The annual Wednesday meet-the-Tony-nominees event that traditionally follows the Tuesday nominations announcement is always a jolly occasion. The chosen few, guided by press representatives, parade before television cameras and photographers. They drop by desks where reporters from all sorts of publications ply them with questions that rarely include “What’s your favorite color?”
Most nominees show up. This year at the Paramount’s Diamond Horseshoe that included the usually reticent Woody Allen (best book of a musical, Bullets Over Broadway). Most of them stick around to talk to the pressing press about whatever. That didn’t include Allen.
Sitting opposite me for varying lengths of time were, among others, James Lapine (best playwright, Act One), Beowulf Boritt (best set design, Act One), Celia Keenan-Bolger (best featured actress, A Glass Menagerie), Sarah Greene (best featured actress, The Cripple of Inishmaan), Jason Robert Brown (best score, The Bridges of Madison County), and Chad Beguelin (best book of a musical, Aladdin—with Aladdin lyricist Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman). Harvey Fierstein (best play, Casa Valentina) had no time to sit. His famous guttural voice was giving out (how did he know?), and he had to leave.
There were, however, several more people with whom I would have liked to shoot the breeze but couldn’t. They weren’t there. They couldn’t be. They would have to have been nominated in Tony categories that don’t exist.
They should exist, of course, and the two categories to which I refer are best projections and best wigs. Other commentators might suggest that those are among a larger group of categories still to be acknowledged, such as ensemble and make-up, but I’m plugging projections and wigs this year for the simple reason that it struck me as a particularly noticeable time for them.
No reason to run through all the award-deserving output, but there’s every reason to cite a few. For projections, check out how Cameron Mackintosh replaced the revolving stage used habitually in Les Miserables with 59 Productions projections, of which the Paris sewers where Javert chases Jean Valjean and Marius may be the most memorable. For A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Aaron Rhyne’s accompanying visuals for at least one of the deaths is unforgettable.
For wigs, there’s no missing the Farah Fawcett-like number Neil Patrick Harris sports (as the title character with “wig” in her name) through much of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. There are also his other wig changes and the drab number that Lena Hall wears in her drag-king drag. Then there’s the grid dropped in from the fly on which are perched, what? 40, 50, 60 wigs more. They’re all Mike Potter’s handiwork. At Casa Valentina there are the many wigs Jason P. Hayes puts on the cross-dressing men. They represent styles that prevailed in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. (Mare Winningham and Lisa Emery, as the only women in that cast, don’t seem to require wigs.)
Speaking of Casa Valentina, when Fierstein passed my press desk and was asked about the need for wig recognition, he responded as Fierstein the actor and rasped before his voice gave out entirely, “We all wear ‘em.” Another ardent yea-sayer was Greene, who has lustrously flowing black hair but whose Helen in Inishmaan is a redhead. She said. “I adore my wig. Helen arrived when I put my wig on.” And if that’s not a category-inducing remark, I’d like to know what is.
To get a comment from William Ivey Long, a nominee for best costume design of a musical (when isn’t he nominated?), I had to seek him out. It wasn’t too hard. He was circulating in his capacity as chair of The American Theatre Wing (ATW), which with The Broadway League co-owns and co-produces the Tonys.
Although it goes without saying that Long is in a position as a costume designer to talk about the importance of his collaborating with wig designers, it was as ATW chair that he spoke, if briefly, on wigs and projections categories. “It’s in the pipeline,” he said. Somewhat more voluble on the same subject was Jane Greenwood, present as the announced recipient of a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. About recognition for wigs, she said, “I’m for it. We [costumers] can do up to here,” indicating her neck. Also circulating in a stunning ensemble was Isabel Toledo (best costume design, After Midnight). About wigs, she said, “It’s the crown. Let’s have a nomination.”
Boritt, who says he has at least eight projects going right now, declared himself in favor of a projections category, but he also said he doesn’t advocate projections “when it’s not appropriate.” His implication was that he sees too much unnecessary projection work nowadays. Boritt also said that next season’s revival of On the Town, for which he’s designing sets, will include projections. He pointed out that projection is “ultimately [a form of] lighting. It’s not just a movie.” His Act One colleague Lapine likes projections “for texture and effect.” As for a projections award, he said, “I think everybody should win one.”
And now for a completely different—okay, somewhat different—change of scene: the meet-the-Drama-Desk-nominees event. One of the biggest differences between the two blow-outs is that the Drama Desk may not have a wig category yet, but it does have an “outstanding projection design” category.
I ran into Ben Rubin, nominated for his work on Elevator Repair Service’s Arguendo. He has much to say about projections being “subtle, agile, nuanced.” He added, “It’s not a movie. It shouldn’t invite you into another dimension. It’s not 3-D. You’re already in the theater.” Then he makes a pair of points that hit the projections future nitty-gritty. He emphasized that the technology has greatly advanced while the costs have plummeted. In other words, producers concerned with the bottom line (are there any who aren’t?) will be increasingly eager to consider projections.
All the more reason for a projections award, no? That’s along with a new category for all the time-honored wigging out.