Broadway Limo Drivers Rate the Tony Nominees

Who's more in the know about tonight's Tony awards than the limo drivers who serve the Broadway community? Jeff Lunden speaks with drivers about the nominees and the theater season.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Tonight, Broadway marks the end of the 2004-2005 season with the 59th Annual Tony Awards ceremony. Reporter Jeff Lunden hit the streets of the Theater District to ask some people whose livelihoods depend on the health of Broadway for their Tony Award picks.

JEFF LUNDEN reporting:

You see them every night outside of Broadway theaters: long lines of limousines and town cars and their drivers in crisp white shirts and dark suits. Waiting to pick up well-healed customers and Broadway stars after the curtain comes down, chauffeurs offer a street-level view of the theater business. Alex Gonzalez is one of them. He owns a limo service that has contracts with several Broadway shows and producers. Gonzalez says it's been a good season.

Mr. ALEX GONZALEZ (Limo Service Owner): Working in Broadway as of October has been pretty busy. I drive numerous stars. And it's an up and down like the stock market. But right now it's basically, it's just booming. It's booming.

LUNDEN: Variety magazine agrees with Gonzalez. The showbiz weekly reports that this season's Broadway box office brought in almost $769 million, close to a record high, and there are lots of shows getting great buzz this year. I met some limo drivers standing on 44th Street. They wouldn't tell me their names since they signed confidentiality agreements with the stars they drive, so they gave me pseudonyms. One called himself Denny Knock-Knock; the other Dr. Pepper.

So what's the hot play?

Unidentified Man #1: The hot play...

Unidentified Man #2: The hot play is...

Unidentified Man #1: ...is definitely right across the street.

Unidentified Man #2: Right across the street. You're standing right in front of it.

Unidentified Man #1: "Spamalot."

Unidentified Man #2: "Spamalot."

Unidentified Man #1: "Spamalot" is the hot play. It's the hottest. It got the most Tony Award nominations for this season.

(Soundbite of "Spamalot")

Group of People #1: (Singing): We're Knights of the Roundtable. We dance when'er we're able. We do routines, the chorus scenes with footwork impeccable. We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.

LUNDEN: "Spamalot," the new musical based on "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," is this year's 800-pound gorilla, with 14 Tony nominations including nods for stars, Hank Azaria and Tim Curry. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to capture the top prize. Last year, the highly popular "Wicked" was bested by "Avenue Q," a plucky little puppet show that moved from off-Broadway. And this year, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," another transfer from off-Broadway, has been packing them in on Broadway. Sebastian Lazaro(ph), a limousine dispatcher, says this little musical is a genuine contender.

Mr. SEBASTIAN LAZARO (Limousine Dispatcher): That is definitely sneaking up on people. You know, it's being noticed all of a sudden. And where did it come from? Like a sleeper they call in films. You know, it's--you don't know it's there, and all of a sudden, it's making all kinds of crazy money and getting all kinds of accolades and notice.

(Soundbite of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee")

Group of People #2: (Singing) ...at the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

LUNDEN: The other two shows in the musical category--"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," starring best actor nominees John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz, and "The Light in the Piazza," with leading actress contender Victoria Clark--have 11 nominations apiece.

(Soundbite of music from "The Light in the Piazza")

LUNDEN: Many feel Adam Guettel's lush romantic music for "The Light in the Piazza" has a good chance to win best score.

While musicals are the big moneymakers on Broadway, by no means has it been a bad year for plays. There have been some very well-received revivals. "Twelve Angry Men" was a surprise hit for the Roundabout Theatre," and "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" have both received raves. Certainly, limo dispatcher Sebastian Lazaro gives the Mamet play--which features Alan Alda, Liev Schreiber and Gordon Clapp, all of whom are up for Tonys--his own personal rave. He says he can relate to the cutthroat world of "Glengarry's" real estate salesmen.

Mr. LAZARO: You know, it's just like when you walk in to buy a house, you walk in to buy a car or you walk in to buy anything, you always got somebody who opens up and you've got to close, close, close. `Get that deal. I don't care what you gotta promise them. It doesn't matter who's dying, who's not.' That's what I like about "Glengarry Glen Ross."

(Soundbite of "Glengarry Glen Ross")

Mr. ALAN ALDA: (As Shelley) Put a closure on the job. There's more than one man. You put a--wait a second. You put a proven man out there and you watch it--now wait a second. You watch your dollar volumes. You start closing them for 50 instead of 25. You put a closure on them...

"JOHN": Shelley, you blew the last...

Mr. ALDA: No, John, no. Let's wait. Let's back up here.

LUNDEN: Three blocks north of "Glengarry Glen Ross" on 48th Street, Kathleen Turner is starring as the corrosive Martha, with Bill Erwin as George, in the revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

(Soundbite of "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?")

Mr. BILL ERWIN: (As George) Just try to stay on your feet, that's all. These people are your guests, you know.

Ms. KATHLEEN TURNER: (As Martha) I can't even see you. I haven't been able to see you for years.

Mr. ERWIN: If you pass out or throw up or something...

Ms. TURNER: You're a blank, a cipher.

LUNDEN: Alex Gonzalez is Kathleen Turner's personal limo driver. She and her three cast mates have been nominated for Tony Awards. And across the street, all four actors in "Doubt," John Patrick Shanley's multi award-winning play about a nun who suspects a priest of child abuse, have been nominated as well.

Mr. GONZALEZ: You know, between "The Doubt" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I think that's an all out battle between them two, because I think the character--I forgot the name of the actress who plays it--but...

LUNDEN: Cherry Jones.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Cherry Jones.

LUNDEN: Yes.

Mr. GONZALEZ: They're like two outlaws ready to battle for this Tony.

(Soundbite of "Doubt")

Unidentified Woman: Did you give Donald Muller wine to drink?

Unidentified Man #3: Have you never done anything wrong?

Unidentified Woman: I have.

Unidentified Man #3: Mortal sin?

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Unidentified Man #3: And?

Unidentified Woman: I confessed it. Did you give Donald Muller wine to drink?

Unidentified Man #3: Whatever I have done, I have left in the healing hands of my confessor, as have you. We are the same!

Unidentified Woman: We are not the same!

LUNDEN: Rounding out the best play category are two shows that closed, August Wilson's "Gem of the Ocean" and Michael Frayn's "Democracy." But Martin McDonagh's black comedy "The Pillow Man," with best actor nominee Billy Crudup, is still a hot ticket. Limo driver Alex Gonzalez says because of his job, he doesn't get to see a lot of shows, hot or not.

Mr. GONZALEZ: My theater is the five seats in my compartment of my car. I mean, that's where I get more of the action, more of the hearing and this is where I hear it all. And...

Unidentified Man #4: Shh. You can't talk about it.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Yeah. Well, you know, confidentiality.

LUNDEN: Which means you won't hear a peep from Alex Gonzalez as he drives to and from the Tony Awards tonight at Radio City Music Hall. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

HANSEN: And if you can't wait for the Tony Awards ceremony tonight, there are features on many of the nominees at our Web site, npr.org.

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