Clarence High School graduate Pam MacKinnon walked away with her first Tony award on Sunday night for her direction of the 2012 Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
MacKinnon, who was up against heavyweight Broadway directors George C. Wolfe and Bartlett Sher and was nominated in the category for her second year in a row, credited her cast for the win.
“Vegas got this one wrong,” MacKinnon said in her acceptance speech, going on to praise the work of actors Tracy Letts, Amy Morton, Carrie Coons and Madison Dirks for their work on Edward Albee’s notoriously demanding script. “I have been so fortunate, so fortunate to work with these people who challenged me and opened me. And all shows close eventually, and this production will live in my memory for a very long time.”
Her production of the play, which was critically acclaimed and immensely popular with theatergoers, also won the Tony award for best revival of a play.
MacKinnon, who moved with her family to Clarence in the early 1980s, began her acting career with the small Clarence Youth Players, a student-run troupe formed during a school budget crisis. She went on to work with directors Anne Bogart and Des McAnuff in San Diego. Thirteen years ago, she began a close and fruitful relationship with Albee. She has since produced nine of the playwright’s works.
Sunday night’s 67th Tony Awards, televised on CBS, was notable for wins by two women in the best direction categories. Diane Paulus also won for her direction of “Pippin.”
Other big winners included Cicely Tyson for her role in “The Trip to Bountiful,” and Letts for his role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Best play went to Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” while best musical went to Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s “Kinky Boots.”
In Buffalo, as crews cleaned up after the Allentown Art Festival, theater lovers settled into barstools at Q, a local watering hole, to watch the ceremony. They had their eyes not only on MacKinnon, but on several other Buffalo connections to the awards. This year’s Tonys also featured two nods for last year’s revival of “The Heiress,” by Buffalo natives Ruth and Augustus Goetz and a performance by University at Buffalo graduate Bethany Moore in a number from the current Broadway production of “Pippin.”
Q regular Kevin Kennedy, sipping an apple martini at the bar alongside local music director Michael Hake – both of whom have worked with Moore – said he was most looking forward to seeing his fellow UB alumna. He watches the ceremony at Q for the camaraderie and the comments of fellow theater fanatics. “And the martinis,” he added.
The televised ceremony, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris for the fourth time running, has had trouble holding onto viewers, and its ratings have dipped nearly 20 percent, from 7.4 million to 6 million, across the last four years of telecasts.
The awards themselves are another story, as they provide an economic jolt to currently running Broadway productions, alter the trajectory of theater careers and send ripples through the national theater economy.
To see the continued local importance of the awards themselves, theatergoers only have to look as far as Shea’s Performing Arts Center, where each Tony received by a musical increases its chances for a national touring production.
Shea’s next season, for example, features some of the biggest Tony winners from 2011 and 2012, including “Once” and “War Horse.” Shea’s President and CEO Anthony Conte and Broadway series producer Albert Nocciolino are among the 868 Tony voters.
Chances are good that at least one of this year’s big winners will appear on the Shea’s stage during the 2014-15 season. Other local theater companies also pay attention to the Tony-winning straight plays and frequently scramble to book rights to award-winning shows.
MacKinnon also was nominated for a 2011 Tony Award for her work on the Broadway production of Bruce Norris’ play “Clybourne Park.”
“I was proud of our work,” MacKinnon said in an interview with The News in May about her work on “Virginia Woolf.” “I was frequently dazzled by what the actors continued to strive for and bring. I miss it.”
This year’s Tony Awards, in which all four best musical nominees have previously been made into films, also represents Broadway’s ever-increasing reliance on cinematic storytelling to get people through theater doors:
• The Chicago-born production of “Kinky Boots,” perhaps the most buzzed-about nominee, is based on a 2005 British film about a struggling shoe-maker that was turned into a drag-queen-driven extravaganza by composer/lyricist Lauper and book writer Fierstein.
• “Bring It On: The Musical” grew out of the cheeky 2000 film of the same name, with music and lyrics by “In the Heights” composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
• The family favorite “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” adapted from the 1983 film by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, plays on its predecessor’s nearly universal appeal.
• The well-received “Matilda the Musical,” officially based on the 1996 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s book, is as likely a candidate as any for a future date at Shea’s.
While the cinematic sensibility of many of the nominated productions is obvious enough, the Hollywood stars who played roles in the productions of the past season on Broadway didn’t feature heavily in the program.
Aside from Tom Hanks’ nod for his performance in Nora Ephron’s “Lucky Guy,” the nominations were heavily weighted with stars who call the stage home. These include Letts, Morton and Coon, each of whom starred in MacKinnon’s acclaimed production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Other familiar Broadway names also up for major Tonys included David Hyde Pierce for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” Nathan Lane for “The Nance” and Judith Ivey for “The Heiress.”