'Salesman' Reborn

Theater: Father-son themes played out as Broadway handed out the Tony Awards last night for `Side Man' and `Death of a Salesman.' Best musical went to `Fosse' and `Annie Get Your Gun' hit the target for musical revival.

June 07, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It was Miller time at last night's Tony Awards ceremony in New York as a 50-year-old play -- Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" -- took home more awards than any other show.

"Salesman" won best revival; the play's star, Brian Dennehy, was honored as best actor for his portrayal of the weary title character; Elizabeth Franz was named best supporting actress for her heart-wrenching depiction of the salesman's wife; and the revival's director, Robert Falls, was also honored. In addition, the 83-year-old Miller won a Tony for lifetime achievement.

Miller began collecting Tonys in 1947, the very first year the award was presented. In accepting his lifetime award, the octogenarian said, "Thank you for this honor -- just being around to receive it is a great pleasure in itself." He went on to say how rare it is nowadays to see large-scale contemporary plays on Broadway.

In keeping with the play's father-son theme, director Falls thanked his father, "for teaching me what it is to be a son," and his 3-year-old son, "for teaching me what it is to be a father." He also mentioned his wife, whom he said was at home getting ready to go into labor with their second child, "due any minute."

Similarly, Dennehy thanked his family. Holding up his award, he said, "The families pay for these things in the most precious commodity of all, which is time."

One of the evening's surprises was that the revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh," which had been considered tough competition for "Salesman," was shut out of all five categories in which it was nominated.

The award for best new play went to Warren Leight's "Side Man," the playwright's largely autobiographical account of his relationship with his trumpet player father. In a season dominated by plays that originated in Britain, "Side Man" was the sole new-play nominee by a living American playwright.

Leight thanked his cast, saying, "Like true side men ... they have gone out night after night and played their hearts out for this show." Actor Frank Wood, who plays the father in "Side Man," was also a Tony winner.

"Fosse," a dance revue saluting the work of the late director/choreographer Bob Fosse, was chosen best new musical. The anthology show also took the awards for lighting and orchestrations.

The now-closed musical "Parade," which many regarded as "Fosse's" chief competitor, received Tonys for best original score and best book; the latter was widely expected since "Parade" was the only traditional book musical in a field dominated by shows that were essentially revues.

One of the evening's only other predictable awards went to Dame Judi Dench for her starring role as an actress in David Hare's "Amy's View." The British performer last appeared on Broadway 41 years ago. This spring she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in "Shakespeare in Love." The last actress to win both a Tony and an Oscar in the same year was Mercedes Ruehl in 1991.

"Annie Get Your Gun," named best musical revival, played a pre-Broadway run at Washington's Kennedy Center in January. A weeping Bernadette Peters, who portrays the pistol-toting Annie Oakley, also hit the Tony bull's eye.

For the first time in three years, the awards ceremony moved out of Radio City Music Hall and back to a standard Broadway theater, in this case, the Gershwin. Rosie O'Donnell, who emceed the Radio City broadcasts, declined that role this year. Instead, the broadcast relied on teams of presenters in place of a single host.

Besides a sampling of musical numbers, the show included a rather odd collage of intersecting lines from five of the nominated new plays and/or revivals, presented by seven actors, standing at music stands.

Among the evening's other winners was a tearful Kristin Chenoweth, who won a featured actress Tony for her portrayal of the title character's sister, Sally, in the revival of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Her role didn't exist in the show's original 1967 incarnation.

Chenoweth had just finished performing one of the show's numbers when her name was announced. Appearing in an elegant formal gown, instead of the curly wig and little girl costume she had worn only moments before, the breathless actress said, "I've never changed my clothes so fast in my life."

Her fellow cast member Roger Bart, who received the best featured actor award for his portrayal of Snoopy, proclaimed, "My left paw just went numb." Last season Bart played Harlequin in the Broadway musical "Triumph of Love," a show that originated at Center Stage.

The award for best actor in a musical went to comedian Martin Short for the revival of "Little Me." "There are so many, many people that I really must thank and should, but the reality is, I did it all myself," kidded Short, who was at least partly justified in his comment since he plays the seven roles originally played by Sid Caesar.

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