Memphis, the new musical set in the 1950’s Memphis dance clubs, won four Drama Desk Awards to lead the list of multiple winners, followed by Fences, La Cage Aux Folles and Red with three each, and A View from the Bridge, with two. There were also two ties: Catherine Zeta Jones (A Little Night Music) and Montego Glover (Memphis) tied for Outstanding Actress in a Musical, and A View from the Bridge and Fences tied in the Outstanding Revival of a Play category.
Patti LuPone hosted the 55th Annual Drama Desk Awards for excellence in New York theater May 23 at a gala awards ceremony at the F.H. LaGuardia Concert Hall at Lincoln Center.
The Drama Desk is unique in that it is the only organization to honor achievement in the theater with competition between Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway productions in the same categories.
The results of this year’s event reflected the diversity and competitiveness of the 2009-2010 theater season.
TheImproper had the opportunity to chat with the winners on their big night.
David Bryan, winner Outstanding Music (Memphis) and Outstanding Orchestrations (Memphis)
I’m a songwriter, and I’ve always wanted to write songs. I’ve always wanted people to sing my songs. In 1998, I remember I was writing songs and I was trying to get other people to sing them, and it was so hard. I had ten songs, and my publisher at the time said, ‘Come on, I want you to write with another artist.’ And I went, ‘No, not until you sell my ten am I going to write another one.’ And he goes, ‘What about musicals?’ I went, ‘What are those?’ He said, ‘I can get you twenty songs covered eight times a week.’ And I went, ‘I’m interested.’ And now my songs are covered and they’re singing them! Joe DiPietro, my collaborator, wrote an unbelievable script, a story that entertains and educates and celebrates not the differences of human beings, but what brings us together. And that to me means everything. It’s not just entertainment, it’s entertainment that matters. And people can walk out singing those songs, but they walk away with a better experience, and they look at life and say how racism and hate is the ugliness of the human spirit, and we show what the human spirit can celebrate.
IM: How do you think Memphis is going to change people’s perspectives on those issues, especially now that we have an African American president?
We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way to go, but this shows it. At the same time it’s not a dirge. It’s not jamming you over the head. You’re singing a song. You’re walking out and you’re celebrating what we all have inside of us and we all strive to be, and one day we’ll get there.
* * *
Viola Davis, winner Outstanding Actress in a Play (Fences)IM: What are your rituals when it comes to going to these award shows?
I have a ritual of really telling myself that this is not what it’s about. I project an image of myself leaving LaGuardia without the award, thinking ‘I’ll be okay, I’ll be alright.’
IM: Is the cast of Fences very close? Is Denzel Washington a prankster?
Very. All the time, he’s a prankster, he’s bad. Bad, bad, bad to the bone. He doesn’t pull pranks, he’s just a funny guy. You’ve got to meet him. He’s probably funnier than most people think.
IM: This season has had such fantastic African American female roles, with Felicia in Memphis and Rose in Fences. What do you think this win says for the future of African American women on Broadway?
It’s a very big question, because I have to preface it by saying what I hope it would mean is that we build a momentum and that it keeps building and building. What I find is sometimes they come along, and then there’s a lull for a long period of time. But I hope that this is a breakthrough and a revelation that women are complicated human beings that deserve a place in the American theater and in plays.
IM: Do you think theater like this can get people to respond to quality theater?
I hope. I think that a lot of times younger audiences and African American audiences go to plays that they think reflect their lives, and they don’t go because they have a basic aesthetic of theater. I think more arts education is much more powerful than anything that we can do on Broadway or Off-Broadway. This piece planted something in me at a young age, so I hope it does for other young people also.
* * *
Christopher Fitzgerald, winner Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Finian’s Rainbow)
This is my fourth time being nominated for the Drama Desk, and I’ve gotten so used to not winning! (laughs) I’m like the Susan Lucci of the Drama Desks! I’m just very shocked. Right now as I’m speaking to you I’m thinking about nothing but what I didn’t say, who I didn’t thank, it’s actually a bad thing that you won because now you have to deal with that moment, that you either knocked it out of the park or you failed! But I remembered my wife, I remembered my kids.
IM: In Finian’s Rainbow you played a leprechaun. How do you compare to the little guy?
Well, look at how tall I am! And my last name is Fitzgerald.
IM: Why did you choose not to wear your infamous shorts from Finian’s?
Well, I’m doing Forum this summer, I’m going to be in a tunic….
IM: Now that you have won the Drama Desk you can say you have the luck of the Irish.
I have the luck of the Irish. It was a really fun, mythical role. It can be whatever you want it to be.
IM: Do you have any superstitions or lucky charms that you would use before going on stage?
The thing I need to have is fun before I go on stage. I would hang out with my mates. Chuck Cooper, he was in the next dressing room, and all we’d do is just make each other laugh and be idiots, and act and then go right on stage. And that’s the way you do it.
* * *
Katie Finneran, winner Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Promises, Promises)
We’re going to watch the Lost series finale!
IM: Many people assumed Angela Lansbury was going to win because she is such a legend in the community. However, you are sweeping all of the award ceremonies, and rightfully so, based on this year’s performances!
It just makes me so humble to be with her. I get so emotional because it’s true that she sort of guided me through my professional life when I was a little girl trying to figure out what Broadway was and who were the stars, and she was my star.
IM: Marge, your character in Promises, Promises loves to hit the bottle. In her honor, did you have a drink before the show tonight?
I was not drinking, I probably should have been drinking, but no I was not, no!
IM: How do you prepare yourself for such a role? Do you have to get drunk a lot to practice?
You know what, I don’t! Being drunk for me is just being extremely relaxed!
* * *
Liev Schreiber, winner Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play (A View from the Bridge)
Christopher Walken started in the theater and was a trained theater actor, as was Denzel Washington, as is Alfred Molina, as is Jude Law. We were fortunate enough to have film careers. But all of those actors began in the theater and I think have made a consistent effort in their lives to return to the theater. So it’s no surprise to me that they should be there.
IM: So many people have played Eddie in A View from the Bridge before you. What did you bring to the role that you think was different?
I have no idea. I don’t know. I have great empathy for Eddie’s loneliness and isolation. That’s the only thing I can think of, but other than that, I think it’s the role. The role speaks through those actors.
* * *
Montego Glover, winner Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Memphis)
IM: What do you think that this win and Viola Davis’ win for Fences will do for the future of female African American roles on Broadway?
I think what’s true about people in general is that they like to see themselves on stage, so I think it’s going to open a door for a lot of women and young African American women who are looking to see themselves in the theater on stage. They love the theater as an art form, they want to pursue acting as a career, and there’s nothing more encouraging than seeing women like you up there on stage doing the great works, doing original works, and doing them well. I think that is absolutely true of Viola, and I know I give it my best effort every single time. I think it’s going to take a long, long way, and I’m so proud of that effort.