The Drama Desk Awards
by Matthew Murray
The Drama Desk Awards, which honor Broadway and Off Broadway productions, were presented this year on Sunday, May 19. The evening began at 5:30 PM in the Grand Ballroom of the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, located on Central Park South. The ballroom, on the second floor of the hotel, is elegantly decorated in mostly red and gold, with mirrors and fine fixtures providing a nice accent. Against this were the many colors provided by the people at the reception, with men in tuxedos and suits and women in varying degrees of stylish evening wear, an appropriate precursor to the awards ceremony itself.
The crowd consisted of all manner of theatre folk, whether Drama Desk nominees or reviewers and reporters who follow the Broadway and Off-Broadway scene, all mingling together, eating, drinking, talking, and sharing in the common bond that brought them all together. You were just as likely to see a group of actors standing together (such as Judy Kaye, Karen Mason, and Gregg Edelman) as you were to see two writers conversing about the evening to come (Peter Filichia and Wayman Wong could be seen having a spirited discussion).
Harriet Harris, nominee for her performance as Mrs. Meers in Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie, was all too happy to discuss the evolution of her character's unique accent in a few spare moments. Michael Riedel of The New York Post was seen and heard admitting the "perishable" nature of his columns, and remarking on certain Internet theatre forums. The Internet, he could be heard saying, is one of two great levelers. The other? Death. (The Internet he's ready for, but death? He's not so sure.)
As 7:30 approached, the guests began filtering out of the ballroom and into the buses and taxis waiting to carry them to the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts where the awards ceremony were held. Another reception (later referred to as a "Mocktail Party") was held in the lobby of the school, as the arriving nominees mixed with the press and other guests. Marc Kudisch and Shuler Hensley, both nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical, could be seen milling around, as could Liz Callaway, nominee for The Spitfire Grill, and Sutton Foster for her title role in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Before long, the assembled crowd filed into the auditorium for the main event of the evening, the awards ceremony itself.
The 47th annual awards ceremony [complete list of winners is included below] began with Rue McClanahan entering to great applause, escorted by Marc Dore and John Heaney of Engine 54, Battalion 9, Ladder 4, of the so-named Broadway Firehouse. It was the first time, but not the last, that the events of September 11 would play a vital part in the evening. The New York theatre industry was shaken, everyone was reminded time and time again, by those tragic events. Ms. McClanahan sang the praises of New York with a few lines from Annie's "N. Y. C.," accompanied by 42nd Street's Billy Stritch on the piano. Ms. McClanahan then summed it up best with a quote from the works of Stephen Sondheim: "We got through all of last year, and we're here."
Though the ceremony generally moved quickly, there was still room for numbers from the evening's nominated musicals peppered throughout the evening. Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti, Patrick Wilson, Louise Pitre, Brian d'Arcy James, and Sutton Foster were all on hand to lend their voices and personalities to entertain the audience and the viewing public (the ceremony was being broadcast by NY1).
After a few additional opening remarks by McClanahan about the Drama Desk Awards (referring to the awards' lack of regulations about theatre size, she couldn't resist mentioning it's not about the size, but how you use it!), the ceremony started in earnest with Elaine Stritch arriving onstage to dole out the awards for Outstanding Direction of a Musical, Outstanding Choreography, and Outstanding Direction of a Play.
Vanessa Williams was next, announcing the awards for Outstanding Orchestrations, Book of a Musical, Lyrics, and Music. Chad Kimball, the actor playing the hilariously emotional Milky-White in Into the Woods, made an appearance at the end of Williams' segment and took a bow of his own.
Andrea Martin introduced the recipients of the Drama Desk Scholarship Awards before McClanahan took the stage again with members of the backstage crews from four different theaters to deliver the awards for Costume Design, Sound Design, Lighting Design, and two Set Design Awards (one for plays, one for musicals).
David Sheward, managing editor of Backstage Magazine and President of the Drama Desk, then took the stage to remind the audience of the Drama Desk Special Awards, given out on May 2 at St. John Boutique on Fifth Avenue. Paul Huntley, longtime hair and wig designer, received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions, while Billy Rosenfeld was honored for his contribution to the preservation of musical theatre recordings. Jeff Cohen and Carol Fineman of the Worth Street Theatre Company were recognized for their contributions to the Stage Door Canteen shows to entertain workers at Ground Zero after September 11, while Jonathan Banks of the Mint Theater Company received a special award for rediscovering important plays once considered lost.
Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def were next, presenting the awards for Best Music in a Play and Best Solo Performance. The Solo Performance award went to Elaine Stritch for her show Elaine Stritch At Liberty, and she gave a stirring speech about conquering fear and the hard work she put into her show. John Lithgow was next with the acting awards for plays and was followed (after a surprise appearance from Spencer Kayden and Jeff McCarthy of Urinetown) by John Cullum to present the musical acting awards.
Not long after, Mercedes Ruehl and Bill Pullman (both of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?) presented the two final awards of the evening, for Best Play and Best Musical. The Best Play winner was a tie between Metamorphoses and The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, with Edward Albee using a few moments of stage time to encourage more such designations in the future. If six worthy plays are nominated next year, he said, he'd like to see all six win. Thoroughly Modern Millie won the Best Musical prize shortly after.
The Compass Restaurant and Bar was home of the post-awards reception where, again, press and theatre folk alike were present to talk and mingle until the early hours of the morning. The Compass, less overtly elegant than the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, is nonetheless quite modern and was packed with excited people, some also quite exhausted. More hors d'oerves, desserts, and drinks were served to those gathered, and there was plenty to say about the Awards, what they meant for the performers who received them, and, perhaps unavoidably, what the Tonys would hold.
All told, it was an exciting, memorable evening, well in keeping with what Elaine Stritch, judging by her remarks upon receiving her award, considers the classiest award in town.
Complete List of 2002 Drama Desk Awards
Outstanding Musical: Thoroughly Modern Millie
For more informationa bout the Drama Desk Awards, visit their website at http://www.dramadesk.org.
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