Theatre yesterday and today

 

 

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THE 1963 TONY AWARDS

Last night’s opening of Lucas Hnath’s new play A Doll’s House, Part 2, was the final play of the 2016–17 Broadway season. All shows that opened between April 28th of last year and April 27th of this year, are in consideration for the Tony Awards, with nominations forthcoming on Tuesday May 2nd, and the annual broadcast June 11th on CBS June.

The top winners at the 1963 Tonys: Zero Mostel (Forum), Vivien Leigh (Tovarich)

and Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

Prior to 1967, the first year the Tonys were telecast on national television, the awards were very small events held in a hotel ballroom in New York City. And it was on this date April 28, 1963, when one such affair took place and Tonys were handed out in 21 categories (somewhat unevenly). More than half the winners comprised just two shows: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which won five, and Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove & Larry Gelbart’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which won six. Nothing too surprising, as both shows dominated the season with rave reviews and solid box office.

Arthur Hill & Uta Hagen in Virginia Woolf and Zero Mostel in Forum —

 from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Virginia Woolf’s competition made it almost a lock for Best Play. The show that probably finished second in the voting was Herb Gardner’s comedy A Thousand Clowns, which was a popular hit and starred Jason Robards and Sandy Dennis, who would win the Tony (and funnily enough, the Oscar three years later for playing Honey in the film version of Virginia Woolf). Another nominated play was Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. First produced in 1941 in Zürich, it was eligible as a new play, and not a revival, since this was its Broadway premiere. It didn’t receive very good reviews, in spite of an inventive staging by Jerome Robbins in one of his rare excursions into non-musical theatre. It only managed two months on Broadway, even after its star, Anne Bancroft, won an Oscar as Best Actress for The Miracle Worker 11 days after Mother Courage opened. Not only was it no help at the box office, it also did nothing to sway the Tony nominators, as Bancroft ended up off the list of Best Actresses. As for the photo below, anyone who has been watching the FX mini-series Feud, about the longtime battle between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, will know the meaning of this bizarre shot (and how it came to happen).

Joan Crawford presents Anne Bancroft backstage with her Miracle Worker Oscar.

Forum’s competition were three musicals that received mixed reviews, yet nevertheless would all have decent runs and would even go on to future Broadway revivals. One of them, Oliver!, would five years later become an Oscar winning Best Picture. It was also the only other show to win more than one Tony that night at the Americana Hotel in 1963, three in total. One was for its conductor Donald Pippin, a category that no longer exists, and one for its set, that featured an elaborate use of a turntable that, for its time, was revolutionary (pardon the pun).

Clive Revill and Georgia Brown as Fagin and Nancy in Oliver!

Oliver!’s third Tony went to Lionel Bart as Best Composer-