by: Sandi Durell
When John Willis got together with Daniel Blum and Norman McDonald in 1944 they never dreamed that their idea of acknowledging promising personalities in theater would blossom into the Award extravaganza that occurred at the Music Box Theatre on June 3rd. Why those simple ceremonies were just cocktail parties with friends in Blum’s apartment, the first two honoring Betty Comden, Judy Holliday, John Raitt, Barbara Bel Geddes, Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster!
Well, hold onto your proverbial hats folks, because this year’s TWAs presented the first John Willis Lifetime Achievement Award in Theatre to Alan Alda (he was honored with a TWA back in 1964 for ‘Fair Game for Lovers’), presented by Patricia Elliott, who received hers in 1973 for ‘A Little Night Music.’
And so the legacy continues as twelve recipients receive recognition for their debuts on Broadway or off-Broadway. But first an appropriate opening song Magic to Do, sung by the master himself Ben Vereen on the set of Pippin, followed by the magic that Peter Filichia, host, writer and Board member, weaves so cleverly and humorously throughout the evening.
Vereen honestly states that he didn’t know what a TWA was when he got one in 1972 for Jesus Christ Superstar, but was happy to present one to Rob McClure (Chaplin).
Courtney B. Vance (Fences 1987) said he understands intellectually presenting to Tom Hanks (he is currently appearing with him on Broadway), but it’s like mental gymnastics thinking about Hanks making a debut performance; Hanks who came to rehearsals and said to the cast “teach me.” But there he was, Tom Hanks accepting his debut TWA for “Lucky Guy” and gushing about the wonderful cast and recently deceased Nora Ephron, the writer. Yup, Hanks is one Lucky Guy!
Meg Bussert (The Music Man, 1981) was thrilled to present to one of her former students who wrote the best paper ever on 20th century songwriters, 42 pages in fact, and a talent on the ascent Ruthie Ann Miles, currently in “Here Lies Love,” who tearfully accepted.
Crystal A. Dickinson (Clybourne Park, 2012) was thrilled to present the TWA to her husband Brandon J. Dirden (The Piano Lesson) who not only had beautiful words to say about his wife, but about how August Wilson influenced his career.
Bertie Carvel (Matilda the Musical) received his award from Daniel Gerroll (Slab Boys, 1981), and spoke of his great terror – that his performance will stop being simple and true.
Wesley Taylor (Rock of Ages, 2009) had lots to say about that trashy rock musical, the dark horse where people stop him to say how they hate the writing. Guess it didn’t stop it from being a hit! He sang an original song “If He Knew Me” – a coy charmer!
John Tartaglia (Avenue Q, 2004), who directed the evening, presented to Valisia Lekae (Motown The Musical), who plays the role of Diana Ross, and shared the fact that she never trained as a singer, dancer, actor. In fact, she has a degree in Psychology.
Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon, 1991) got her award from Jonathan Price and was thrilled to present the TWA to Conrad Ricamora (Here Lies Love) whom she knew as a swing in Allegiance in San Francisco and who had heart-in-your-mouth stories to tell about his experiences. He came to NY and took a chance right after graduating with an MFA from University of Tennessee; waiting in line at 6:00 a.m. to audition for Here Lies Love and look at him now! That’s show biz – taking chances.
The Dorothy Loudin Award, represented by Lionel Larner, was given to Jonny Orsini currently appearing in The Nance, and presented by Nathan Lane. Orsini’s words were earnest saying that his family taught him to love with a wide open heart.
Jennifer Lim (Chinglish, 2012) was thrilled to present to Carrie Coon (Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Seems that Carrie went to college on a soccer scholarship and showed off a great sense of humor!
Tony Sheldon was on hand to talk about Keala Settle’s trials and tribulations in the business. Keala is a Polynesian from Hawaii who wanted to be an R & B singer, was very shy, had some troubles along the way and wound up as a sound tech in LaJolla. When life got back on track, she was back in the saddle in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” where she met Sheldon. The rest is history as she received her TWA for the short-lived “Hands on a Hardbody.”
Phillip Boykin (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, 2012) was on hand to sing ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ in a style not too often heard, showing off a stir. . .ing falsetto!
The lovely Christine Lahti (The Woods, 1979) presented to the stunning blonde Australian Yvonne Strahovski for her role in Golden Boy, in creating a complex tough broad.
The always hysterically funny Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray, 2003), when told she had won, said “Wow, what Monday night am I giving up?” She presented to Shalita Grant (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) who was very touched and impassioned.
For his debut in Orphans, Tom Sturridge received his TWA from Thom Christopher (Board Member Emeritus). The evening concluded with a song and dance routine by Isabel Keating (The Boy From Oz, 2004). Kudos to Jason Debord, musical director and to all who made the evening possible.
From a framed certificate to a plaque to a bronze Janus award to the current new crystal Janus award (Janus – Roman myth – God of Entrances, Exits and All Beginnings), the Theatre World Awards has been and continues to be one big loving family of theater professionals.