Sealed with a 'Kiss'

Revival of the Cole Porter musical sweeps Broadway off its feet, not saying goodnight until it has taken five Tony Awards.

June 05, 2000|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It wasn't just "another opening, another show" for "Kiss Me, Kate." The lavish revival won the largest number of prizes at last night's Tony Awards ceremony in New York.

The Cole Porter musical, which is set at Baltimore's former Ford's Theatre during the out-of- town tryout of a musical version of "Taming of the Shrew," won five Tonys including best musical revival. The original production also won five Tony Awards in 1949.

"Contact," a controversial musical with no original score or live music, was named best new musical. Though its eligibility was protested by the Broadway musicians' union, the show, subtitled "A Dance Play in Three Short Stories," danced off with four awards.

Top honors for best new play went to Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen," an examination of an actual 1941 meeting between German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his Danish mentor, Niels Bohr. The play won all three awards for which it was nominated.

In an unprecedented occurrence, both top directing awards -- for musical and play -- went to director Michael Blakemore for "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Copenhagen." Coincidentally, the 71-year-old British director also had double directing nominations in 1990, although he was passed over for both.

Returning to the stage to accept his "Copenhagen" award, Blakemore said, "All I can say is, `Thank you, America,' and of course, by America, I mean New York and by New York I mean Broadway because along this street I've had some of the most exhilarating experiences of my career." He also thanked the producers of "Copenhagen" for taking "a great risk with this play."

Other highlights of the evening:

In one of the more competitive categories, the award for best play revival went to the British production of "The Real Thing," Tom Stoppard's play about playwriting, love and the sometimes sticky intersection between the two.

The revival also took awards for lead actors Stephen Dillane, who portrays an adulterous playwright, and Jennifer Ehle, who portrays an actress. Ehle was competing against her mother, Rosemary Harris, nominated for Noel Coward's "Waiting in the Wings." It was the first time the Tonys have ever pitted a mother and daughter against each other.

"The mother wants her daughter to win, the daughter wants her mother to win," quipped presenter Matthew Broderick, adding that the other nominees would be happy if neither won. Harris got her wish, however. Accepting the award, Ehle exclaimed: "Oh, my goodness!" and thanked her parents for teaching her "to walk, to talk and to read."

The telecast's first award went to Susan Stroman for her choreography of "Contact." After thanking a "wonderful cast who defy gravity every night to make an audience laugh and cry," Stroman's voice broke as she referred to her late husband, director Mike Ockrent, who died of leukemia in December. "Dance has lifts, dips and unexpected turns just as real life does. Had I not fallen in love with Mike Ockrent, I could never have written `Contact.' I will be forever grateful to him. This award is more special than you'll ever know."

Stroman, who also won Tonys in 1992 and 1995, was competing against herself this year with nominations for choreography and direction for both "Contact" and "The Music Man."

Accepting the third Tony of his career, Boyd Gaines, who plays a suicidal advertising executive in "Contact," described himself as "president of the lucky club." Gaines is a veteran of Center Stage where he starred in "Hamlet" and "She Loves Me" in the 1980s.

Disney's "Aida" won four of its five nominations, including a best actress award for Heather Headley. She won the only uniform raves given to the Disney production, which surprisingly failed to be nominated for best musical.

In accepting the award, the tearful Headley thanked Disney saying, "I love you so much and I'll work for you for the rest of my life." "Aida" also won awards for set, lighting and the score by Elton John and Tim Rice, neither of whom was present to accept the award.

Baltimore native T. Edward Hambleton received a lifetime achievement award at last night's event. Hambleton, 89, co-founded off-Broadway's legendary Phoenix Theatre, a leader in the off-Broadway and non-profit theater movements. Between 1953 and 1982, when it closed, the Phoenix produced more than 200 shows ranging from revivals of classics to new works by such now-prominent playwrights as Arthur Kopit and Wendy Wasserstein. Actors and directors associated with the Phoenix included Helen Hayes, Meryl Streep, Irene Worth, Tyrone Guthrie and Harold Prince.

Other special Tony Awards went to actress Eileen Heckart, agent and manager Sylvia Herscher, the "Encores!" series of musicals in concert, "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour," and the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

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