Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Dance Party: All Aboard for Broadway

Joel Grey turned 77 this week, so how could I not include him in this week's Dance Party? Well, it was either Grey or David Cassidy, who also had a birthday this week. Want to feel old? Former teen idol Cassidy turned (get this) 59 on Sunday. yikes. I decided against dredging up one of those old clips from The Partridge Family, with everybody lip-syncing and Susan Dey pretending to play the synthesizer and Shirley Jones looking wildly out-of-place.

Instead, it's gotta be Joel Grey. I've already written a bit about Grey (a bit?), including seeing him on screen in his career-making role as the Emcee in Cabaret. But I've resisted the temptation to use one of those clips, and instead chosen a little-known one. After Grey's success in Cabaret, he headlined a couple of musicals which were not big hits. His 1975 flop Goodtime Charley attempted to musicalize (get this) the story of Joan of Arc, as seen through the eyes of the dauphin of France who later becomes Charles VII. Maybe this would have made an effective opera, but as a musical comedy, not so much. How could a show recover from an opening number sung by the warrior King Henry V and Queen Isabella of Bavaria? That show must have been a hoot to sit through: I mean, Ann Reinking as Joan of Arc?? Wow.

I actually saw Grey's later disaster, The Grand Tour, about which I have written here.

But years before those mistakes, Grey had a minor hit with his follow-up to Cabaret, George M! He played George M. Cohan, which was a good fit for his singing and dancing skills, but Grey has never been a particularly warm presence onstage, and the show was pretty chilly. (I have to say that I have seen Grey once more onstage, in a summer stock production of 1776, in which he was very effective as John Adams, who was, after all, a chilly fellow himself.) And George M. Cohan was not a particularly nice guy to play; he was an arrogant egomaniac who trashed two marriages and, as a producer, attempted to block the formation of the stage actors union back in the 1920s. (Can you tell I played the sucker? Well, I played him into the ground, back in 1983, and can confirm that tap-dancing is not my strongest suit.) Anyway, in 1970, a truncated version of George M! was broadcast on ABC; unfortunately, there has never been a video of that show released, so the clip below is a bit fuzzy. But it's fun, especially when you notice the actors playing Grey's sister, mother and father. Surely you recognize them, right?

By the way, whoever first loaded this clip onto YouTube obviously had no sense of comic timing. Otherwise he would have included the tag line. After this number, the producer watching the Cohans perform (the guy with the cigar) takes a beat and says, "I'll take the girl."

Drama Prom

The 25th Annual Helen Hayes Awards were held on Monday. It's commonly called the "Drama Prom" or "the city's biggest cast party," but I think of them as the Hayzies. (If you sit there long enough, you get a bit hazy, believe me.) The last time I attended, two years ago, the ceremony swept by in about two hours; this year, the awards stretched well beyond that time, though the show itself, moment by moment, did not seem to drag. The length of the show can be blamed on the handful of ties; five or six awards had to be awarded in duplicate, requiring duplicate acceptance speeches, etc. In addition, the Hayzies have not yet figured out how to manage those particular awards which bring dozens of people onstage at the same time. And this year, in addition to the large casts winning the "best ensemble" awards, all the local artistic directors (about 70 of them) were dragged onstage to be applauded by those of us in the audience who would like to be hired by them. A bit surreal, I think.

As far as the recipients, I really can't complain too much, since I certainly did not see everything that was nominated. It looked like Signature's Les Miz was the big winner (I wrote about seeing the show here), as I believe they won every acting category for which they were nominated except one: Leading Actor in a Musical. That award went, inexplicably, to David Margulies, who gave a charming but forgettable performance in The Happy Time. When the Hayes nominations came out, I lamented that Michael Minarik (above), who played the pivotal role in The Happy Time, was overlooked; from the gents who WERE nominated, I would have liked to see one of the guys from Kiss of the Spider Woman (above) win out. Ah, well...

I was pleased that Arena Stage's Next to Normal won several high-profile awards. None of the nominees from the show were in attendance, as they were all in previews for its Broadway opening on Wednesday (the New York reviews have been raves, and it now looks like Next to Normal is the show to beat at Tony Time...sorry, Billy Elliott...) I loved the show when it was here, though I wrote that I was disappointed when star Alice Ripley did not play the noon matinee I attended. She won a Hayzie, as did the kid playing her son, Aaron Tveit (this guy won the award over sentimental favorite Robert Prosky, who was nominated for The Price, and has since passed away. But Prosky's death had no chance to play a part in the voting: the numerical way in which the awards are determined means that all the scores for The Price, for example, were in place by the time the show closed, and could not be influenced by later occurrences like an actor's death.)

Though I was anxious to get to the afterparty, I still enjoyed the HH Awards Show itself. The musical interludes were nutty parody songs, delivered by a handful of local stalwarts, including that clown Rick Hammerly, who hammed it up effectively.
I suppose the moment which meant the most to me was the appearance of Ann Norton from the Washington Stage Guild, who has faced a mountain of sorrow in the past year, in addition to medical issues, but who strode onstage to present several awards with no hint of her recent history. The HH folks rightly gave Ann the honor of announcing the Best Actor in a Play award, including the reminder that the award will from now on be named in honor of the late Robert Prosky, a long-time DC presence. Ann is a lady (well, she'd call herself a broad) who could have justifiably Given Up about four tragedies ago, but has refused to do so. I'm very proud to call her my friend.

Whether they admit it or not, everybody goes to the HH Awards just to get into the reception afterward, a huge affair with buffet tables full of food and long lines at the open bar. It's great fun to roam the various banquet rooms provided for the event, and bump into folks you haven't seen all year. Of course, in such a huge crowd, there are those you miss, and I was disappointed not to encounter Floyd King, one of the evening's winners and an old buddy from The Shakespeare Theatre Company. Floyd actually took me to the first two HH Awards ceremonies I ever attended back in the 90s; perhaps some tongues wagged about that behind our backs...but then, that's also one of the joys of the Drama Prom: The Dish. It's all in good-natured fun, and never gets in the way of the familial feeling the event always celebrates.

This year I closed the place down, and felt the effects the next day too, but who cares? I own a tuxedo (actually own several, but that's another story) so I might as well break it out once a year:

(Thanks, Clinton, for this proof of the good time had by all.)