Michael Musto Dishes on the Tony Awards

6.10.2013

By Michael Musto

Cyndi's having fun for more than a night; or why 'Kinky Boots' kicked the competition

A brash musical filled with little Dahls, Matilda was supposed to win the Tony award for Best Musical, until the curse of excessive expectations set in and the show threatened to become yesterday’s bangers and mash. (Ben Brantley’s New York Times rave was almost as over-the-top as the show itself.) At the same time, the buddy musical Kinky Boots was picking up momentum because it’s homegrown, it’s feelgood, it outgrosses even Matilda, and it has a p.r. campaign behind it that’s so relentless Miss Trunchbull would find it adorable. For weeks, there were daily press invitations to Kinky Boots-related happenings, whether they were portrait unveilings, book signings, cast album listenings…everything but shoe fittings and tucking sessions. The show’s profile kept growing until the little musical about boots seemed to be leaving footprints all over every inch of my fabulous face.

Last Wednesday, I went to the unveiling of Cyndi Lauper’s portrait at Sardi’s and found my old friend Cyndi cuter than ever, while tending to agree with me that the picture wasn’t exactly a perfect likeness. (It looks more like Jane Krakowski, IMHO.) I told Cyndi that she and David Byrne are the new king and queen of theater, since he’s written a hit footwear musical too. (Here Lies Love, about Imelda Marcos. I guess it’s basically Evita, with more shoes.) “He’s great!” Cyndi responded. “I sang the part of Imelda on the record!” She did? It all comes together here at “Musto! The Musical!”—especially since I wore drag in the “Girls Wanna Have Fun” remake video directed by Cyndi and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell!

But wouldn’t Cyndi like to be back up there on the Broadway stage, not just behind it? “That would be nice,” she told me, poignantly. “Plus you lose a lot of weight. Those steps, up and down!”

Well, let me climb back—with comfortable shoes--to the Tonys, which were a big night for Cicely Tyson, Mike Tyson, and, yep, Kinky Boots, which indeed copped the big prize as the lashes beat the backlash! The whole telecast was like one big, foofy musical number, everyone clearly inspired by Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s triumphant exclamation to Cyndi: “Girl, you’re gonna have fun tonight!” It was lively stuff—especially if you actually knew who the people were—though the Oliver Platt/Liam Neeson bit was painful, and between the Matilda, Motown, Annie, and Christmas Story numbers, there were more hard working kids than in an old factory run by the writer of Scandalous. Still, when Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? copped three big awards, people were stunned, thinking, “They voted for quality???”

At the after-party at the Plaza, Pippin‘s Tony winning director Diane Paulus was excitedly posing with Mike Tyson; a drunken woman was exclaiming, “Lucky Guy wasn’t very lucky, was it?”; and Debra Messing and Will Chase were exuding a don’t-talk-to-us-we’re-eating vibe that totally worked—they barely even talked to each other.

I managed to get a word with Paulus—who’s a genius—and asked her how she got Andrea Martin to do aerial acrobatics en route to her second Tony. Revealed Paulus, “When I spoke to her on the phone about playing granny, Andrea told me, ‘If I do it, I don’t want to sit in a wicker chair.’ I said, ‘You’re a player. You’ve got to be in the circus’.” At a rehearsal, Paulus suggested that Martin sing the line “67 more…” while hanging upside down. Martin looked at her and said, “Hysterical.” Add a half-naked hunk to hang with her, and Martin was totally defying gravity and awards-bound.

Downstairs, I found gramps Larry Kramer, who’d been briefly seen receiving a special award for his humanitarian work. He was sitting, but not in a wicker chair. And his normal heart wasn’t smiling. “It was all fucked up,” fumed Kramer. “They kept shunting me around. I was supposed to be on in the first segment, but everybody spoke too long, so they kept putting me off. I had to go on during a commercial break. They promised me they’d show a clip on network, but I don’t think what they showed was very long.” Oh, well, at least Larry told me they stood for him in the theater. “You and Cicely Tyson,” I beamed. “Don’t say anything bitchy!” he warned. Huh? After his harangue, anything I had to say would be as peachy as that hot guy from Pippin

Up at the Carlyle, a party for O&M Co., which publicizes Kinky Boots and the Best Play winner (which I insist on calling Vanya and Carol and Ted and Alice) was packed with very happy people. But not that female Larry Kramer, Jackie Hoffman. The Broadway funny lady (Xanadu, The Addams Family) hadn’t been enthralled by the Tonys, telling me, “It had moments—not enough. It was a bleaker broadcast than in years past. It could have made a tight two-hours. People introducing things as their characters has to be scrapped. But if they keep it, I want everything introduced by Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir.” That’ll pull in the ratings! Just then, Hoffman spotted Wicked sheet music on the piano. She grabbed it and exclaimed, “Open the window!” And this time gravity would not be defied, I’m sure. 

By the way, the Tonys aren’t the only honors worth attending. I went to the Theater World Awards, where Tom Hanks got honored for his Broadway debut (well, it is!) and remarked on the delicious irony of the fact that the bank where he used to cash his unemployment checks as a struggling actor is now a Bubba Gump Shrimp! So the Lucky Guy is lucky. The host, critic Peter Filichia, let off some saucy observations of his own, like saying he thought David Mamet’s political play The Anarchist would run longer. “Didn’t you think they’d line up to see Patti LuPone get sentenced with life imprisonment?” he cracked. No, I love Patti—and besides, I’d rather see the sequel, where her cellmate tries to snap a photo of her and she shrieks, “Who do you think you are?” Barring that, I’ll go with Neil Patrick Harris’s idea: The Testament of Mary Poppins.

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