As Broadway celebrates a banner season and gears up for the high-toned Tony Awards, we'd like to honor some of the theater's unsung heroes--as well as a few undone egos.

By Jess Cagle
Updated June 05, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Since the Tony Awards will be broadcast on June 7 (by CBS, live from Radio City Music Hall), we’re now taking bets on how many people will give thanks to director Julie Taymor, whose Lion King has 11 nominations. We’re betting on whether the production number from the down-and-dirty revival of Cabaret will give Ralph Reed a heart attack. And we’re wagering big money on how many winners will thank their same-sex lovers on national television. (Oh, those theater people! So liberal!) One safe bet: Broadway will give jubilant regards to Broadway, which got a nice face-lift during the 1997-98 season. Its audiences got younger, its box offices sang, and its profile was raised.

But the Tonys will tell only part of the story, since they ignore Off Broadway and the backstage dramas that make New York theater so relentlessly entertaining. So the curtain goes up on EW’s awards for the stuff — both on stage and off — that made us cheer and jeer this season.

THE VIAGRA AWARD (for most potent boosterism): On her syndicated talk show, Tony host Rosie O’Donnell is giving Broadway its best PR since the days of Ed Sullivan. According to producers, she’s also making a marked difference in ticket sales (when she spoke this season, The Lion King roared). She’s Broadway’s freshest, most wide-eyed, and — other than The New York Times‘ increasingly capricious Ben Brantley — most powerful commentator.

THE BETTY CURRIE AWARD (for getting the most unwanted headline): Alec Baldwin took a stab at Shakespeare opposite Angela Bassett at the Public Theatre and caused the Daily News to holler, YO, ‘MACBETH’! FUHGEDDABOUDIT/ BALDWIN PLAYS SCOTTY LIKE GOTTI.

THE MADONNA AWARD (for most interesting matron): It’s a tie! Marin Mazzie whips up a miracle each night as Ragtime‘s turn-of-the-century WASP matriarch; with a clear, soaring voice and subtle performance, she gives the epic production a compassionate soul. And Allison Janney, the long-suffering wife of longshoreman Anthony LaPaglia in A View From the Bridge, works quiet, desperate magic.

THE BARBRA STREISAND AWARD (for getting snubbed): It’s a three-way tie! Overlooking Jack Klugman and Tony Randall (in The Sunshine Boys) was downright disrespectful of Tony, and Liam Neeson (in The Judas Kiss) should not have been ignored. At least Neeson can celebrate the nomination of his wife, Cabaret‘s Natasha Richardson. And father of a toddler Tony Randall still has sex, apparently, so that’s some consolation.

THE BABY JANE AWARD (for strangest sister act): Producers of Side Show — the failed musical about Siamese twins — lobbied for and got a, uh, joint Tony nomination for the show’s hip-locked heroines Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner. We’ll be watching the telecast to make sure that they’re sitting in the same seat.

THE ELLEN DEGENERES AWARD (for being underappreciated): One of this season’s most delicious comedies, the estimable Drama Dept.’s quick-witted staging of the 1929 Ring Lardner-George S. Kaufman play June Moon, charmed the critics but closed quietly after a short run Off Broadway. The best thing about it: Geoffrey Nauffts as the play’s lovable songwriting rube. He unearthed comedy gems in the antique script, performing a feat of artistry and archaeology.

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