Walt Whitman heard America singing. I listen chiefly for New York.
Nary a note was sung at the 55th Drama Desk Awards show this past Sunday evening. But everyone heard New York singing—in the emotional and raucous acceptance speeches, in the grace of triumph and the grit of dedication, in the shared reality of dreams.
“It’s a party among themselves,” says super-genial Awards producer Robert R. Blume. “My goal is to create an environment that allows them to celebrate each other.”
What else could induce Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, Liev Schreiber and Alfred Molina and Matthew Modine, Angela Lansbury and Mitzi Gaynor and Patti LuPone and Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway, Edward Albee and John Kander and Twyla Tharp, to give up an infrequent night off to enter the portals and file through the corridors of a New York City public school—all right, it’s the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art—even better, it’s in the “Performing Arts Concert Hall at Lincoln Center”—to give or get an award too fragile and light to stop a door? Everything in “The City of Music and Art” flourishes on a different scale, not always larger and grander, just dependably wonderfultown-indigenous. The Drama Desk is distinctly New York.
What I like most about the Drama Desk nominations is that they’re all-inclusive—they encompass Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway—and they’re apolitical. I tell nominees how flattered they should be: they’ve been singled out solely for merit. What playwright could imagine that?
Whitman heard and in turn sang the praises of mechanics and carpenters. These theater-community evenings, intimate amid throngs, belong to the mechanics of language and the carpenters of song. “Each singing what belongs to him or her…” as Walt and I observed, 143 years apart, “Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”
Talking “their strong melodious songs,” that is. Arias for unaccompanied orators. Weaving tales or chattering, gesticulating and jesting. In addition to “God Bless America,” Irving Berlin should have written, “The Muses Bless New York.” Obviously, they did.
The muse of the night turned out unexpectedly to be a glamorous Hollywood guest who, after a 60-year career starring in film, television, nightclubs and concerts, made her New York debut only a week ago. (Who says this isn’t a tough town?) That’s how long it took Mitzi Gaynor to “make it anywhere” but “New York, New York.” Well, hello Mitzi.
Martha Plimpton took the stage all aquiver, explaining, “Mitzi Gaynor said she liked my shoes!” She was followed by Mitzi herself, who was greeted by a wonderfultown standing ovation. Not long after Mitzi had departed, Matthew Modine approached the mike to announce, “Mitzi Gaynor said she liked my underwear.” He was followed by Ana Gasteyer who, patting her thighs, said, “Mitzi Gaynor said she liked my Spanx.” Minutes later, Jim Brochu, accepting his award for “Outstanding Solo Performance” for “Zero Hour,” brought the house down with, “Mitzi Gaynor told me to go fuck myself.”
It only remained for Brooke Shields, at the podium for the evening’s final presentations, to share, “I can’t even repeat what Mitzi Gaynor said to me.”
It surely is a wonderful town, but I don’t think you’ll see the likes of an evening like this at the Tonys. Unless Mitzi Gaynor wants the last word.