Emotions — mostly the good kind, like ebullience, delight and satisfaction — ricocheted around today’s press event honoring the 2018 Tony Award nominees. Time, though, was in very short supply.
Dozens of nominees, including several whose work stretches well beyond Broadway, like Tina Fey, Denzel Washington, John Leguizamo, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ambrose, Michael Cera and Glenda Jackson, milled around the loosely orchestrated affair. Not as militantly organized as a movie press junket (thankfully) nor as fully schmooze-y as a cocktail party, it was a chance to dip in and out of photo calls and TV interviews, but mostly to squeeze in a bit of camaraderie. Many would need to be onstage for matinee performances in a couple short hours. Given that this degree of communing is possible only a couple of times a year, some encounters between nominees resembled those of long-separated couples reuniting at the airport.
Even passing exchanges carried an urgently fond charge. Andrew Garfield, nominated for his lead turn in Angels in America, was riding the up escalator on his way out of the event at the Intercontinental hotel on West 44th Street. Laurie Metcalf, nominated for Three Tall Women, was on the down escalator. Metcalf later told Deadline they had never met before in person. Still, they took full advantage of the moment. “Hi, Laurie!” Garfield called out as they touched hands and smiled. “You were wonderful. I saw the show the other night and you were so stunning. Bye!” Metcalf beamed, “Thank you. Congratulations. Have a good show!”
Garfield said the brief interlude offered a chance to take a breath during the arduous process of putting on a Broadway show. “It’s so much hard work. Like, genuine hard work. Like blood-sweat-tears kind of work. So it’s incredibly gratifying and there’s this sense that we really get to celebrate because we’ve earned it. We’ve devoted ourselves so fully,” he said. “I’m not very good at celebrating things, but in this case, I’m allowing myself.”
Metcalf has hit a new professional level over the past six months, with an Oscar nomination for Lady Bird and a key role in ABC’s revitalized Roseanne. Still, she treasures the stage, having launched her career as an original member of Chicago’s storied Steppenwolf Theater. “I just feel more comfortable here,” she said. Glancing around the hotel ballroom, she added, “For a person who likes theater, this is the epitome right here.”
Leguizamo, whose solo show, Latin History for Morons, is up for Best Play, is also getting a special Tony Award recognizing his career accomplishments. “It’s awesome. I feel so sort of validated for all of my contributions,” he told Deadline. “Not just bringing Latin stories but changing the format of one-man shows into an autobiographical piece and breaking the paradigm of the biopic that had never really made it to Broadway yet.” (Leguizamo has tapped his own story for shows such as Freak and Sexaholix … A Love Story.)
Leguizamo said he believes his current show has resonated strongly due to the Trump Era. “The subject matter is very timely,” he said. “Plus all of the facts that I dug up are incredible. People walk out of my theater feeling like they’re somebody. There are all these attacks on us as Latin people. … If this information was in textbooks, movies, Discovery Channel, anywhere, it would change the way we’re treated.”
Having starred in a range of film and TV projects over the decades, Leguizamo said returning to theater offered perspective on how work on the stage fits into the broader cultural context. “Broadway has become the most important outlet in American media,” he said. “Because it’s a place where Hamilton can happen. Hamilton cannot happen in a studio environment or a network environment because they would never have believed in it. My show could never have gotten made anywhere except on Broadway, where there are no gatekeepers. You just raise the money and you’re legit.”
Lauren Ambrose, whose portrayal of Eliza Doolittle in Lincoln Center’s bold revamp of My Fair Lady, said the sense of opportunity innate to Broadway emboldened the creative team behind the show. Clearly, a retread of past versions of the tale, portraying Eliza as putty for Henry Higgins to manipulate, would not fly in the TimesUp/#MeToo era. “It’s tricky material in the wrong hands,” Ambrose said.
Director Bartlett Sher, she said, “is perfect for this material. He is a very searching director. He’s looking for the truth of it.” Sher, with Ambrose’s full support, leaned on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the original source material. “A lot of people have described it as, ‘Oh, it’s the story of a man who finds this girl and transforms her into his ideal woman,'” she said. “But there’s a lot, lot more going on there, including the fact that she initiates the exchange by going to seek him out. And what better time to tell a story of a woman having internal strength than right now?”