For its first ninety minutes or so, the Tony Awards viewing party at O'Neals' restaurant last night was a polite chicken-pasta-and-salad kind of affair. There was jubilation in the air: in the pre-prime-time part of the ceremony, South Pacific had already won four awards: for sets (Michael Yeargan), costumes (Catherine Zuber), lighting (Donald Holder), and sound design (Scott Lehrer). But the happiness flowed in a steady current rather than in a world-rocking jolt.
Something more seismic began to occur when South Pacific's medley came on the big screens that were scattered around the restaurant. To a tempo that felt like triple-time (necessitated by the Tony time limit for individual show excerpts), the cast performed a truncated version of "There is Nothing Like a Dame," led by Danny Burstein, followed by a Kelli O'Hara/Paula Szot exchange of "Some Enchanted Evening" and concluding with a rousing "Wonderful Guy" by O'Hara and the female ensemble.
With a quickness that seemed almost to match their song tempos, the ensemble changed in to party attire and arrived en masse at O'Neals'. "It was fun," said Garrett Long, who plays one of the show's nurses. "A good time, but I'm glad it's over, so I can be here" seconded Victor Hawks, the production's Stewpot, sidling up to the bar.
After an obligatory meet-and-greet with the crowd assembled in O'Neals' large front room (the well-wishers included musicians from the show, staff from Lincoln Center Theater, and myriad friends of the production), most of the cast grabbed some food and made their way to the below-ship coziness of the back room. Director Bartlett Sher had already won the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical before the ensemble arrived, so he would have to be thanked by everyone later. (Backstage at Radio City Music Hall, where the Tonys were held, Sher told Playbill.com that the challenge of staging one of Broadway's greatest shows "was terrifying all the way until the very end," making the eventual triumph "completely overwhelming.")
At O'Neals', Sher would have been proud of his cast's discipline. They all fell military-silent at 10:26 p.m., when Glenn Close took the Radio City stage to announce the Best Revival of a Musical category. Someone wondered aloud: Could the fact that Close once starred in a TV version of South Pacific be a tip-off? It was. A shout went up: figuratively speaking, headgear got tossed higher than on V-E Day. Ascending to the podium with LCT Executive Producer Bernard Gersten and producer Bob Boyett, André Bishop, Artistic Director of LCT, accepted the Tony gracefully. He said, "South Pacific, as many of you know, is a big complex show and there are quite literally hundreds of talented, caring people who deserve to be named and thanked tonight if only we had a little more time."
Cut to: 10:47 p.m. Liza Minnelli shows up on the TV screens, in a mini skirt that drew some good-natured whistles at O'Neals'. As she readied to announce the winner for Best Actor in a Musical, a cheer went up: "Paul-o! Paul-o! Paul-o!" But that noise was pianissimo compared to what erupted when his name was read out. In his acceptance, Szot immediately thanked his family and noted that it was his mother's birthday. Speaking to Playbill.com a few minutes later, backstage, he paid tribute to the theatergoers at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. "It's wonderful this contact we have with the audience...We can hear them [singing along]...I feel if I forget a word, they will help me."
Szot's win was South Pacific's seventh Tony, the biggest haul of the night and a number that matched the total received last year for LCT's production ofThe Coast of Utopia. In many ways, they couldn't be more dissimilar. But as revelers kept streaming into O'Neals' (including, eventually, Szot and O'Hara and Burstein) and the hugs and high-fives seemed as if they would never end, I couldn't help thinking that both shows are about the sacrifice -- often, the ultimate sacrifice -- endured by idealists making history.
But such reflections are the stuff of another blog posting: on Tony night, the key word was not sacrifice but celebration!
Brendan Lemon is the New York theater critic for the Financial Times.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Timesand the editor of lemonwade.com