Saturday, April 20, 2024

Paula Abdul at the Tony’s: “If One More Person Asks Me Who Should Replace Simon…”


Who was seated in Radio Music City Hall earliest last night for the Tony Awards? At 6:45pm, before the non telecast preshow began: “Fences” gang Denzel and Pauletta Washington, with Viola Davis and husband Julius Tennon. I have never seen people look so tense or nervous before an awards show, even though Denzel and Viola were tipped to win.

Denzel pointed to a microphone set up on the stage, a few feet away. He turned to Viola and said, “Now, is that where we stand?”

Viola corrected him. “No, over there.” She pointed to the right. “The camera will have a mike on it.”

“Hey,” I said to Denzel. “I thought you were the director.” He directed Davis in “Antwone Fisher” eight years ago in the role that helped launch her career.

“I am,” he said. “But I missed rehearsal.” (Viola and Julius pictured.)

Across the aisle, Christopher Walken looked uncomfortable as fans came up to greet him. His wife, Georgeann, the famous casting director, seemed amused. “They’re making him blush,” she said.

was Hollywood’s night on Broadway last night as movie stars swamped the Tony Awards. It was also maybe payback for the American win over the Brits on Saturday in soccer. If you’d turned on CBS not knowing what was happening, you might have thought we’d lost the Revolutionary War. That’s how many UK accents took the mike at the Tony Awards, from Douglas Hodge (“La Cage Aux Folles”) to Catherine Zeta Jones (“A Little Night Music”) to Eddie Redmayne (“Red”).

Hollywood style there was Denzel Washington (“Fences”) winning Best Actor, and Scarlett Johansson (“A View from the Bridge”) as Featured Actress. Johansson and Cate Blanchett, a presenter, spent much of the night backstage in the green room lounge. But that might have had more to do with the lack of air conditioning in Radio City Music Hall. But then wherever you went there was some sign of Hollywood, from Matthew Modine to Tamara Tunie (of “Law & Order SVU”) Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele from “Glee,” and the odd appearance of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Beyonce and Jay Z, all of whom had attached their names to “Fela!” as producers.

Poor “Fela!” It was a musical that had so much buzz when it first appeared off Broadway, and seemed like to should have won Best Musical. It was authentic and genuine, all the things winner “Memphis” was not. And still “Memphis” won. If I ever hear that “hok-a-doo” uttered again, I swear…

But I digress. The Hollywood stars may have conquered Broadway but they skipped the Broadway party. Denzel Washington and Catherine Zeta Jones, the two biggest catches of the night, eschewed the Tony after party at the Rockefeller Center skating rink. Washington took off for a “Fences” private after party at a restaurant on West 52nd St. Zeta Jones and husband Michael Douglas headed off to a private soiree at an apartment on the Upper East Side.

But plucky Cate Blanchett, last seen in Cannes walking in her designer gown in the rain, showed up. So did nominee Valerie Harper. And Kelsey Grammer was front and center with wife Camille, holding court while being filmed for “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” None other than Paula Abdul commanded a table, as did Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts.

Paula, looking and sounding better than ever: “If one more person asks me who should replace Simon…” she laughed. She’s hosting a new show on NBC, maybe starting in late winter. “It’s time for the new,” she declared.

Kerry Washington told us all about wrapping up her long run in “Race” that very afternoon–she’s filming “For Colored Girls” with Tyler Perry and just added cast member Thandie Newton. And David Bryan, whose music picked up two awards for “Memphis,” told me all about flying in from the Bon Jovi tour on Friday and flying out this morning, Monday, to be on stage with the group in Paris.

Still, the best acceptance speech of the night was a silent one: veteran Marian Seldes, picking up her Lifetime Achievement Award in the pre-show, came to the mike and said…nothing. She paused, flashed her famous eyes across the room, as if it say “It’s all been said,” and marched into the wings. Clever and classy.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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