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  • Veteran press agent Judy Jacksina has hilarious memories of an incident involving the Tony Awards telecast on CBS in 1982. She represented Nine, Maury Yeston's musical based on Fellini's film 8 1/2 and directed by Tommy Tune.

    Opening night was a nerve-wracking experience, with nothing absolutely written in stone until a few minutes before curtain. "Clive Barnes wrote that we were so fresh that you could smell the wet paint on the stage," recalls Jacksina. "He had no idea how on the nose he was. The night before we were backstage painting right up to curtain. At rehearsal, the ladies were all in their finery and very expensive shoes and we were going 'Watch it! Watch it! Don't step there.' "

    To quick-dry the paint, Tune had fans brought in. In spite of the hell of rehearsals, the gods of theater smile on Nine. It opened to raves and received 12 Tony nominations - just as this season, three were in the Featured Actress category: Karen Akers, Liliaine Montevecchi and the late Anita Morris. As mistress to Guido [played by Raul Julia], Anita Morris performed a provocative number in a skin-tight flesh colored costume, "A Call from the Vatican."

    "In no time," said Jacksina, "Anita's number became hugely famous. And controversial. The controversy wasn't over the song, but over the seductive way she'd been directed and choreographed to perform it. Of course, it didn't help that she was gorgeous and doing erotic calisthenics on a small white box and, underneath her see-through black lace outfit, naked."

    Producers with shows in the Best Musical category always want to select a number for the Tony telecast that will help ticket sales soar. So guess what number the producers and Tune chose to showcase? One guess! CBS hadn't exactly been asleep at the wheel. The network fired off a letter saying "Not until we send in our Standards and Practices folks to take a look."

    "Tune called," remembers Jacksina, "and instructed me to meet the S & P executives in the lobby and escort them to their seats. They were two women, weighing in at the mean age of sixty. Their hair was pulled back with nets over their buns. They wore long A-line skirts, cardigans that buttoned up the front and very sensible, sturdy shoes - what the English would call walking shoes! My heart was thumping the theme from Jaws. All I could think was, 'This is not good!' Forgetting everything else, I thought, ëThese women have never been in a pair of high heels!'

    After the show, Tune joined Jacksina to greet the S & P executives. "We stood waiting for them with great apprehension," states Jacksina, tension dramatically present in her voice. "They came out and said, 'You'll be getting a letter' and off they go into the night. I looked at Tune and said, 'I feel doom circulating through my red and white corpuscles!' And he replied, 'Oh, Judy, that's not good.'"

    And, thanks to the interpretation of that call from the Vatican, a letter arrived from CBS. "It listed in a succinct and well-ordered manner what ëwe' had to leave out when Anita did the number. ëWe cannot not rub our nipples. We cannot not rub the inside of our thighs.'" It went on to state that Morris could not move horizontally on the white box in a "lascivious manner." "The list was endless! It was perhaps one of the most erotic pieces of literature I had read."

    It was a no-win situation. The result of which was that on the Tony telecast the comparatively innocent "Be Italian" was substituted.

    Dreamgirls was Nine's big competition. It earned 13 nominations. As raved over as Dreamgirls was, Nine had the distinct advantage of opening last. In spite of the controversy, it seemed to have stuck in voters' minds. Nine won Tonys for Best Musical and and Best Score.


    Curtain up, light the lights, wrote Stephen Sondheim in Gypsy's showstopping "Everything's Coming Up Roses." You got nothing to hit but the heights. In fact, in theater, the journey to the heights is fraught with trials, tribulations and reversals of fortune.

    Because of the vagaries of the business, even multiple Tony nominees and winners wonder what their next job will be. But show people, even in worst-case scenarios, have such resilience, no doubt or difficulty is so great that it cannot be overcome.

    Director Jack Hofsiss, three-time nominee Cherry Jones and seven-time nominee Chita Rivera faced serious obstacles to their careers.

    For directing The Elephant Man, Hofsiss won a 1979 Tony and a host of other honors. Then, in summer 1985, after directing the play for TV [winning a Directors Guild Award and Emmy nomination] and opera, he fractured his spinal cord in a pool-diving accident that left him dependent on a wheelchair and "chilled down" his career. "For a year," he says, "while trying to figure out how to go on with my life, I wondered if anyone would hire me."

    While still in hospital, he got an offer. Even though it didn't work out, Hofsiss says, "that someone wanted me, without knowing what I'd be capable of, gave me hope." In March 1986 he was released and in July was directing All the Way Home at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. "It was the story of a man in an automobile accident," he laughs, "and how his family dealt with the issues. The subject matter was as therapeutic as getting back to work."

    Landing jobs was a struggle. "But," says Hofsiss, "friends, like [the late] Josephine Abady, who offered me the Berkshire job, believed in me." In 1987, he was back in the theatrical eye Off Broadway, directing the musical No Way To Treat A Lady. He went on to other shows and to direct for film and TV, but admits, "I'm always proving myself. That applies to everyone in our business, but it's particularly true for me."

    It's hard to believe that Cherry Jones, one of our preeminent theater actresses who's in rehearsals for a late June opening in New York Theatre Workshop's Flesh and Blood by Peter Gaitens, would have difficulty getting into a role. Her inspiration to become an actress resulted while in college when she saw was a performance of A Moon for the Misbegotten starring Colleen Dewhurst as Josie Hogan. In 1999, playing Josie at Chicago's Goodman in a revival of Moon, Jones battled depression brought on by a "middle-aged lack of confidence."

    For the first time, she experienced stage fright and, at one point, even considered walking off stage. "But I couldn't," she explains. "That would have been more humiliating than facing what I was going through."

    Jones states that her dilemma was compounded by how much more was expected of her after winning the Best Actress Tony for the 1995 revival of The Heiress: "You have a standard you're not always able to meet. When the public has a standard, coupled with your own, it creates greater stress. It's more fun to be the kid coming up the ranks."

    That production of Moon came to Broadway and Jones was still uneasy. However, she was rewarded with a third Tony Award nomination as Leading Actress. She says she drew strength from co-stars Gabriel Byrne and Roy Dotrice.

    Jones recalls an interview Charlie Rose did with Maggie Smith. "He wondered when she and Judi Dench got together if they talked about their craft. Smith replied, 'We talk about the terror of it.'"

    Chita Rivera, now an eight-time Tony nominee with her 2003 nod in the Featured category for her role as Italian film producer Liliane La Fleur in revival of Nine and who opens at the Public Theatre in Kander and Ebb's The Visit this fall, says her refusal to think negatively helped her through her worst crisis. In a 1986 automobile accident, her left leg was crushed. The prognosis wasn't good, but Rivera was determined she'd dance again. "When I saw the x-rays," she says, "I realized I had work to do; but dancers don't know anything else. Thank God for the discipline. Pity wasn't a word in my vocabulary. I've never been one who does anything half-way."

    Amazingly, she was released three weeks later, albeit with 18 screws in her leg. "From day one," Rivera notes, "I obeyed, did exactly what I was told. It was fascinating because I could feel my leg mending." Eleven months later, she had the type of mobility which made her realize she could still have a career. "I wasn't happy with my dancing, but I was on my feet!"

    She did a couple of "shakedown" engagements before signing on for the 1988 tour of Can Can. "How crazy was that?" she screams. "Of all the shows! But I didn't miss a kick!"

    Rivera says she is happy the accident didn't happen when she was younger, as she may not have been as strong.

    Everything came full circle years later. "I was buying Lisa [Mordente, her daughter] a car," recalls Rivera. "This executive at the dealership approached me. I recognized him immediately. He was the driver of the cab that hit me. I never forgot the shock on his face as they cut me out. Somehow, I had managed to say, ëI'm okay.' He was most apologetic, but, in an instant, the slate was wiped clean."

    If you saw Rivera in 1993's Kiss of the Spider Woman, it was jaw-dropping shock and awe as she, seemingly effortlessly, executed that show's strenuous choreography. It won this survivor a second Best Actress Tony [the other came in 1984 for The Rink].

    Everyday, Rivera says, she pinches herself for her blessings. "I'm the luckiest woman in the world!"


    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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