At a pre-Tony Awards party last week, Best Actress in a Play nominee Tracie Bennett was in high spirits. “I will never forget this,” she told The Observer. “It’s been a privilege, it’s been an honor. I am bowled over by the respect. And I’m not crawling up anyone’s ass at all! The way the press has welcomed me here.”
She had received positive notices for her performance as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow but seemed to take the praise lightly. “We’re only here to connect and make people laugh or cry. That’s all we’re here to do. If anyone tells you we’re here to save the world, they’re lying. We’re entertainers.”
The party, at the home of Disney Theatrical president Thomas Schumacher, was in honor of the publication of the annotated script of Peter and the Starcatcher, a Best Play nominee that would ultimately lose the top prize to Clybourne Park but pick up five others. Julie Taymor, the director of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (before her firing), told The Observer that she wouldn’t make it to the ceremony. “I don’t think I’ll be watching, period. Maybe I will. Obviously Spider-Man’s not very much represented. And I would only root for Eiko.” (Eiko Ishioka, the late costume designer, was one of only two nominees from the mega-musical—both of which lost in the end.)
The relaxed, chatty vibe at Mr. Schumacher’s party carried through to Sunday night’s Tony presentation at the Beacon Theatre. Best Actress in a Play nominee Cynthia Nixon and her new wife, Christine Marinoni, stood at the center of the red carpet chatting with other guests for about 30 minutes, excitedly greeting Best Director of a Play winner Mike Nichols and wife Diane Sawyer. Actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain sprinted to the end of the carpet to greet friends, then returned to tell The Observer her dream musical role: Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.
“Right? Can’t you see a little of Celia Foote in that?” she asked us, referring to her feisty role in The Help. She then hummed a few bars from Carousel to remind herself of other favorite roles. (While Ms. Chastain is coming to Broadway in the fall, she won’t be doing much singing; she’s to play the Olivia de Havilland role in The Heiress.)
Stockard Channing, nominated for Best Actress in a Play, made light of a serious inquiry as to her favorite Tony memory: she recalled rocker Bret Michaels’s collision with a piece of scenery at the 2009 ceremony. “I was singing in front of him and the audience was like”—she mimed a horrified gasp. “I didn’t realize what had happened until I got offstage. My advice to him: Go to rehearsal!”
Contra Ms. Channing’s years of Tony experience, newcomer Cristin Milioti, the star of Best Musical winner Once, was giddily excited to meet James Earl Jones, a fellow nominee. “He’s Darth Vader! He’s Mufasa! He’s more Mufasa,” she said, betraying her youth.
Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks—who ended up picking up the Best Revival of a Musical Tony for updating Porgy and Bess—may have been the only Pulitzer winner wearing earrings given to her by Oprah Winfrey (unless we missed Clybourne Park writer Bruce Norris’s look). Was the talk-show host a pal? “She’s Oprah! She doesn’t have pals. Be sure to describe my dress!” Ms. Parks was in a back-baring black Gaultier gown.
After the ceremony, the Clybourne Park afterparty was in full swing at Whiskey Park. Asked what the Best Play trophy meant to him, Mr. Norris replied “I’ll be less depressed tomorrow.” The Tony win, he noted, had been far more stressful than the Pulitzer. “The Pulitzer was unexpected and out of the blue,” he said. “I was in Maine and my friend called me that day to tell me about it. This has been going on for weeks, and I’ve been sick to my stomach!”
We asked him to tell us some stories about the production process of Clybourne Park on Broadway—the lead producer, Scott Rudin, had dropped out at the 11th hour, and the show was saved by theater owner Jordan Roth stepping in.
“People tell me not to talk about this, because it’s like I have Tourette’s or something!” said Mr. Norris. A nearby guest came up and congratulated Mr. Norris, whisking him away. We were not to see him again, though Mr. Roth entered the party, clutching his Tony, as we left. Earlier, he’d told us of joining the production late: “There were unique challenges—there were also unique benefits! With not a lot of time, you can go with your gut. Everyone comes together and rallies.”
Mr. Roth did not rally, though, for the night’s final party, hosted by the PR firm O&M Co.; unlike actors, he had work Monday morning. At 1 a.m., we arrived at the Carlyle Hotel’s 28th floor. We entered the suite to find Mare Winningham wearing fluffy white hotel slippers; upstairs, Harvey Fierstein was lounging on a bed in a Hawaiian shirt. We asked him if he’d made the decision to go onstage in a rubber inner tube. “Of course! And I wrote Angela [Lansbury]’s material, too,” he told us. “I’m very funny.”
Sometime around 2:15 a.m., the hosts, including the head of O&M, Rick Miramontez, led the crowd in a toast to Variety, as guests were still streaming in. Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson was a late arrival and told us he was interested in returning to the New York stage: “Anything Shakespeare—especially The Comedy of Errors.”
Meanwhile, in a small anteroom with its own bar, Ms. Bennett was standing, contemplating the window. She had lost the Best Actress in a Play prize to the young Nina Arianda. We asked, perhaps ungraciously, if that took some of the bloom off the season she’d just been through.
“Not at all! It’s an interesting question, but not at all! Look at where we are!” She swept her arm around the room. “And I got to perform on stage tonight! I’m a chorus girl—I never expected any of this.” She gestured out the window, south towards Times Square. “And look at this view! I’m very happy tonight.” It was, indeed, quite a view.
Follow Daniel D'Addario via RSS. firstname.lastname@example.org