As this is my 100th post, I thought it extremely appropriate that I cover the very green (Shrek the Musical and The Toxic Avenger – Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical ) and the very British 59th Annual Outer Critics Circle Awards Party, giving you a behind the scenes glance at what transpired in the Eugenia Room, on the fourth floor of Sardi’s, Thursday May 21, 2009 commencing at 4 pm.
Simon Saltzman, President of the OCC, started the proceedings by presenting a special honor to Marjorie Gunner (President Emerita) who has retired after “being opinionated but right” for over forty years.
Newly inducted into this elite group of critics and thrilled to boot, I was able to attend, review and vote upon all those thespians from across the pond that, due to an easing up in the Actors’ Equity exchange quota system program, have taken Broadway by storm. Janet McTeer who eight times a week is literally drenched in a torrential down pour on stage in Mary Stuart, however, was not among those in attendance this time around.
But the very amiable Haydn Gwynne (Billy Elliot) was seated at my table and graciously received her award – “a family award for a family show” for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical as well as for Peter Darling (Outstanding Choreography) who was not in London but in rehearsal a few blocks away using all of her “best ideas”.
“Are we at the Savoy or Sardi’s?” – one could have asked – as so many of the awards went to the superb productions of Billy Elliot the Musical (a special one for the three boys who portray Billy – David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik & Kiril Kulish) and The Norman Conquests, Geoffrey Rush (Exit the King), David Pearse (The Cripple of Inishmaan), and the ageless and legendary Angela Lansbury (Blithe Spirit) who received a well deserved standing ovation from all for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play.
Not only was the entire cast of The Norman Conquests (Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter and Amanda Root) given a special Outstanding Ensemble Performance award but they were pressed into service to dole out some of the other citations as well to their fellow countrymen – which they did without a hitch, sans direction from Matthew Warchus (Outstanding Director of a Play & Lucille Lortel Award), who brilliantly led them through their paces in the garden, the dining room and the sitting room of their imported hit trilogy. Assisting as presenter, a terrific Tyne Daly caused much merriment donning her very best British accent.
Englishman Tim Hatley won for Outstanding Set and Costume Design for Shrek the Musical. Representing the good old U S of A was Brian d’Arcy James without his green ogre fat suit who was voted Outstanding Actor in a Musical and co-star Georgia Peach – Sutton Foster who was happy to be “employed and included” – winning for Outstanding Actress. Also voted Outstanding Actress was Josefina Scaglione of West Side Story. Lorenzo Pisoni picked up his for Humor Abuse; Gregory Jbara for Billy Elliot. Ruined won for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and Becky Shaw the John Gassner Award.
Marcia Gay Harden (Outstanding Actress in a Play) from God of Carnage (Outstanding New Broadway Play) shared her award with her fellow cast members and let it be known that her husband didn’t think she was acting at all.
Stephen Daldry made it up to the podium three times, accepting for Outstanding New Broadway Musical, Outstanding Director of a Musical and for the absent Elton John for his score of Billy Elliot – praising the three boys and Broadway for “embracing a very English show” – “Challenging but awfully rewarding.” Rick Fisher (Billy Elliot) won for Outstanding Lighting Design.
Homegrown Hair, which has never received an award, finally did with Outstanding Revival of a Musical which James Rado – not looking much different than when he first penned the show, referred to as “a reincarnation rather than a revival”, acknowledging the current tribe and past contributions of Tom O’Horgan.
What was so amazing was that so many of the recipients thanked the Outer Critics Circle members for their reviews – for getting the word out about their shows to New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester and on the World Wide Web – whetting the appetite of those people so that they can come to Broadway with some knowledge of what to expect – helping plays like Ruined find its audience – and that the honesty of the critics, in the words of Gregory Jbara,” has helped me to become a better actor.”
I’d like to thank them all for those kind words. After all, we critics are here to help.