Monday, June 7, 2010



The relatively close confluence of The Royal Family, the Winter Olympics, and the Tony Awards got me thinking. Though usually the classiest, the Tony Awards are the stepchild of the award shows, looked down upon and barely tolerated by television industry executives. Ratings are generally low, and Hollywood stars are dragged in to sex up the appeal of the show. Producers of the big Broadway musicals want America to see numbers from their shows—it's the best commercial they've got to promote their production—but no one can figure out how to showcase the plays. The sports divisions of the television industry have got it right—they know how to get viewers. So with tongue firmly in cheek, my proposal for the Tony committee is TonyOlympics® 2010 …

“There is something stubbornly old-fashioned about the Tony Awards…it’s a yearly revival, “Brigadoon”-like, of a type of singing-dancing variety TV whose light otherwise went out sometime in the 1970s…”
—Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2009

At a recent press conference, Paul Libin, chairman of the Broadway League, and Theodore S. Chapin, chairman of the American Theatre Wing, announced that the 64th annual Antoinette Perry “Tony”® Awards, to be presented this year on June 13, will leave behind the “tacky ’70s forever.” Taking a cue from the wildly successful 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Chapin said that “we’re going to show the world that New York theatre lives in the 21st century.” Libin added, “We’re going to show everyone that Broadway knows all about peaks and valleys. And we don’t need to truck in a ton of snow to prove it. So stand back, folks. Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to the Theatre. And Let The Games Begin!”

* * *

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. This is Bob Costas reporting from the TonyOlympics® Center in the Crossroads of the World—Times Square, New York City. With the help of several of my esteemed colleagues, we’ll be covering some of the hotly contested, eagerly anticipated plays and performances of New York’s 2009-2010 Broadway season.

“It’s an honor to be here in the heart of the Theatre District. We’re here to witness some of our generation’s finest actors delivering performances of a magnitude that others can only dream of. We will witness some of the finest writing being done for the American stage. We’re about to see the Best and the Brightest. That’s what these Tonys® are all about. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.

“This is Broadway, folks, this is as good as it gets.

“And now, let’s go to the TonyBox® at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre where we’re about to watch the revival of The Royal Family by the great George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, starring Rosemary Harris, Jan Maxwell, and a host of talented, dazzling actors—America’s Finest. To guide us through the play, our commentators in the TonyBox® are three-time Tony® winner, revered actor Carol Channing, and the no-less revered, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. Carol, as the audience dawdles in the aisles, waiting for the last minute to take their seats, can you feel the excitement? Can you feel the emotion?”

“Gee, thank you, Bob. Yesh, of coursh we can feel it. This is truly a shpecial night and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such emotion in a public place. We’re in for something truly unique tonight, aren’t we, Morgan.”

“Yes, Carol, this is a New York story. This is a New York crowd. And it knows it’s about to witness History.”

“It’s a wonderful play about actors. About the theatre—”

“Yes, Carol, and speaking of the theatre, isn’t this night just so darn exciting? This play is full of wonderful actors—John Glover, Ana Gasteyer, Tony Roberts, and a host of others who know what they have to do, and they’re here to do it. Leading them all is Rosemary Harris, a terrific actress. She’s been through a lot, she’s hung in there, and she’s done her job. She knows what’s at stake here. She’s an anchor. She’s a pro. She’s English. And she has come to play.

“And, Morgan, thish isn’t her first exshperience with The Royal Family, is it.”

“That’s right, Carol, she played Julie in the 1976 revival and she’s playing Fanny, the grandmother, now.”

“Well, gosh, Morgan, here we are tonight watching Jan Maxshwell play Julie. She’s a real trouper. Been around for years really proving hershelf. She’s been nominated twice before for Tonys®, and the question tonight is, Can she pull it off? Will she schtick the landing?”

“They’re awesome talents, Carol.”

“And I think we can shay, Morgan, They’re here, they’ve been here before, they’re going for the gold—TONYGOLD®.

(The lights dim. An announcement is made to turn off cell phones. Audience members stand in aisles and continue to talk, text, and twitter. A royal fanfare is heard.)

“Oh, Morgan, what a lovely anthem—I feel in good hands already.”

“The lights are dimming; Carol…the tension is rising. Remember, folks, tonight anything can happen.”

(The set is revealed. There is a standing ovation.)

“Morgan, what can you tell us about this set?”

“A mistake, I think, Carol: too big, gaudy. It’s showy but I think it’s going to hurt them.”

“Oh, you old poop, I love it. I want to rent it and live in it forever! You know what it tells me, it tells me these people are rich! That maid? That butler? That housheboy? Mmmmmm…”

“Carol, as the secondary characters are introduced and we listen to a lot of exposition, tell us what you see here.”

“Well, Morgan, I think we’re off to a good shtart. The actors are really sholid tonight. They’re at home on the shtage—Glover, Gashteyer: real pros. Oh, oh…hold on—oh, here’s Roshemary making her entrance. Look at that power, look at that strength. Listen to those clipped vowels. She’s starting at a good pace—she’s known for pacing herself for the job ahead—and she knows what she has before her.”

“It’s all about experience now, and she’s got plenty. But where does she get this firepower? While these other actors are talking, let’s watch a video showing us Rosemary’s biography.”

(Video retrospective of Rosemary Harris. Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” plays under. Golden light falls on Ms. Harris standing, looking out the window of a well-used rehearsal room facing downtown Manhattan. She is in sweat pants. Tennis shoes. White hair pulled back in a pony tail. She is serious. Intense. Takes a drink of water from a Poland Spring bottle. Wipes sweat from her brow. She turns around, shakes out her hands, walks through her paces again. Stops. Winces and shakes her head. Goes back. Concentrates. Tries it again. Voice over: “Growing up in the conurbation of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, Rosemary Harris was a quiet girl with dreams of being a nurse. Tragedy struck early when her pug, India, died giving birth. Unable to help the dog’s suffering, Rosemary swore she would do good with her life and help people. When her older sister was cast as Lady Teazle in their Bishop Stammer Primary School production of The School for Scandal, Rosemary tried out and won the role of Lady Sneerwell. It changed her life. Leaving all thoughts of nursing behind her, she went to work in the Pig and Whistle pub to pay her way through the Fegg Hayes Academy of Dramatic Art. Shortly after her graduation, history was made in 1949 when Rosemary played Shylock in an all-female production of The Merchant of Venice at the Dorking Little Theatre. The eminent producer Sir Lew (“Uncle Lewie”) Grade was in the audience and took her to London, becoming her mentor. London, Broadway, Hollywood, she’s taken them all on. And now, here at TonyOlympics® 2010, Rosemary Harris has arrived.” We see her in the gold light at the window again. The Manhattan skyline behind her, Ms. Harris stares into camera. Voice Over: “No one else is as prepared as I am. I’m good, I know that. I have the determination. I’m ready.”)

“Look at her up there, Carol. Look at her drink that eggnog. Un-be-leev-a-ble! You’re not going to see better than that.”

“You’re right, Morgan. It’s all about aerobic shtrength. There’s something impressive about that. Oh…Hold on…Hold on…Here comes Jan Maxshwell. Look at her exshplode out of the gate! Look at that clean run all the way down the shtairs. The way she takes the shtage. She has arrived. She is here. She owns it.”

“Yes, Carol, she is a dynamo. One of the Best and Brightest. But tell me, at this point, how do these actresses look to you?”

“Well, Morgan, as you can shee, shtrength is critical to thish event. What it comesh down to is who can hold on.”

“Both these women understand their responsibility to themselves…their responsibility to Broadway. But tell me, is Harris beatable?”

“Well, Morgan, Harrish has the power to blaze. She’s an aweshome talent. And what she brings to this event is the title of champion. But Maxshwell has the fire…the desire… and the hunger…”

“And they both have what it takes to win TonyGold ®.”

“We’re coming up to the end of Act I now. Thish is a tricky routine for everyone, and what we’re looking for is extension, absorption, shpeed control, air.”

“Oh, look at Glover’s preparation and take off—he’s a master at this. But Harris is, too, and she’s thrown a double takeout and earned a key steal.”

“But, as the curtain falls, look at Maxshwell—she’s just turned the screw on Gashteyer’s third run with an almost perfect shlide! Beautiful!”

(Commercials. “We Are the World” video. More commercials.)

* * *

“We’re back at the TonyBox® and it’s the beginning of Act II. It’s a long play, Morgan, with three acts. A tesht for today’s theatre-goers. Can they endure it? Will they put up with it? Will the actors pull it off? Will the arc hold? Will the landings schtick? Will the circle be unbroken?”

“As the lights come up, we’re about to find out.”

“Oh, Morgan, Morgan. We have what may be a fatal flaw. Jan’s costume. The shkirt and blouse are not good. They are not flattering.”

“Carol, I think it’s a statement. And Jan is a pro. She knows what she’s here for. She knows what she has to do, and in my book she looks good whatever she’s wearing.”

“Oh—oh—she begins with a throw to Glover. Bee-oo-ti-ful! Look at that wrist action! Look at that shweep!”

“Look, they’re pleased with that—boom—bam—switch—perfect!”

“What was great was the freedom!”

“Jan is always dangerous. A dangerous and competitive veteran. This is what she does best.”

“Oh, this is a shuperb run!”

“She dug deep and found it.”

“She’s just laid down the gauntlet.”

“I’m tellin’ ya: She’s the powerhouse! She’s the one to beat!”

“Oh! Watch the unison on these shpins! They have a real synergy now!”

“Their main goal: to finish clean.”

“Here it comes, Morgan, the end of the act and the meltdown.

“Oh my God, she’s opening with a quad triple-toe-loop combination followed by a triple axel and triple lutz! I have never seen such a thing! This is great! This is hard, folks, this is real hard!”

“She is serving notice that she means businessh.”

“There is a lifetime of experience embodied in her.”

“She knows what’s at shtake.”

“She knows what this is about.”

“But what it all comes down to: can she schtick the landing?”

“It’s about endurance.”

“It’s about shtrength.”

“It’s about a killer instinct.”


“She’s bringin’ it in!”

”She’s shmokin’ it!”

“She’s on a mission!”

“She’s puttin’ it away!”

“She’s nailin’ it!”

“She’s shetting the shtandard!”

“She’s making a difference!”

“And she exsh plodes! She’s on the floor! The audience is going wild!”

“But it’s not over! She’s back! Oh, my God! She’s back! Can she do it? Can she?”

“The audience is on their feet! And— Oh—My—God! Yesh! The answer, Morgan, is yesh! As the curtain falls on Act II? Yesh, by God, she does schtick the landing!”

(Commercials. Toyota announces it will recall every car the company has ever made.)

* * *

“Well, Morgan, we’re back for Act III, and I have to tell you I’m shpent from that lasht act. What, I wonder, do we have in shtore for us nexht?”

“Well, Carol, these are the TonyOlympics®. Anything can happen. Meanwhile, feelings of euphoria persist.”

“So true, Morgan. But in this act everything hash to come together. They’ve all got to get in the moment and think about their technique. The mood changes—it becomesh more shober. Can the actors hold it together? We’re about to find out.”

“As the dialogue gets serious, Carol, let’s talk about Jan’s shoes.”

“Well, they’re darling, Morgan. Cathy Zhuber is the designer and I think they’re just shuperb.”

“Carol, Larry Pine has returned as the boyfriend trying to take Julie away from the world of the theatre. Pine is another champion, another pro—oh—oh—what’s this? ‘Zuma Monty Ballooloo’? That’s not in the script, Carol. He’s wobbled his mogul and this will cost him. It’s not fatal, but it will cost him…”

“These are the TonyOlympics®, Morgan, the pressure is intensh.”

“Look, everyone’s gone but Rosemary. Alone onstage. The great actress. It’s her moment. The theatre is quiet. Will she do it? Can she do it? Will she pull out all the stops?

“Yesh! Morgan, yesh! She does it again! She has gone for the gold!”

“A perfect heart attack, Carol! Night after night! Eight times a week! Twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays! Is there nothing this great actress can’t do?”

“She’s got the goods!”

“Watch closely: the likes of her will not pass this way again. This, folks, is the mark of a true champion.”

(The curtain falls. Members of the audience push and shove one another as they race to the exit, impeding the paramedics running down the aisle.)

“Carol, as the lights come up, I just have to say that what those actors did out there tonight is what the TonyOlympics® are all about. It’s in the judges’ hands now.”

“Yeesh, Morgan. And I have to say that tonight’s moments of wonder helped put away lasht year’s moments to forget.”

“So true, Carol. Now let’s go back to Bob Costas in the TonyOlympics® Center in Times Square.”

“Thank you, Morgan. Carol. It’s been quite a night. Someone will win, someone will lose. It’s the Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat. As we take our leave, let’s listen as Dame Edna, Kristin Chenoweth, and John Lithgow sing “The Star Spangled Banner” in Shubert Alley with the entire New York City Police Department, the Gay Men’s Chorus, and the Abyssinian Baptist Church Women’s Choir. We’ll see you back here next time at TonyOlympics® 2010 with our hosts Mel Brooks and Anna Deavere Smith.

“Good night and God bless.”

Anthony Newfield appeared in the Tony-nominated Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Royal Family; other Broadway credits include Waiting for Godot and Tartuffe. He recently appeared as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird for TheatreWorks/Palo Alto, California. He has worked Off-Broadway and regionally (Huntington Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre, Alliance Theatre, among many others) and received Florida’s Carbonell Award for his work in Bent. Internationally, he has worked in Ireland (Peer Gynt, Tom and Viv, and The Normal Heart) and in Russia, where he played Jim Casey in The Grapes of Wrath. He has made many film and television appearances, and his article about understudying, “Waiting to Go On,” will be published this summer in American Theatre magazine.

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