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Theatre World Awards—Welcome to the Family

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The proliferation of entertainment awards makes it difficult to figure out which ones truly count. On June 7, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the Theatre World Awards held at the August Wilson Theatre. Unlike other award shows, this one was held in the afternoon, not televised, and with only a handful of paparazzi snapping away. But the actors and actresses who were fortunate enough to hold one of the crystal trophies treasured the moment. They were officially welcomed into the Broadway family.

That family atmosphere began from the moment the award recipients and presenters began to stream into the August Wilson lobby. There were warm greetings and reunions, along with hugs from family and friends there to share the excitement. (Above, Blythe Danner, left, and Tammy Blanchard). The TWA’s are not a competition and the award winners are known in advance. So any nervousness stems from making an acceptance speech, not from wondering if that chance will come. As a result, those words, delivered both by presenters and recipients, rose to another level. Some were touching, others insightful, and a few hysterically funny. With a very knowledgeable and witty Peter Filichia, who wrote and hosted the program, the afternoon produced great theater that was all about theater.

The TWA’s, now in the 67th year, recognize 12 outstanding Broadway or Off Broadway debuts, performances that deserve to be singled out and perhaps signal future success. The track record is impressive since past award winners include Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando, Eli Wallach, Patricia Neal, Meryl Streep, and many others. For young actors and actresses, the award signifies that a questionable career choice, those countless acting, dancing, and singing lessons, and suffering through hundreds of auditions, were all worth it. (The event’s program featured ads from several university theater programs congratulating graduates who were winners. The message was clear—our theater program may land you here!)

The show began on a high note with John Lloyd Young, a past TWA winner, singing Since I Don’t Have You, his falsetto reminding everyone of his performance as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys on the August Wilson stage.

Jonathan Cake (above), who won the award in 2003 for his performance in Medea, presented an award to Heather Lind, Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, in The Merchant of Venice. Cake called Lind’s performance “moving and eloquent,” while Lind thanked Al Pacino, who played Shylock, for embracing her. The Merchant of Venice began as a Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park production, before moving to Broadway.

Andrea McCardle joked that she was so young when she won the award for Annie, she only understood that someone was giving her something. Today, she truly appreciates the award, and did the honors for Rose Hemingway (above), appearing in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with Daniel Radcliffe. “It’s a gift to be welcomed into the New York theater community with this award,” she said, thanking those who gave her the opportunity “to play opposite a huge movie star.”

Tovah Feldshuh presented the award to Tony Sheldon for his performance in Priscilla Queen of the Dessert. Hailing from Australia, Sheldon has made a second career of collecting all past 66 programs for the Theatre World Awards, giving him an encyclopedic-like knowledge about other actors’ credits. He stunned Tovah when they met, running down some of her earlier roles.

Two of the actors were honored for plays that involve themes revolving around HIV and AIDS. “The conversation about HIV and AIDS is not over,” said Carla Gugino, introducing Zachary Quinto, who appeared in Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. Jim Parsons, who could not be present, was cited for his role as a gay AIDS activist in The Normal Heart.

One of the most touching moments occurred honoring another cast member from The Normal Heart, Ellen Barkin. Gabriel Byrne, her former husband, presented the award, recalling that his first meeting with Barkin was a mistake; he thought he was meeting Ellen Burstyn. Even though she sometimes doubted that she would make it, Byrne said he saw her appear in films opposite Pacino and Robert DeNiro and hold her own. An emotional Barkin accepted the award, obviously touched by Byrne’s praise. She called The Normal Heart a “transcendental” experience. “We rage against the machine every night,” she said, praising producer, Daryl Roth, who “stopped at nothing” to stage the play.

Billy Crudup honored his co-star in Arcadia, Grace Gummer, calling her the “most inspiring player in their little team.” Grace’s sisters, Louisa and Mamie, were on hand to congratulate her (above, from left, Louisa, Mamie, and Grace). Edie Falco, presenting the award to Halley Feiffer, said that her co-star in The House of Blue Leaves truly had that special gift that others try to acquire unsuccessfully through practice and classes.

The awards were the brainchild of John Willis, the former editor of both Theatre World and Screen World. Willis died on June 30, 2010, and this year’s awards were the first time he was not there to congratulate the winners. Rosemary Harris read a tribute to Willis and his brilliance for creating the Theatre World Awards. “It’s the only award around that is family,” she said. “It’s a welcome and a benediction to newcomers.” Following Harris’s remarks, Karen Akkers, a past winner for Nine, delivered a heartfelt rendition of I’ll Be Seeing You.

Two special awards were given out. Seth Numrich accepting The Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theater for War Horse honored “all those who have fought and died in war.” The cast of The Motherf**ker with the Hat—Chris Rock, Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Annabella Sciorra, and Yul Vazquez—received The Lunt-Fontanne Award for Ensemble Excellence. Theater legend, Zoe Caldwell, who presented the award, admitted that she was originally nonplussed when learning which play would win the award. “But then I went to see it,” she said, adding that it was a play both “Alfred and Lynn Fontanne would have enjoyed.” She also observed that the award “is what the theater is about—no star, no supporting player, but the company.” Chris Rock, accepting the award, brought down the house with a few one-liners, totally appropriate to the play and to current headlines involving a local politician.

Mentors figured prominently. Patina Miller from Sister Act thanked Whoopi Goldberg, producer, who was the original Deloris Van Cartier in the film version. “Watching her on TV gave me the encouragement that I could do it one day,” she said. Desmin Borges (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety) cited as his inspiration his presenter, John Leguizamo. It was after seeing Leguizamo on stage that he decided to become an actor. Moayed, who has been nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, thanked his costar, Robin Williams. Moayed said both Iraqis and U.S. Marines have come back stage to thank him for telling their stories. “Theater has the potential to change the world,” he said.

John Larroquette proved that it’s never too late to be welcomed into the Broadway family, recognized for his performance as J.B. Biggley in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Tammy Blanchard, who plays Biggley’s sexy secretary, Hedy LaRue, presented the award, calling Larroquette “a complex and endearing man,” who makes his character “loveable.” Saying that all the men in his family “have been late bloomers,” Larroquette cited his successful TV career (Night Court, The Practice) for keeping him on the West Coast. Larroquette praised his co-star Daniel Radcliffe. “He’s a workaholic, plus he’s a great guy to hang out with.” (He confessed that an earlier experience, appearing in a film alongside a young, widely popular star, was difficult).

The afternoon celebration concluded with Ernestine Jackson, an award winner for 1974’s Raisin, singing a rousing rendition of If I Were a Bell. Jackson had played Sister Sarah in a 1976 production of Guys and Dolls.

Filing out of the theater, most of the winners, clutching their trophies, were off to enjoy a brief rest before reporting to their respective theaters. The show goes on.

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