When Mel Brooks said that about his long running hit comedy The Producers, now returning to the boards, he could have been talking about any of those who took home the coveted Tony Awards Sunday night.
I had the privilege of being a producer on one of those wonderful shows, After Midnight, which won the honor for Best Choreography. Not only did the production's beloved Warren Carlyle take home that award, he also directed Sunday's Tony Awards Show. After Midnight had received a total of seven nominations. The celebration for Broadway's best is something you never forget, no matter the year. It was my fourth time at The Show and one thing I realized is how magical and close knit the theater community truly is.
There's been a lot written lately about the blurring of lines between theater, television and film, with film stars in particular taking the stage and becoming the focal point of fanfare as Broadway attempts to lure audiences back to live theater. Numerous television and film stars have taken to the stage including those who won Sunday as well as the show's host, the charming and ever-entertaining Aussie Hugh Jackman. How many devastatingly handsome kangaroos do you know who can turn out a tux like that? It is a long "hop" let me tell you!
But seriously, it was Hugh himself who can give us the best perspective: "I'm lucky to have worked in theater all over the world, but there's something magical about Broadway. The audiences are smart. They're educated. They go in ready and they're up for it. They're up for the party. It's a whole different atmosphere."
In a sense he summed up the essence of Broadway's history that plays into the future and will never fade. It is the allure of something that can only be found on the The Great White Way that keeps people from all over the world drawn to something uniquely American, namely the magic of the Musical Theater, that thrives in part on the rhythms of jazz, swing and the blues that has a staying power like no other.
Theater itself may not have started in the U.S., but forgive me London, like the Hollywood sign is to movies worldwide, or the neon strip of Vegas is to gambling, Broadway is the street in New York that has come to symbolize this aspect of the live theater experience worldwide. Its that strip of play - from the Nederlander Theater on W. 41st Street, to W. 53rd Street's Broadway Theatre, including those on Broadway itself: the Marquis Theatre at 46th; the Palace Theatre at 47th; and the Winter Garden Theatre at 50th Street: Not to mention all the great Off Broadway houses on either side of that 12 block stretch. Live theater in New York City is a mecca for anyone seeking the heartbeat of showbiz, up close and personal.
Certainly in the earliest days of theater, plays were always accompanied by an orchestra, usually when audiences were entering the theater or during intermission. Of course Vaudeville and Burlesque had musical performers, but it is the Broadway Musical that is universally considered a true American art form like jazz. Most consider Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat in 1927 as the watershed moment in American musicals since it combined a dramatic narrative - delving into racial prejudice and tragic enduring love on a Mississippi River show boat - with dance and music all in one.
The enduring prestige of Broadway musicals and plays has certainly been the draw for actors worldwide of late. So many film and TV thespians will grace its stages this year, including Neil Patrick Harris (of How I Met Your Mother who won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical for Hedwig and the Angry Inch); Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad who won the Tony for Best Actor in a Play for All the Way), Daniel Craig (Skyfall); Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Ian McKellen (The Hobbit); Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda); Tony Shalhoub (Monk series); and Denzel Washington (American Gangster).
And these actors like so many worldwide, fell in love with the live experience when they first dreamed of becoming an actor. It is all about the close connect and reaction from the audience, the chance to change what you did the night before, up your game differently or play it the same every night - the audience always letting you know if you hit the mark. It is the unique interplay between performer and audience that can be found in few performance arenas. And despite the eight-show-a-week schedule that can be physically and emotionally exhausting, as the "New York, New York" song goes - if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. Perceived as the hardest work any actor can do, it is the staging for an actor to define his or her selves as an actor's actor.
And that was true of our troupe. For those of you who haven't had a chance to see it, After Midnight at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, it is the Broadway production of the Cotton Club Parade that premiered Off Broadway as part of 2011's Encore series. A revue set in Harlem after midnight, it features the music of Duke Ellington, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, framed by the poetry of Langston Hughes. Aside from the 17-piece orchestra, the 25 vocalists, and dancers, there are the stellar rotating performers including: Patti LaBelle (through June 29), Gladys Knight (July 8 - Aug, 3) and Natalie Cole (Aug. 5-31).
And on that note, as with all performances of any musical or play I produce, I can't help but remind myself of the joyful risk that comes with this business as noted by one of the greatest showmen of all, Producer Mel Brooks himself:
"Hope for the best, expect the worst... Life is a play. We're unrehearsed!"
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