The Improper went behind the scenes at the 57th Drama Desk Awards to capture the anticipation and the elation of the nominees as they arrived on the red carpet, and later backstage as the winners among them took home their awards.
The awards, presented Sunday, June 3rd at The Town Hall in New York, honor the best of Broadway’s and Off-Broadway’s musicals, plays and actors. Here are reactions from the stars themselves.
Stephen Karam (recipient of the Sam Norkin Off-Broadway Award for his work on Sons of the Prophet):
Check out the photos; click to enlarge.
Photos by Iris Wiener
This is all so very surreal and exciting, and it doesn’t feel that long ago that I was taking the buses from Scranton because I was always such a theater dork. It’s very exciting.
John McDaniel [nominee, Outstanding Orchestrations, Bonnie & Clyde]: (On the critics’ harsh reviews of Bonnie & Clyde): I know that sometimes the critics have an idea before they come to a show, and sometimes they hear things about a show and sometimes it influences them. I’m just happy to be thought of and included in this category with these great orchestrators, it’s a real honor.
The theater has always been my love since I was a kid, I used to check out cast albums from the library and listen to ten at a time, and just devoured musical theater. That’s really where I live. This is where my roots are.
Jim Dale [nominee, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, The Road to Mecca]: (On memorizing the intensely verbose script) There was so much to learn in that show. I’d like to thank all the people who owned dogs in Central Park, because I used to take the script in every day and just have them sit there listening to me reading it. The older you get, the more you tend to lose one or two words. Rosemary Harris had most of the words. It was a very wordy play, it’s a challenge obviously to put all those into your memory,. The fact is that I can’t remember one of them now! I suppose that’s how soap opera actors perform. The next day they’ve forgotten it.
(On the “road” to the Drama Desk Awards as opposed to The Road to Mecca): This is just lovely. I never expected to be nominated and here I am. I’ve been here so many times before. I’ve won I think four of them before, so it’s rather nice to go for the fifth one.
Jennifer Lim [nominee, Outstanding Actress in a Play, Chinglish]: (On her Broadway debut): It is a dream role. As an actress you think about the Hedda Gablers and the Lady Macbeths, and all those roles, and when I showed up at that first reading for Chinglish with my background and nobody knew who I was… When I was cast in it I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing, I get to do all of this?” It was so phenomenal and fun.
Norm Lewis [nominee, Outstanding Actor in a Musical, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess]: (On playing the role of someone with a handicap): I didn’t even think of the role in that respect. When I first got the role and started studying people who were physically challenged, I noticed that there was an independence that a lot of people fight for, they don’t want to be helped as much. I tried to bring that into my character, and hopefully it’s a great representation.
(On what Porgy would say thing being nominated for a Drama Desk Award): I loves you Drama Desk!
Patrick Page [nominee, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark]: (On being one of Spider-Man’s only nominations): It feels wonderful. It’s such a New York show. I’m standing here right now and I’m looking across the street and there’s the Chrysler building, which is where I spend the final scene of the show. It’s great. It’s wonderful to come to an award show like this, you see lots of friends that you haven’t seen for a long time. Broadway is a very tight knit community. People treat you very nicely, as if you are special. They treat you as if you’ve made a difference in the world. Which you probably haven’t, but it’s nice to imagine it.
(On bringing smiles to kids faces): I do love that. I love seeing the kids, I love seeing them run up to the stage when Peter Parker takes his curtain call. I made one scream the other night. She screamed and screamed through the whole show, and then at the end she smiled back at me and threw me a kiss.
Frank Wildhorn [nominee, Outstanding Music, Bonnie & Clyde]: (On critics turning their heads to Bonnie & Clyde, and then nominating it for awards): I can’t figure it out, I’ve been doing it for a while. Someone told me years ago, just be a duck. Let the water go off your back and keep floating along. To wake up in the morning and make music in this city with these musicians and these singers, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I have nothing to complain about, I’m just having too much fun.
(On the possibility of a mash-up between Jekyll & Hyde and Bonnie & Clyde): I don’t know about that, but I do know Jekyll is coming here next June, and I can’t be more excited about that. It’s been a big part of my life, and it’s the reason I’m in the theater, because that was our first experience. I’m very thankful to the Nederlanders for producing that and bringing it back to Broadway.
(On any changes he would make to the show): I love the show. I love how Jeff Calhoun and Bob Black and I just tried to serve our director and serve the book. It was the best experience.
Rob Ashford [nominee, Outstanding Choreography, Evita]: We all work very hard and do the best we can. It’s nice along the way when someone gives you the thumbs up and says you do well.
(On the comment that Evita as a whole is upstaged by Ricky Martin): I think he only enhances the show, I don’t think it upstages the show. It brings people in. So many people come to see Ricky Martin, but they leave having seen Evita. The same thing happened with How to Succeed. I think people came to see Dan Radcliffe, and left seeing How to Succeed in Business, having seen a classic American musical. I think Ricky is our greatest gift in so many ways, and a lovely man as well.
Brooke Shields: [host] I’ve been here since 10:30am, we’ve been going through and trying to get all the cues right. It’s just the two of us, Brian d’Arcy James and I are just trying to make what everybody else is doing go easier. We’re the facilitators. And it’s all about the presenters who are also the nominees. We’re just here to service them and applaud them.
I’ll be at the Geffen in LA this summer with The Exorcist, I have my fingers crossed we’ll get to the Drama Desk Awards.
Claybourne Elder & Melissa van der Schyff [nominees, Outstanding Actor in a Play, One Arm & Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, Bonnie & Clyde]:
CE: The Drama Desk is incredible because it’s made up of the critics. It’s such hard work what they do. They see everything.
MV: It’s amazing how much time and passion they put into seeing every show and every performance, I really appreciate that. It’s a sweet way to end the journey of Bonnie & Clyde for me, and a beautiful welcome to the New York community, so I feel really grateful.
(On the possibility of a sequel based on the people they portrayed in Bonnie & Clyde): MV: Since Calybourne’s dead, maybe Blanche goes to a psychic.
Phillip Boykin [nominee, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess]: (On he and Patrick Page making this the year of the “bad guy”): They’re in, they’re hot, they’re now, they’re fresh, in more ways than one…
You work so hard throughout your life to do what you love as a performer or an actor or a singer or a dancer or whatever, and when people recognize that you are doing a great job, it’s heaven. That’s what this means to me. People are saying, “We like what you’re doing, and we appreciate it.”
Tracie Bennett [winner, Outstanding Actress in a Play, End of the Rainbow]: (On her single most favorite experience so far in all of the awards shows): Its just been a whirl. We don’t do all of this run up to the awards in London. My favorite thing is just meeting everybody else in the community, which you don’t get to do because we’re all on the same schedule. Strangely, these people are supportive and aren’t competitive at all. That’s been my favorite.
(On whether or not she’ll ever get tired of playing Judy): No, it’s great. These roles don’t come up. I’m very thankful, I work hard for it.
Kevin Spacey [nominee, Outstanding Actor in a Play, Richard III]: (On a show from BAM being nominated): I’m happy the Drama Desk is inclusive of so many theaters, so many places where people can perform, not just in New York City, but obviously in Brooklyn. It’s a great celebration of a pretty terrific year in the theater. It was ten months of one of the most extraordinary plays, a play that still resonates with audiences, and to work with Sam Mendes again and a remarkable cast made me a lucky guy.
Judith Light [winner, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, Other Desert Cities]: (On where she can go after this moment in her career) I don’t know actually, but I think I’m going to let the universe take care of that for me.
(On her first thoughts when they her name was announced as the winner): I was really shocked. I really did not expect to get it. I know these performances and I know who these women are, and I said to my agent and everybody else, “No.” But it’s nice to be nominated and I’m grateful for it.
Tom Edden [winner, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, One Man, Two Guvnors] : (On having a fear of falling down the stairs upon accepting his award): That’s the one thing I know how to do, so I would have been okay on that one! I just tried to get some words out, and I hope they made sense to express my feelings.
(On the comment that the work he is doing epitomizes the “good” actor): That is a great compliment. I’ve always liked to see performers make a great transformation. I think if someone can make a transformation in their body and in their inner light, it’s a fascinating thing to watch. There may be people that responded to that, you don’t see it very often. It’s a wonderful part, the cherry on the cake of this party that is this play. I’ve always responded to people who are funny, so I relished this. I’m not a romantic lead, I’m not going to try to be windswept and good looking. I like these strange creatures who appear from some other life. I love something that’s out of the ordinary.
Michael McGrath [winner, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, Nice Work If You Can Get It]: (On whether or not Nice Work is still nice work): It’s great work, and I hope it keeps going, I’m sure it will. I’m looking forward to a real nice, long, healthy run at the Imperial.
(On being in the same company as Judy as winners): It’s wonderful. It’s something that I haven’t really experienced before, so I’m blown away by it in a lot of respects. I like being an actor, I like doing my work, I like going to work. All this other stuff is something that I don’t really expect, but it’s great to get.
(On doing a sequel about his and Judy’s characters): I’d like that to be on TV. I have a daughter that I have to put through college. I think we could do a sitcom called “Cookie Loves Duchess.”
Judy Kaye [winner, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It]: (On doing a sequel about her and Michael’s characters): I’d pretty much go anywhere and be his straight man, or straight woman.
(On agreeing to win only if her co-star won.): We didn’t do that, but he had no confidence either. We were trying to tell him he was a lock. I’m just thrilled for him and I hope this goes on and on and on because he deserves everything.
Joe DiPietro [winner, Outstanding Book of a Musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It]: (On the fact that the book is what made the show so fantastic, as the music is already well-known): I thought when I wrote this that I really had to work hard, because if people didn’t like the show, no one was going to say, “Well, George and Ira Gershwin can’t write a tune.” They’re going to say, “Joe DiPietro can’t write a book.” But I also have to say a lot of that credit goes to Kathleen Marshall, who really started as a choreographer, but appreciates the written word. She also takes the time to know characters. She isn’t like, “Okay, we need a dance step every two minutes.” She’s like, “Let’s actually let the words and the character and the story settle in.” Not all directors would have directed the show like that. So I really share this with her.
(On his favorite words from the show): I like the political humor at the end, I have to say. They come out of nowhere and they land really well.
Alan Menken [winner, Outstanding Music, Newsies the Musical, and nominee, Outstanding Music, Leap of Faith]: (On how it feels to win an award for a show that everyone thought was never going to make it): It’s a hoot. It’s crazy. This has been an insane year for me because this is a show that did not catch on many years ago, and now it’s a hit. At the same time we opened another show, Leap of Faith, and it didn’t catch on. I said, “You know what, let’s wait another few years and see where Leap of Faith is, you put the work out there and you take what comes back.” But it’s about the work and the process. It’s fantastic.
(On one line or sentiment from the show that sums up this experience) It’s something to believe in.
Christopher Gatelli [winner, Outstanding Choreography, Newsies the Musical]: (On being one of the best dancers in NY, and still worrying about tripping as he accepted his award): I’ve been walking a lot slower since I demonstrated some of those moves for those boys. It’s kind of reinvigorated me, they reinvigorated my love of the art form even more. Watching them has inspired me beyond anything I can think of.
(On casting people in the show who are shorter than the average man): I was always a little shorter, too. It was easier because it helped them look more age appropriate. The height was definitely great. You look at any photo of any life, and people are all shapes and sizes. People aren’t all cookie cutters. It’s just talent that prevails, it makes it more rich.
Mary Testa: [winner, Special Award, Queen of the Mist]: (On advice for actresses who don’t fit the norm): I say, be yourself. Absolutely be yourself and celebrate every facet about yourself. They pigeonhole you anyway, but try to do as many things as you can possibly do to celebrate who you are.
James Corden [winner, Outstanding Actor in a Play, One Man, Two Guvnors]: (On winning awards in America as compared to winning in England): I didn’t win any at home. Broadway is lovely, it’s the best place in the world to work. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s the most special place in the world, to be an actor on stage. I feel lucky in my short career to have worked here twice. And when I leave, everything I do will just be a quest to try and come back.
(On whether or not America makes better sandwiches than England): America, one-hundred percent.
Audra McDonald [winner, Outstanding Actress in a Musical, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess]: (On what she would say to Bess about winning the Drama Desk award): You have worth.
(On people talking about her winning before the show even opened): That’s something you can’t really think about. When I decided to do this I thought, “Oh God, I know this is one of the most difficult roles in the cannon. I hope I’m up to the challenge.” I was scared to death. But willing to fall on my face if I had to, because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I had to take it.
Tracie Bennett [winner, Outstanding Actress in a Play, End of the Rainbow]: (On what she would say to Judy Garland about this experience): I would say, “I hope you think I’m being respectful to you, because I’m trying to bring the fun, humorous element out of her and show that sometimes if you have an addicted gene, it’s not your fault.
(On whether or not her own playful personality makes Judy so much fun on stage): I hope so, I can’t answer that, can I? I guess the audience could, or people who know me could. I just have to be quick thinking for her all the time, and sometimes I’m not that quick. Technically I have to think ahead because she’s razor sharp. I’m not much of a comedian. People have said I’m quirky.
(On her body being incredibly flexible when she’s on stage): I used to be a dancer, so I did all the choreography in End of the Rainbow. I’ve had to look at the eras and the vaudevillian little bits, and put it all together, stage it. We’re trying to show what Judy could have been like when she was fabulous, and then a bit of the decline when she wasn’t so well.