05/05/2011 12:32 pm ET | Updated Jul 05, 2011

First Nighter: Tony Nominees Attend Press Meet-and-Greet

The 2011 Tony Award nominations were announced early Tuesday morning, May 3, which can only mean that the annual press meet-and-greet erupted -- or something like that -- not quite so early Wednesday morning, May 4.

And a good time was had by all. No, that's not quite right. It appeared as if an all-right time was had by most. Lots of handshakes and smiles, lots of cameras and mics aimed at actors, producers, directors and the ilk expressing how much they love what they're doing with the fill-in-the-blank presentation. Maybe Patina Miller, playing the Whoopi Goldberg role in the Sister Act tuner adaptation and nommed for best actress in a musical, put it most succinctly, when she said -- teeth flashing -- "I'm having the time of my life."

She was circulating in one of the many rooms the Tony folks took over at the Millennium Hotel. On both the second floor and the seventh floor there were a couple of broadcast rooms, a couple of rooms divided into souk-like structures for video tapings and a press room where journalists on the prowl for info their colleagues didn't get were seated elbow-to-elbow.

Not that there was ever any worry about a traffic jam, since as far as these kinds of press things go, this one was almost sedate. All the same, people got plenty of chances to chat and constantly be photographed together. Because of the eclectic bunch of nominees, some odd groupings emerged. Why, look there, it's Edie Falco, nominated for best supporting actress for her lank-haired drudge in The House of Blue Leaves, posing with the above-mentioned Miller and co-star Victoria Clark.

Speaking of Falco, she -- like most of the attendees -- had to be prepared for whatever questions hurled during a series of short, one-after-another-after-another interviews. Some of the queries were kinda insipid, and it's possible the most insipid she had to answer was posed by this scribe. Because she's celebrated for disappearing into every role she takes on, I asked, "How do you do it?" She answered, "I don't know" and went on to say in her pleasant way, "It's my job."

Having abandoned my slot in the press room in favor of wandering, I got even more insipid with Judith Light of Lombardi and going for best actress in a play. "Are you from Trenton, New Jersey?" I asked her -- only because I am, too. "Yes," she said, and she hadn't gone to Trenton High School but to St. Mary's Hall, a nearby private institution.

Someone always amusing to talk to is Mark Rylance, whose astonishing performance in Jerusalem got him nominated for best actor in a play. The guy has given not one but two exhausting performances in New York this season -- the other, La Bete -- in large part because he just loves being on stage. Asked what he would do were he simultaneously offered two more or less equal assignments -- one on stage, one in movies -- he said, "I'd lean toward the theater job." He also said that if the movie role were truly intriguing, he might take it, but "I'd know I wouldn't have as much fun."

In the midst of the sweetness and light, there was the occasional discouraging word. It wasn't uttered by any of the nominees (at least not to any of the reporters) nor was it uttered by any of the press agents wrangling any of the nominees. But it was spoken sotto voce by some of the reporters to each other.

One longtime show-biz vet declared in muted tones that he expects this year to be a disastrous Tony broadcast ratings-wise. Not only is he appalled at the few big names nominated, but he's flabbergasted by the out-and-out stars who remain un-nominated. Why no Daniel Radcliffe, why no Robin Williams? Doesn't the Tony committee understand, he wanted to know, that the broadcast is commercial? Look at the people here, he groused, saying "Not a one of them would earn a freelance photographer 35 cents." Did he think the lack of gee-whiz names this annum was a reaction to annum 2010 when H'wood stars like Catherine Zeta Jones ran off with many major awards, thereby setting off a barrage of complaints? He couldn't say.

I must admit the artist I most wanted to encounter was Marianne Elliott, the director -- with Tom Morris -- of War Horse. Although this is the first New York production with her name on it, she's been doing triple-wow work in London for way more than a decade, much of it at the National Theatre after making a reputation for herself at The Royal Exchange, Manchester.

One of the most distinguished directors working regularly in England, Elliott is someone I really wanted to meet and so kept a lookout for the press people I knew would be leading her through the people and equipment thicket. Then it hit me. Since War Horse opened some weeks past, she was undoubtedly back home. What a disappointment!

That's when I figured I'd seen William Berloni, the animal trainer leading a dog around and who'd worked with every canine who'd played Sandy in Annie on Broadway and who's getting a special Tony for his efforts. I'd seen the delightful Sutton Foster ready in fire-engine-red lipstick to talk about playing Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes and shaping up as the front-runner to cop the best actress in a musical Tony.

I'd had a provocative gab with Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis about Tony Kushner's new play, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, which isn't eligible for a Tony this year (maybe next) and therefore shouldn't have been on my menu for the day. Eustis was there as producer on The Merchant of Venice, up for best play revival, Al Pacino and five other accomplishments, and for a couple Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson mentions.

Yes, I figured I'd done all that, had enough of my good time and left.