``Will Rogers,'' 'Yonkers' dominate Tonys

June 03, 1991|By New York Times

THE WILL Rogers Follies," a corn-fed, all-American extravaganza complete with rope tricks, a dog act and long-legged Ziegfeld chorines, marched off last night with six Tony Awards, including best musical of the 1990-91 Broadway season.

"Lost in Yonkers," Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama about family problems in a New York suburb during World War II, won four, including the Tony as best play. (''Lost in Yonkers'' is scheduled to play the Morris Mechanic Theatre in the coming season.)

"Miss Saigon" and "The Secret Garden" each won three awards.

Tommy Tune picked up his eighth and ninth Tony Awards, winning as both best musical director and best choreographer for "The Will Rogers Follies." Tune, who was also named best director and choreographer last year for "Grand Hotel," is the first person in Tony history to capture both awards in consecutive seasons.

In what seemed to be a mix-up of envelopes -- apparently also a Tony first -- when Anthony Quinn announced the musical direction award, he opened his envelope and announced, "Neil Simon for 'Lost in Yonkers.'" It was about 20 minutes before the Simon play actually won.

He paused and then said, "Oh, my God," before reading Tune's name.

At a news conference a few minutes later, Quinn said, "I was given the wrong paper, and I announced the wrong name, and I had to turn the paper to read the right winner."

The Tonys, which are presented by the League of American Theaters and Producers and the American Theater Wing, were broadcast live on CBS from the Minskoff Theater, with Julie Andrews and Jeremy Irons as co-hosts.

"Will Rogers" and "Miss Saigon" had both earned 11 nominations and were considered the two front-runners for the best-musical Tony. But many theater people predicted that "Miss Saigon," an import from London's West End, would be the victim of a backlash.

There is lingering bitterness against both the huge amount of publicity "Miss Saigon" has received and the battle by its British producer, Cameron Mackintosh, to permit its two stars, the Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce and the Filipino actress Lea Salonga, to re-create on Broadway their award-winning London roles.

"Will Rogers" is an American musical, with writers and composers -- Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Peter Stone -- who are longtime Broadway stalwarts. And it has Tune, long a Tony favorite.

Pryce and Salonga, however, survived the "Will Rogers" stampede and won Tonys as best actor and actress in a musical. Pryce portrays the Engineer, a sleazy Eurasian pimp. Salonga is Kim, the tragically innocent Vietnamese bar girl who falls in love with an American Marine just before the fall of Saigon in 1975.

The triumph of "Lost in Yonkers" over John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation" will no doubt be debated for some time. Many theater people had expected the Guare play to win the Pulitzer Prize and were surprised when it didn't. But Jerry Zaks of the Guare play was named best director, winning over his "Lost in Yonkers" counterpart, Gene Saks.

"Lost in Yonkers" won three of the four dramatic acting prizes. Mercedes Ruehl was named best actress in a play for her tragicomic and highly emotional performance as Bella, a 35-year-old woman with the mind and emotions of a 13-year-old.

Nigel Hawthorne, who portrayed the British philosopher C.S. Lewis in "Shadowlands," was chosen best actor in a play."

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