The guests at Lincoln Center Theater's Tony Awards party had barely settled into their seats when the telecast began, the first award was announced, and -- bam! -- just like that the party erupted. "It's taken 46 years to come up these steps to this microphone," said Roger Robinson, to the cheers of those watching TV monitors scattered around O'Neal's restaurant, where the bash was held.
Robinson had just won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play, for his superlative work as Bynum Walker in Joe Turner. In his eloquent acceptance speech, he went on to thank his 98-year-old mother, in Bellevue, Washington, who raised him and his six siblings as a single parent. He also lauded director Bartlett Sher; Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten of LCT; August Wilson; and Matthew Maloney, of the backstage staff at the Belasco, who first tipped off Robinson to the Obamas' May 30 visit to the show.
"It's so great that Roger won," said Joe Turner cast member Chad L. Coleman, who wore his favorite Obama cap to the party. "He gives such a tremendous performance every night. Now we're waiting to hear about the other awards."
Actually, Joe Turner had won an award before the telecast began: Brian MacDevitt grabbed the Tony for Best Lighting of a Play. He had won the same award two years ago, for LCT's production of The Coast of Utopia.
The Joe Turner folks weren't the only guests who tucked into the buffet at O'Neal's with a sense of expectation. The cast of Dividing the Estate, nominated for Best Play and for Best Featured Actress in a Play (Hallie Foote), had made the trek down from Hartford, where they are performing the Horton Foote drama through July 5 at the Hartford Stage.
"It would be such a wonderful tribute to Horton if we won," said Elizabeth Ashley, who was in the Broadway cast of Dividing but whose current assignment, in August: Osage County on Broadway, has had no effect on the degree to which she is warmly welcomed by her former colleagues.
A groan went up from the party crowd when the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play went to Angela Lansbury instead of Hallie Foote. But everyone soldiered on -- that everyone included company members of Happiness and South Pacific: among the latter group, by the way, it turns out that Jerold E. Solomon can do a wicked Harvey Fierstein impersonation.
There was certainly disappointment when neither Dividing nor Joe Turner won further Tonys, but guests were good at consoling each other, and, besides, the warm feeling engendered by Robinson and MacDevitt's wins kept the party mood continually buoyed.
Perhaps no one was more brimming with enthusiasm than young Amari Rose Leigh, of the Joe Turner cast, when she arrived late in the evening. She and the other kids in the company -- Michael Cummings, Elon van Buckley, and Olivia Ford -- had attended the Tonys at Radio City with their mothers. Perhaps some day each of them, like Roger Robinson, will have a chance to mount the podium and thank the women who raised them.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.
Joe Turner was the best show of the season!! -- Is there no hope of extending the run???
Will the show be traveling to another city?
Editor's note: This production will not be touring -- it is just a Broadway run.