The LGBTony Awards
Perhaps they should fly the rainbow flag outside Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 8. This year’s Tony Award nominations proved to be a resounding show of inclusivity for the LGBT community.
To begin, two of America’s most prominent gay playwrights, Harvey Fierstein and Terrence McNally, saw their works nominated for Best New Play. McNally was recognized for "Mothers & Sons" (at the Golden Theatre), his compelling drama about a happily married gay couple, Cal and Will (played by Frederick Weller and Bobby Steggert) who receive an unwelcome surprise visit from Katharine (magnificently embodied by 2014 Tony nominee Tyne Daly), the still virulently anti-gay mother of Cal’s former, now-deceased lover, Andre.
Meanwhile, Fierstein’s fascinating "Casa Valentina" (at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre) concerns a group of ostensibly straight male cross-dressers whose weekend retreat is thrown into chaos when they are asked to formally organize and exclude homosexuals from their midst. In addition to Fierstein, featured actors Reed Birney and Mare Winningham and costumer Rita Ryack also received nominations for their outstanding contributions to the show.
Cross-dressing also played a major role in three of the most nominated productions this year: the delightful musical "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder" (at the Walter Kerr Theatre), which tops the Tony nomination list with a total of 10 nods including Best Musical; the Broadway debut of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s groundbreaking musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (at the Belasco Theatre); and Shakespeare Globe’s all-male production of the Bard’s "Twelfth Night," which received a total of seven nominations, including Best Revival of a Play, as well as nods for openly gay actors Samuel Barnett (as Sebastian/Viola) and Stephen Fry (as Malvolio), two-time Tony winner Mark Rylance, who delivered a brilliant comic turn as the haughty countess Olivia, and the magnificent Paul Chahidi as the saucy maid Maria.
Steven Lutvak, the openly gay-composer lyricist of "Gentlemen’s Guide," says he couldn’t be more thrilled with all the recognition for his efforts. "When I first heard about the nominations, I was in bed with my boyfriend, and we were writing down all the nominations as fast we could. But it didn’t really hit me until later in the day that we were nominated for Best Musical and I was nominated for Best Score," he says. "I couldn’t be more excited."
Furthermore, the show’s success with the Tony committee - as well as Broadway audiences -- is a validation of the 10 years of work that he and writing partner Robert L. Freedman put into its creation. "So many people said no to us over the years," he recalls. "We’ve actually been getting so many congratulatory notes from producers who turned us down."
The fantastically entertaining "Hedwig," which tells the unlikely tale of gay East German boy Hansel who gains a smidgen of fame as the transgendered singer Hedwig, earned a total of eight nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical for gay superstar Neil Patrick Harris (in the ultra-demanding title role), the wonderful Lena Hall as Hedwig’s "husband" Yitzak (who indulges in some cross-dressing of his own), and openly gay director Michael Mayer.
As Mayer points out, Harris’ willingness to do whatever it took to fully embody Hedwig is the show’s biggest asset. "Neil really wanted to be in high-heeled boots and lose a lot of weight in a particular way," he says. "He spent a lot of time exercising and dieting so he could have a more feminine body and be believable as this slip of a girly-boy. And he worked a lot with our choreographer, Spencer Liff, even before we began performances in order to change his body’s center of gravity. I’ve never worked with a more dedicated or braver performer."
John Tiffany’s superb production of Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical drama "The Glass Menagerie," received an impressive seven nominations, including Best Revival of a Play, Best Director, and acting nominations for two-time Tony winner and lesbian icon Cherry Jones as the domineering Amanda Wingfield, Celia Keenan-Bolger as her physically deformed daughter, Laura, and gay fave Brian J. Smith as Jim O’Connor, (aka The Gentleman Caller)
Smith says the company was particularly excited to be the first revival of the play to receive any Tony nominations, breaking a decades-long streak that has affected all of the show’s previous productions. "I think enough time had passed from the original production that people were ready to see the play in a new light," says Smith. "But all we really did was follow the script that Tennessee wrote -- even the stage directions."
Asked about the omission of a nomination of openly gay star Zachary Quinto, who played the clearly homosexual Tom Wingfield, Smith commented: "No matter if one of us got nominated, or all of us did, we all believe any nomination was for the whole four-person company. And I don’t think we would have been nominated for Best Revival without a great Tom Wingfield at the center of this production, which we had with Zachary."
Finally, this year’s Isabelle Stevenson Award is being given to another lesbian trailblazer, actress and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell. While she is receiving this special Tony for her humanitarian work --specifically the creation of her non-profit organization, Rosie’s Theater Kids, which provides education about theater and the arts to young public school students -- O’Donnell jokes that when people eventually come to her home and see the award, she has a different story planned. "I’m going to tell them I won for Best Actress in a Musical and that I beat Patti LuPone and Kristin Chenoweth!"