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Tue, Jul 25, 2017 07:43 PM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2003-06-04 communities
This n' That
My awards
Tony Fyffe
They're giving out my awards this Sunday in New York City.

I'm talking about the Tony Awards, of course.

All right, the Tony Awards are not named after me, but how many of you can boast that a famous award bears your name? (Not too many, right? Then let me have my moment.)

The award is named in honor and memory of Antoinette Perry, who was once president of the American Theatre Wing, which presents the award annually to the best of the Broadway theatre.

I was fortunate to have seen live Broadway theatre many, many years ago thanks to the late Snookie Meade, who once owned a dance studio in Paintsville. I was introduced to Snookie when I was 15 and she needed a stagehand for a recital of Sleeping Beauty and needed a boy to carry the fallen beauty off the stage after she eats the poison apple. I fit both bills and was given the job. Later that summer, Snookie invited me go to the Big Apple for a week with her and some of her students (who were all girls), and I, after getting permission from my folks, gladly accepted. I was involved in the drama club in high school and had always wanted to see a Broadway show, and Miss Snookie, as she was known to her students, gave me that opportunity.

It was a summer (actually two summers) I would never forget.

Soon after we arrived in NYC in June 1978, I found out why the Big Apple is also referred to as The Town That Never Sleeps. I hardly did either because I was so excited to be in a "foreign" land. It's also hard to sleep when you're staying in a world famous hotel such as the Waldorf-Astoria, which has been in countless movies. One of the hotel's restaurants, Oscar's, became my favorite place to eat during the week-long stay. It would also share the name of one of the characters in what would become my favorite Broadway show of all time.

The show was called On the Twentieth Century, a musical based on a movie from the 1930s starring John Barrymore and Carol Lombard. The musical version, which opened three days after my birthday in February 1978, originally starred Madeline Kahn, who was my favorite actress back then. Unfortunately, she had some problems with her role as actress Lily Garland and left the show in April of that year, being replaced by an unknown actress named Judy Kaye, who played the role when I saw the show in June. I went into the theatre a very bitter boy because I wouldn't be seeing my favorite actress live on the New York stage. By the time the evening was over, I had become a fan of Judy Kaye, who played the part wonderfully. She would later go on to win a Tony Award for her role in The Phantom of the Opera, a musical that is still running on Broadway.

Kaye's male co-star in On the Twentieth Century was John Cullum, who would become famous years later as Holling on the TV series Northern Exposure. Cullum had won a Tony for his role as Oscar Jaffee, and he was great. Also winning a Tony for a supporting role was a then-unknown actor named Kevin Kline. It was a memorable night for a 15-year-old boy from Paintsville, Ky. I also saw a couple of other shows that year, including the popular A Chorus Line, but On the Twentieth Century remains my favorite.

The following year when I made a return trip to NYC with Snookie and the gang, I saw even more shows, including Deathtrap with Cullum and a musical called Sweeney Todd, starring legendary actress Angela Lansbury, which many theatre professionals consider the best musical of all time. I also saw The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which starred Henderson Forsythe, an actor my mother was familiar with because of his role as David Stewart on the soap opera As the World Turns.

It's hard to explain the experience of seeing famous people on the live stage. It's much different and better than seeing them on movie and TV screens. Hopefully one day I'll get to experience it again.

Until then, I can still watch "my" awards on TV and keep up with what's going on in the Big Apple. Maybe one day I will even be in the audience at the Tonys as an audience member, not a winner.

One Tony is enough.

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