By MICHAEL KUCHWARA
The Associated Press
6/4/04 3:44 PM
NEW YORK (AP) — In the vast, cool darkness of Radio City Music Hall, entertainment for the 2004 Tony Awards comes together in bits and pieces.
Dancers stretch and bend in the aisles. On stage, Donna Murphy, a Tony nominee for “Wonderful Town,” murmurs song lyrics, “Get hep, get hep,” while the musical’s director and choreographer, Kathleen Marshall, studies a television monitor located halfway into the nearly empty auditorium.
It’s countdown time. Each nominated musical still running on Broadway has approximately two precious hours in the cavernous auditorium to rehearse the number it will perform on Sunday’s telecast.
“Avenue Q” arrived first Thursday morning, followed by “Assassins,” and then, later in the day, by “Wicked” and “Wonderful Town.” Tony Bennett took to the stage Thursday night to go over “The Lullaby of Broadway.”
Friday saw rehearsals for “Caroline, or Change,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” the television show’s elaborate opening number featuring host Hugh Jackman, then Jackman’s own nominated musical, “The Boy From Oz,” and finally hip-hop star Mary J. Blige’s take on “What I Did For Love?” from “A Chorus Line.”
“Rehearsals really started this week because that’s when we finally got the stage (at Radio City),” Jackman said Friday before going into his marathon afternoon of singing and dancing.
The actor has been working steadily over the last month or so, not only with the show’s executive producers, Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner, but with writer Bruce Vilanch and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
“Bruce and I have been e-mailing and holding conference calls, and I have worked extensively with Jerry, who is trying to make me look good,” Jackman said with a laugh.
It was Mitchell who devised the show’s lavish opening number, which will feature Jackman as well as the Radio City Rockettes, the three girl groups on Broadway in “Caroline, or Change,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Hairspray” and, to top everything off, cast members from all the shows.
Jackman was set to rehearse “Not the Boy Next Door,” the number from “Oz” that will be showcased on the telecast.
“The number is indicative of what a great time the show is,” Jackman said of the musical, which tells the life story of flamboyant Australian entertainer Peter Allen.
“I get to play with the audience a bit, and we’ve added a surprise to the song — but I don’t want to give that away.”
“Wonderful Town,” on the other hand, chose to perform one of the show’s big dance numbers, “Swing,” on the telecast. The number is a funny, jazzy riff on what it meant to be cool — and square — in 1930s New York. It features Murphy and the show’s dance ensemble.
Marshall coolly and methodically used every minute of the show’s allotted rehearsal time Thursday to make sure the musical looks and sounds the best it can possibly be.
“This is a five-and-a-half-minute number in `Wonderful Town,”‘ she said. “And we have only three-and-half minutes at the Tonys. What we did, which actually makes it very hard for the cast, is instead of cutting out a huge chunk, we took a little bit from every section of the song.”
During her show’s rehearsal, Marshall talked quietly to her dancers as they went through their paces. “OK, stop. Go a little wider. Come in a little closer. You go back. You go front,” she said.
“The weird thing about this is that once I get them spaced and organized, I come back here,” said Marshall, sitting in the audience, not far from a television monitor. “I am not watching the stage. I am watching the monitor. That’s the only thing that counts. Yes, we want a live stage audience but I am watching the camera shots. That’s what people outside of the theater will see.”
Sunday will be the killer day for Jackman and the casts of the nominated shows. There are no rehearsals Saturday, when performers must do both a matinee and evening show on Broadway. But a full-dress rehearsal takes place Sunday morning, before 9 a.m.
For “Wonderful Town,” that means cast members have to get dressed in their costumes, hair and makeup at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (where the show is playing) and then get bused to Radio City because there are not enough dressing rooms there for all the casts.
The “Town” ensemble will appear in the opening number, then wait to do “Swing” before going back to Hirschfeld for a Sunday matinee. Then it’s back to Radio City for the real thing Sunday night.
Jackman’s show, however, has wisely canceled its Sunday performance. Even so, it will be a long, arduous day for the star, who won’t leave Radio City until after the curtain comes down at 11 p.m. Sunday. To top it off, he has been performing in “Oz” with a stress fracture in his right foot.
“I’m sure Sunday night I will have enough adrenaline,” Jackman said. “I could go out there with a broken leg.”