New York Post
Tonyâ€™s no laughing matter
By MICHAEL RIEDEL
Last Updated: 10:59 PM, April 23, 2013
Can the â€œDivine Miss Mâ€ win a â€œDivine Miss T?â€
Midler returns to Broadway tonight for the first time in nearly 35 years in â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last,â€ a new play by John Logan (â€œRedâ€) at the Booth.
I hear sheâ€™s giving a rollicking performance as Sue Mengers, the lumpy, caftan-clad, pot-smoking Hollywood agent whose clients included Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Ali MacGraw (whoâ€™s coming tonight) and Steve McQueen (whoâ€™s dead).
It took Midler a few weeks to get back her Broadway sea legs. She called for lines during early previews, and had mini bouts of self-doubt. But under the steady hand of director Joe Mantello, she pulled the performance together. I predict sheâ€™ll be laying out the papers in her Fifth Avenue apartment tomorrow morning and reveling in the reviews.
Since most of the aged Tony nominators have been Midler fans since her â€œClams on the Half Shellâ€ revue in 1975, sheâ€™s almost certain to get a nomination.
But to win, she has to overcome the Tonysâ€™ long-standing prejudice against comedies and comedic performances.
Seldom in the 65 years of Tony history has a comedy won Best Play or a comic performer, Best Actress.
Looking at the winners from the last 13 years, â€œGod of Carnageâ€ is the only comedy on the list. And even thatâ€™s debatable, if only because the playwright, Franceâ€™s Yasmina Reza, says, â€œI do not write ze cometies. I write ze social commentaries.â€ (Then she puts on her sunglasses, adjusts her HermÃ¨s scarf and takes a long drag on her Gauloise.)
The only comedy in the last 20 years that won a Tony, in 1991, was Neil Simonâ€™s â€œLost in Yonkers.â€ It had some dark tones, but Simon writes for laughs.
As for performers, Marcia Gay Harden won in 2009 for â€œCarnage,â€ but while she got huge laughs, Iâ€™m sure Madame Reza wasnâ€™t amused. In fact, I remember hearing that at one rehearsal, when Harden, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Jeff Daniels were slaying the room with laughter, she said, â€œI do not recognize my playâ€ â€” and went home to Paris.
Julie White won for â€œThe Little Dog Laughedâ€ in 2007, which might bode well for Midler, since White played an acerbic Hollywood agent who cracked Mengers-type jokes.
But, on the whole, the winners for the past 20 years have been from the school of Acting Is a Very Serious Business â€” Cynthia Nixon (â€œRabbit Hole,â€ about the death of a child), Viola Davis (â€œFencesâ€), Vanessa Redgrave (â€œLong Dayâ€™s Journey Into Night,â€ a real laugh riot).
This year, Midler will be up against some very serious actresses giving some very serious performances.
The excellent Fiona Shaw will certainly be nominated for â€œThe Testament of Mary.â€ She takes off her clothes, which is always proof of real acting.
Laurie Metcalf will get a nod for â€œThe Other Place,â€ in which she played a woman who was mentally ill. In her big scene she plopped down on the floor and slobbered Chinese food all over herself. Said one wag: â€œThis is good for a Tony nomination at the very least!â€
In â€œThe Assembled Parties,â€ Jessica Hecht plays a former teenage movie actress turned Upper West Side doyenne. Ben Brantley praised her â€œgracious, willful whimsicalityâ€ that allows her to â€œkeep moving as if life were a lovely, lovely dream when all the evidence screams that the opposite is true.â€ Which means: Tony nomination.
The fourth nominee will probably be Holland Taylor, who gives a sharp performance as Texas Gov. Ann Richards in â€œAnn.â€ Taylor gets plenty of laughs, but her one-woman play deals with serious issues such as loss and alcoholism.
(By the way, none of this seasonâ€™s starlets will be in the mix. Scarlett Johansson was done in by director Rob Ashford in â€œCat on a Hot Tin Roof.â€ Emilia Clarke took off her clothes in â€œBreakfast at Tiffanyâ€™sâ€ but the cat got more attention. And Jessica Chastain tried and failed to banish memories of the great Cherry Jones in â€œThe Heiress.â€)
For Midler, a cut-up, to beat the Serious Girls, sheâ€™s going to have to charm her way through a thicket of Tony voters.
Let the do-ya-do-ya-wanna-dance begin!