction, it is now 12:10. Every one of us realizes that I am not going to make this 12:12 train. Again, the death inside was small but prescient. The driver verbalizes this thought and asks what I want to do. I ask him "How much to Croton Harmon?" (another station a few miles south).

So we pick up the pace. We get rid of the Pollyanna to my right and the driver steps on it. We critique every driver in our way. Let's face it, it played out like an action film. Every bad driver in town decided to get in front of the taxi. I'm sitting back there trying to remember the Rosary. We deal with more tortoise drivers, dodge vehicles jutting out too far into the road way. And then in a last belch of irony, get stuck behind a slow-moving utility truck - that belongs to Metro-North.

After all this, I make to Croton Harmon, get my ticket and panic - it's 12:27. The train is in. Well as Dame Fortune would have it, there was a technical glitch on the train that dispatched from Poughkeepsie, so they had to switch out at C-H. Take that universe. It took me to about Yonkers to calm down after the adrenaline fueled-John McClane experience my noon-tide became.

Well, I made it in time for the Theatre World awards. And what a blessed event, as always. This year, the ceremony took place in the Helen Hayes, on the set of Xanadu and marked the first time I had ever entered this theatre. (What a tiny house!) Sarah got there ahead of me, and got us ridiculously perfect seats in Row G. It's turned into something of an annual tradition for us. I first went in 2004, with an invite from Peter Filichia, where I sat at a table in Studio 54 next to Tandy Cronyn (which I didn't learn until everyone came up to her to discuss her parents). I met Noah only a few days later at that closing performance of Gypsy, that for the three of us will hold special meaning. As a result of the chance meeting I had with Noah, we became very good friends and indirectly have led me to be writing to you today. Thanks, Bernadette!

Anyway, we've gone together for the last couple of years and have had a fantastic time. The presenters and the recipients are always warm and gracious, without fail. When you are in attendance for this awards ceremony, you forget the negative aspects of show business that tend to distort and jade the more avid theatregoers. It's a time for celebration and community. There is no sense of competition, being that all twelve recipients are winners. Many who've won often talk about it as being the special award, or the one that really counts. And in many ways it is. There is unending support from the community - something which many of the outsiders from Chicago and London and Honolulu made special note.

The show opened with a bizarro nightclub medley of West Side Story in which Carol Lawrence, the original Maria, deconstructed the entire show in three minutes (something presenter Lin-Manuel Miranda made note of later) complete with choreography. It was a bit of what was is known as a hot mess, but we still applauded Carol Lawrence because, well, she's Carol Lawrence!
Other performances included Tyler Maynard singing "Epiphany" from Altar Boyz, Alice Playten doing a rather pointless Piaf impersonation (which in lieu of one of her socko Henry Sweet Henry numbers, proved a disappointing cop-out - I WANTED "KAFRITZ." Ok, I'm better now) and Karen Akers wrapping those lush mahogany tones around a poorly written Ahrens and Flaherty song. So the performances aren't up to those we've seen in the past, but the presentations were as interesting as ever.

My favorite is Loretta Ables-Sayre, who won for her NY debut as Bloody Mary in the LCT revival of South Pacific. The woman is endlessly entertaining. Her warmth and openness and gratitude are so incredibly genuine, you can't help but love her. She talked about her experiences as a chick singer, singing with bands and doing this and that in Hawaii. I cannot believe she almost didn't even bother going to the audition. There is a glorious soul in her person, one that touches everyone she meets. So moved was she and so moving was her speech, the audience gave her that kind of applause that Filichia loves, it started to die down, but then surged forward with a burst of energy. She is a real treat to NY theatre this season and I tell you, I'm a fan. For me, that was the highlight of the ceremony.

I almost missed it. For in my earlier fiasco I overhydrated myself to counteract the intense heat. And getting to the theatre when I did, I didn't run down to the Little Boy's Room like I should have. So in the middle of Griffin Dunne's speech I had to get up and get out. I got back in time to hear him call her up onstage and don't know what he said about her, but I'm sure it was glowing.

Alec Baldwin discussed his love of theatre and the effect August: Osage County had on his day, which had been terrible until the performance. He presented to Deanna Dunagan, the senior member of the class of '08, to whom he left a note in her dressing room telling her he'd love to work with her. Of course when giving a shout out to Odessa, TX, Sarah couldn't resist clapping. Loved it. Mark Rylance discussed his earliest memory, when he was three years old and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. His presenter, Jonathan Cake, only learned he was a winner last week. Turns out no one told him - and he won for the Fiona Shaw Medea in 2002! He received his award that afternoon. Jenna Russell talked about playing Sondheim at 2AM, singing along at full volume. (I'm sure no one who's reading this has done that...). John Cullum had an interesting "emergency," in which his wife needed the keys to the basement cages (?) However it played out, it turned into a rather hilarious spontaneous moment. Andrea Martin is enjoyable, bringing a red velvet cupcake for Alli Mauzey from Cry-Baby. Paulo Szot was humbled by the acceptance of the NY theatre community of an opera singer. And let's face it, love was all around. And it was better than anything we could expect from the Tony telecast this weekend. Except perhaps Patti LuPone unhinging her jaw and swallowing Kelli O'Hara whole.

We didn't go to the party this year, but instead enjoyed a nice late lunch at Mercury's on 9th Avenue (their caesar wrap is stellar). I tell you, you aren't likely to find two theatregoer companions as fun and entertaining as our Moon Lady and her Little Love.

I can't wait for next year!

1 comment:

Esther said...

Wow, what an adventure. I'm glad you made it to the show. It does sound like a wonderful event. You're so lucky to live so close to New York, even if it is a hassle getting there on occasion.