The Siegel Column

The Major League

The hoopla surrounding the Drama League Awards this year was palpable. The press room at the Marriott Marquis was a veritable light show with thousands upon thousands of flashes set off by a horde of photographers as one star after another was thrown in front of them like Christians being fed to lions. Glazed, their pupils turned into pin pricks, they came out the other end of the gauntlet. Thatís where we were, waiting to get a sentence or two out of this yearís names above the title.

We asked Bob Martin from The Drowsy Chaperone if he expected this kind of attention from the press for a musical theater piece. He laughed. "No. This seems more like the Toronto Film Festival," said the Canadian star, gesturing at the photographers. "But itís great for the theater that this is happening." His award-winning co-star, Sutton Foster, was with him. She had been down this road before. We asked if she was guiding Martin through the award circuit this year. Before she could answer, he said, "Iím clinging to her!"

It was Lestat's Carolee Carmello who said what so many were thinking: "Itís all the movie and TV stars who are on Broadway this year; thatís why this is happening." It was just a statement of fact. "Iím glad Iím here to see it," she said. Modesty kept her from saying that she was also a part of it, herself, as an honoree.

The theme of the afternoon was the assemblage of so many stars: more than fifty showed up for the Friday afternoon event. The Pajama Game's Harry Connick, Jr. leaned over and said softly, "Thereís a lot of talent in this room. Iím grateful to be among them." David Schwimmer from The Caine Mutiny Court Martial was equally impressed with how many of his fellow actors had been gathered. "This is good for the theater," he intoned. On a practical level, many of the actors we spoke to said that this was one of the few opportunities they had to see their friends. "I canít see their plays because Iím working," said Sweeney Todd's Michael Cerveris, but at least now I can visit and say hello."

We saw a lot of that. The photographers loved it when they could get more than one star in a shot. They went absolutely bonkers when Julia Roberts from Three Days of Rain and Christine Ebersole from Grey Gardens met and talked. Not that they werenít already going wild when, all by herself, Julia Roberts stepped in front of their cameras.

When we left the press room and entered the main ballroom we noticed a sign on the door. "The capacity for this room should not exceed 2,800 people." 2,800 people? There were so many theater people in that hall Ė from stars to moneyed producers, and from creative types to press Ė that it seemed quite reasonable to assume that there could be no theater in New York City again until this event was finished.

The signal event that started the Awards luncheon was the entrance of all the stars that were being honored by the League. They marched in like it was the beginning of the Olympics, streaming past the seated throng on their way to the dais. When they reached the stage and sat down, it looked like a meeting of the Politburo in The Kremlin, with three tiers of stars lined up for all to see. Eventually, they would get a chance to say a few thankful words and a handful of winners would be announced. For the record, the winners were The History Boys and Jersey Boys (for Best New Play and Musical, respectively) and Awake and Sing and Sweeney Todd (for best revivals, play and musical, respectively). Patti LuPone was given a special award for her contribution to the musical theater; it was handed to her by Stephen Sondheim. Marian Seldes was given a special award, as well, with Terrence McNally doing the honors. Everyone loves Marian; that was clear from the standing ovation she received. Nonetheless, the big kicker of the night was Christine Ebersoleís award for Distinguished Performance for her work in Grey Gardens. Not only did she get her own standing ovation, she used the opportunity to announce that her musical was going to Broadway in the Fall. Count her as the immediate front runner for next yearís Actress in a Musical Tony Award.

Meanwhile, Alan Cumming hosted the afternoon event, but Nathan Lane got all the laughs. Surprised?

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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