I just returned from today’s four-hour (four-hour!!) Drama League Award ceremony at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. As a nominator for the awards this year, it was great fun for me to be a part of a ballroom full of folks gathered to honor excellence in performance and production throughout the season.
Awards were given to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike for Distinguished Production of a Play; Kinky Boots for Distinguished Production of a Musical; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for Distinguished Revival of a Play; and Pippin’ for Distinguished Revival of a Musical. In addition, Bernadette Peters was presented the Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater Award by Joel Grey; Tommy Tune presented the Unique Contribution to the Theater Award to the Rockettes; and Jerry Mitchell got the Founders Award for Excellence in Directing from Cyndi Lauper.
The real fun happens, though, when the more than 50 nominees for the Distinguished Performance award, who are sitting on the stage while lunch is served, each say a few words about what their nomination means to them. Some of the nominees used their time for (attempts at) humor; others were most serious about the significance of the honor. Nathan Lane ultimately took home the top prize, which can only be received once during an actor’s career, for his role in The Nance, beating out other contenders Cicely Tyson, Tom Hanks, Vanessa Redgrave and The Whale‘s Shuler Hensley, who would have been my pick. Lane seemed genuinely shocked and humbled by the win, expressing, “For a sassy guy, I’m pretty speechless.”
Other memorable moments came courtesy of Cicely Tyson, who received a warm ovation from the crowd before recounting seeing the film version of The Trip to Bountiful and telling her agent, “Get me my Trip to Bountiful, and then I’ll retire”; Tom Hanks, who took a photo of the ballroom with his phone; The Piano Lesson‘s Brandon J. Dirden, who spoke of what his becoming an actor meant to his father, whose own dreams of being an actor had never been realized; and Andrea Martin, who said she was looking forward to her post-lunch nap. Gotta love honesty, especially in the midst of a four-hour lunch. Did I mention it was four hours?
The recurring theme throughout the remarks, however, was how humbled each actor felt to be included in such esteemed company, with several taking the opportunity to pay tribute to their colleagues sitting on stage with them. Patina Miller, a nominee for Pippin’, referred to Billy Porter as her “mentor,” as did Porter’s Kinky Boots co-star Stark Sands. (Porter rebutted that he was too old to have a mentee.) Chaplin star Rob McClure said he had waited at stage doors to get the autographs of several of his fellow nominees, and had learned to clown from watching Old Hats star Bill Irwin on Sesame Street.
Nominees Alec Baldwin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bette Midler, Laurie Metcalf, Vanessa Redgrave, Seth Numrich and Chita Rivera were no-shows, but My Children! My Africa! Stephen Tyrone Williams spoke of having played several roles, including Thame in the show he was nominated for, that fellow nominee Courtney B. Vance had played, and how he was thrilled to be sharing the stage with Vance every night in Lucky Guy. Judith Light also paid tribute to her co-star, Assembled Parties nominee Jessica Hecht, as did Passion co-stars Ryan Silverman and Judy Kuhn. Speaking of Kuhn, Into the Woods nominee Donna Murphy told of how she and Kuhn both appeared in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and had also now both played the part of Fosca in Passion. The theatrical circle of life.
All in all, it was a warm, memorable afternoon — a chance to feel good about the theater community and the season that has just come to an end. I look forward to next year’s ceremony…with the hope that it might come in at a slightly more reasonable 3 1/2 hours.