Commentary: Saluting the Tony winners

Awards show, though, isn't the only game in town

Congratulations to all you new Tony winners.

It's a tradition that had a noble start: The first time the coveted prizes for Broadway's best were handed out 61 years ago it was not at the 5,933-seat Radio City Music Hall but rather at a festive dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, with only eight categories saluted as opposed to 21 these days.

The winners that inaugural session, in case you're curious, included Ingrid Bergman, Fredric March, David Wayne, Patricia Neal, Elia Kazan and choreographers Agnes DeMille and Michael Kidd.

Coming down the street

On Tuesday night, Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons takes over the meatiest role in this year's most spellbinding play, "August: Osage County." Oscar's best supporting actress winner for 1967's "Bonnie and Clyde" and a four-time Tony nominee, she assumes the star spot at the Music Box being vacated by Steppenwolf's brilliant Deanna Dunagan.

Also on the "August" front: The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama will launch a national tour at San Francisco's Curran theater beginning Aug. 11, 2009, with other tour dates to follow.

Meanwhile, on July 8, Sam Robards, who also has a Tony nomination to his credit, joins the delicious spoof "The 39 Steps" in the role made famous in the 1935 Hitchcock classic by Robert Donat and in this rocket-fueled stage version by Charles Edwards. The latter departs the show's current run at the Cort on July 6.

Further down the road is the oddly named new musical "(title of show)," with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen, which will debut at the Lyceum at a weird time -- mid-July, when the city's usually sweltering.

It's in September that the Broadway season really starts, with the new musical "A Tale of Two Cities" launching Sept. 18 at the Hirschfeld, with its book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello and direction and choreography by Warren Carlyle. Then, on Sept. 25 comes a five-month run at the Broadhurst for Peter Shaffer's "Equus," with the same cast (Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths) and same director (Thea Sharrock) that made it a must-see success in 2007 on London's West End.

Taking final bows

Meanwhile, as the Tonys were being handed out in Manhattan, the Roundabout's national tour of "Twelve Angry Men" with Richard Thomas wrapped the second year of its spectacular cross-country trek, bringing down the curtain (temporarily) at Toronto's Prince of Wales Theatre. The play's success is prompting plans for a third year on the road beginning in fall 2009.

Among the shows soon making Broadway exits is the revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" with James Earl Jones, Terrence Howard and Phylicia Rashad. It ends its run at the Broadhurst on Saturday.

On June 29, three mainliners vamoose: the long-running Kander and Ebb musical "Curtains," with David Hyde Pierce, at the Hirschfeld; the Manhattan Theatre Club's "Top Girls" at the Biltmore; and the revival of the Sondheim-Lapine Pulitzer winner "Sunday in the Park With George" at Studio 54.

Clearing out in July is the Roundabout's limited run of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," with Laura Linney and Ben Daniels, which wraps at the American Airlines Theater on July 6. Also, David Mamet's comic blistering of the Bush White House, "November," with Nathan Lane, plays its final performance at the Barrymore on July 13.

Two farewells are set for July 20: George Stevens Jr.'s "Thurgood," with Laurence Fishburne, at the Booth and Clifford Odets' "The Country Girl," with Morgan Freeman, Peter Gallagher and Frances McDormand, at the Jacobs.

Serenade for Smith

Donald Smith, the man who spearheads the New York Cabaret Convention, now held annually at Jazz at Lincoln Center, was given a special commendation by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, read to Smith as a surprise by Marian Seldes at a party in Smith's honor at Birdland.

About 100 guests attended, including many with strong cabaret links, including Ruth (Mrs. Skitch) Henderson, Mrs. Burton Lane, cabaret great Barbara Carroll, Jonathan Tunick and wife Leigh Beery, Faith Stewart-Gordon, Peter Felcher (the president of the Cole Porter Trusts) and Lisa Schiff, one of the founders of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

For the icing on the cake, five of today's prominent cabaret entertainers performed: Andrea Marcovicci, Klea Blackhurst, Jeff Harnar, Craig Rubano and Nancy Anderson.