Thursday, May 30, 2024

(Some) Tony Nominees Do A Victory Lap: Waiting for Hugh Jackman, Though, is Time Consuming


Celebrating the Tony nominations this year held special excitement: it’s the 75th anniversary, the first in-person comeback after Covid, a year of re-emergence for shows shuttered in March 2020. Vaxxed, masked, Covid-tested, journalists met with the nominees in a return to Broadway as usual. A dozen or so sat at designated places in a room at the Sofitel Hotel in midtown, just a stone’s throw from the classic stages where many of the nominated would perform for the evening. Handlers offered stars as they worked the various outlets, as in, we have Hugh Jackman, do you want him? Duh. Who doesn’t want Hugh Jackman? Ok, you have two questions.

And so it went, as stars came in and out often yanked, and still, the event was like a master class in theater production, and a recognition of just how hard, and how special live theater is. Lessons are learned in passing. Allowed almost no time with Hugh Jackman, you may get the superficial, how he feels about being nominated. Great. But then, with “Music Man” choreographer Warren Carlyle, you find out “Hugh’s success is not an accident. He worked hard all through the pandemic, rehearsed for the Music Man revival for three years.” A quintessential Broadway vehicle, “The Music Man” is not perceived as a dance show. What changed? Two things, said Carlyle, Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. “All the choreography is new, every step out of my head, nothing from past shows. I really went for it.”

Dance is a major part of the new show, “Paradise Square,” where a pivotal plot point is a dance off. The winner receives enough cash to buy his way out of the draft. Representing two factions residing in Manhattan’s slummy Five Points at the time of the Civil War, blacks who may or may not be runaways vs. newly arrived immigrants from Ireland, the actors Sidney Dupont and A. J. Shively vie for the money. As Owen Duignan, Shively’s accent and dance flair are so pronounced, you could easily think he’s fresh from “Riverdance.” No, he explained in flat American cadence, his moves came from training with choreographer Bill T. Jones and an Irish team. Similarly, Dupont, as runaway Washington Henry, displays African-American stylings. Garth Drabinsky came by in his wheelchair, and out of respect for this show that has many nominations and is a favorite among many viewers, no one asked this producer of “Ragtime” and “Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” the tough questions about the allegations and lawsuits he’s somehow eluded.

David Morse, Rachel Dratch, Amanda Green, Mare Winningham, Deidre O’Connell, Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz made the scene. The “Mr. Saturday Night” writers attested to Billy Crystal’s writing chops.

Long awaited stars such as Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster, Ruth Negga, never made it into our little interrogation quarters, but if you wandered, seeking a rest room and such, you might get lucky. I did, finding the much praised Joaquina Kalukango of “Paradise Square” at the Sofitel exit. Then again, the real miracle is finding Broadway so vibrant.   


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