'Angels,' 'Spider Woman' win Tonys, spotlight gay awareness

June 07, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

In keeping with what gay rights activists have predicted as a new era of awareness, two shows with strong homosexual subject matter dominated the Tony Awards last night.

Tony Kushner's "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches," an unconventional epic drama about AIDS, politics and Mormonism, was named best play. Best-musical honors -- and six other awards -- went to "Kiss of the Spider Woman," an adaptation of Manuel Puig's 1976 novel about a homosexual window dresser who shares a Latin American prison cell with a Marxist revolutionary.

"I want to accept this award," said "Angels" playwright Kushner, "on behalf of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. In the '90s, I want to see the passage of a gay and lesbian bill of rights and an end to the AIDS crisis."

The top honored play had a local connection in co-producer Margo Lion, a Baltimore native. In his acceptance speech for staging "Angels," director George C. Wolfe expressed his gratitude to Ms. Lion "for saying that I should do this show."

Calling from an "Angels" victory party, Ms. Lion said, "I think it's a great night for the theater because it recognized a brilliant play that perhaps at any other time would not have even reached Broadway."

"Angels' " first award went to featured actor Stephen Spinella for his portrayal of an AIDS patient. Besides acknowledging his lover, whom he described as "the husband of my heart," Mr. Spinella thanked playwright Kushner, saying, "He's the angel of my great good fortune."

"Angels in America: Millennium Approaches" -- the first installment of a two-part drama -- also captured the award for best actor in a play. Ron Leibman was honored for his portrayal of McCarthyite lawyer Roy Cohn. Mentioning that this was his first nomination after 10 Broadway plays, Mr. Leibman thanked his wife and kidded, "Maybe we can get an apartment with a washer-dryer now."

The most heated contest of the evening was between "Spider Woman" and "The Who's Tommy." "Spider Woman" proved the big winner with seven Tonys, compared with "Tommy's" five.

The rivalry was felt early on when the musicals tied for best score. It was the ninth tie in Tony history, but the first for best score. In his gracious acceptance speech, Pete Townshend, composer and lyricist of "Tommy," said he was honored to be in the company of the "Spider Woman's" veteran songwriters, John Kander and Fred Ebb. Mr. Townshend then added that he loved their show and hated his.

One award that had been considered a sure thing was best actress in a musical. It went to Chita Rivera for the title role in "Spider Woman."

"It's wonderful to be standing back on Broadway on two good legs," Ms. Rivera said, referring to the fact that "Spider Woman" is her Broadway comeback following a 1986 car accident that shattered her left leg. She won a previous Tony in 1984 for "The Rink."

"Spider Woman" also captured the Tony for best actor in a musical, for the performance of Broadway newcomer Brent Carver, a Canadian, as the imprisoned homosexual window dresser.

"I have been kissed by some angels in America, I know," Mr. Carver said. "I can say, 'Death be not proud.' "

"Spider Woman's" first award went to playwright Terrence McNally.

Among others, Mr. McNally thanked novelist Puig for giving "the world a gay man who teaches us about love, dignity and courage." "Spider Woman" also took awards for Florence Klotz's costumes and for Anthony Crivello as featured actor.

Besides tying for best score, "Tommy" took the honors for best director, choreography, scenic design and lighting. None of "Tommy's" cast members received awards.

Ironically, in a broadcast that began with a production number boasting, "Celebrate Broadway!", the first award went to Andrea Martin for her featured role in "My Favorite Year," a musical that closed prematurely.

In one of the show's more humorous acceptance speeches, Ms. Martin thanked "my extended Armenian family for giving me my roots and my hairdresser for restoring them to me."

Though this year's telecast commemorated 100 years of Broadway theater, in some respects the season just ended was less than triumphant. Ticket sales of more than $320 million and attendance of more than 7.7 million set records, but only 32 new shows opened -- four less than the previous season and 17 less than a decade ago.

The Tony Awards -- named in memory of Antoinette Perry, an actress, director and producer -- were selected by 670 journalists and theater professionals.

Nominations were made by a 12-member committee chosen by the American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers, which jointly administer the awards. The program was emceed by three-time Tony winner Liza Minnelli. In an effort to keep from running overtime, the telecast printed the names of some of those whom the winners had wanted to thank. it seemed to work since, unlike most award shows, the broadcast actually ended on time.

Several special Tonys were also awarded last night.

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