Theater People on ‘The Sopranos’: It's Tony vs. the Tonys!

Edward Albee and Angela Lansbury Photo: Photo by Patrick McMullan

Yesterday afternoon, Broadway bigwigs gathered at the Marriott Marquis to honor playwright Edward Albee, 79, at the 58th annual benefit luncheon for New Dramatists. Nearly all the major players who’d cadged Tony nominations just a few days before were present. (Noticeably absent were elfin warbler Kristin Chenoweth, whom the Tonys had conspicuously passed over for her star turn in The Apple Tree, and LoveMusik lead Donna Murphy, rumored to be quitting that show.) At noon, the luncheon’s hour was more like breakfast time for the late-night Broadway babies. “I know I haven’t eaten yet today,” said Legally Blonde lead Laura Bell Bundy, noting that she eats only a Zone Bar after each night’s curtain. “I can’t eat a lot before I go to bed,” she confessed, “because I have acid reflux.” (What would Elle Woods say to that?)

But much of the pre-ceremony talk was about the exquisite dilemma of the Tonys taking place June 10, the same night as the last-ever episode of The Sopranos. “I’m really upset” about the date-sharing, said Michael Mayer, freshly nominated for Best Director of a Musical for his Spring Awakening, not to mention upset that Tony Soprano might steal yet more viewers away from the perennially underwatched Tony Perry.

Still, Mayer couldn’t help fantasizing about a future musical prequel to the operalike HBO saga. “I would love to see where Tony meets Carmella for the first time, and young Tony with that hideous mother of his,” he said. Who would play young Tony? Raúl Esparza? “No,” said Mayer. “He’s got such a decency about him. You want someone who’s more of a goombah.”

Nearby, Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik joked “Maybe I’ll bring a little TV iPod” to the Tonys to secretly follow the action out in North Caldwell. Mary Louise Wilson, nominated for Best Featured Actress for her role as Big Edie Beale in Grey Gardens, gasped that “it’s just so shocking what’s happening” on the HBO show’s final episodes — everybody was buzzing about Tony's suffocation of his beloved nephew, Christopher — and said she’d want to play Tony’s mom in Mayer’s musical prequel.

Angela Lansbury, nominated for Best Actress for her role as a former tennis champ in Terrence McNally’s limply received Deuce, predicted of Tony, Carmella, and the rest that “they’ll just sort of meld into the surrounding countryside and drift off,” warning that it would be “very unsatisfactory” if Tony were picked off. Bundy, like Lansbury, said she’d be TiVo-ing on June 10. But could she play Carmella in the musical prequel? “Of coooourse I could,” she said in flawless New Jersey–ese. “Ah yoo kiddin’ me?”

As the lunch ceremony began, Albee held up his own entrance to the podium take a question from New York. For America’s senior playwright, the pen behind the epic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, we had nothing better to ask than where he worked out now that the 23rd St. McBurney Y, his old haunt, had become a muscle-fabulous David Barton. Turns out he goes to the new McBurney on 14th Street. “It’s a little more modern and an awful lot more kids are getting there,” he said. Was he ever recognized there? “Sometimes,” he said. “But only with my clothes off.” —Tim Murphy