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Tony highlights: A historic win and a strong night for women

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NEW YORK — When effervescent actress Ali Stroker came onstage to accept her historic trophy as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony, it wasn’t just the feel-good moment of the night. It may have been one of the most joyous Tony moments in years.

The crowd jumped to its feet in unison as Stroker, who won best featured actress in a musical for a sexy, saucy performance as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” arrived onstage.

“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said. “You are.”

The buoyant moment was emblematic of a feel-good evening at the Tonys that featured crowd-pleasing performances, a Broadway-loving host in the form of James Corden and a theme of inclusivity. The big winner: “Hadestown,” the soulful musical by Anais Mitchell based on an ancient Greek myth, which triumphed over much more traditionally commercial fare.

The victory of “Hadestown” was also notable for the number of women it brought to the podium; it was not only written by a woman but also directed by one, and producer Mara Isaacs accepted the award. Director Rachel Chavkin won her own Tony, as did Mitchell for best score. In all, “Hadestown” won eight Tonys.

But despite a great night for a show that began its long, improbable journey to Broadway as a community theatre project in rural Vermont, Chavkin echoed a note of frustration about the persistent lack of diversity on creative teams.

“I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season,” she said. “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of colour who are ready to go. … This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be.”

The acting awards brought a slew of satisfying victories for beloved veterans. Comic legend Elaine May, 87, won her first Tony for playing an Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother in Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery,” charming the crowd with a witty acceptance speech.

And Broadway favourites Santino Fontana and Stephanie J. Block took the top musical acting prizes. Fontana won his first Tony as the cross-dressing lead in “Tootsie,” an adaptation of the 1982 Dustin Hoffman comedy about a struggling actor who impersonates a woman to get cast in a show.

The actor paid tribute to his late grandmother, a “fiery, red-headed woman” who, he revealed, was an inspiration for his performance: “Every day I get to bring her into the room, and it has been the best experience of my life.”

Block earned her own first Tony for playing a real-life legend — Cher. In an ebullient speech, she told her young daughter: “Mommy won a trophy but like I always tell you, it’s not about winning; it’s about showing up, doing your best, loving all people and finding joy along the way.”

Yet another veteran winning his first Tony — at 73 — was André De Shields, best featured actor in a musical for his silky smooth narrator in “Hadestown.” He thanked his hometown of Baltimore and offered “three cardinal rules of my sustainability and longevity.”

“One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming,” he said. “Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”

Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman,” a sweeping Irish family drama, was crowned best play. Butterworth asked the crowd to give his partner, actress Laura Donnelly, a round of applause for giving birth to their two children while appearing in the drama. Her own family tragedy inspired him to write the play.

And in one of the most poignant moments of the night, Sergio Trujillo won the choreography prize for “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations,” thanking his Colombian family.

He said in his speech that he arrived in New York over three decades ago without legal permission.

“I stand here as proof that the American dream is alive,” he said.

Speaking later at the Plaza Hotel after-party, Trujillo was so moved that he was reduced to tears.

“I have to be able to use my success as a way to inspire and effect change,” he said. “This is what happens,” he said, pointing to the Tony in his hands, “when we get the love and support that we so richly deserve.”

Bryan Cranston won his second Tony for best actor in a play as newscaster Howard Beale in the inventive stage adaptation of the 1976 film “Network.”

“Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!” he joked, riffing on the evening’s theme of inclusivity. He dedicated his award to real-life journalists: “The media is not the enemy of the people,” he said, in what amounted to the evening’s most obvious jab at the Trump administration.

Corden, in his second stint as host, scored audience points with his obvious affection for Broadway. Among his amusing bits was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to raise ratings by trying to provoke a Nicki Minaj-Cardi B-style beef between Broadway figures.

But his most successful bit may have been one the television audience never saw. During commercial breaks, Corden implored celebrities to sing karaoke.

The huge hit was Billy Porter. After first protesting that he “wasn’t here to work tonight,” Porter, a former Tony winner for “Kinky Boots,” belted his way through “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy,” earning the crowd’s adoration.

Best featured actress in a play went to Celia Keenan-Bolger for her role as Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Bertie Carvel won best featured actor in a play for “Ink,” about Rupert Murdoch.

Legendary designer Bob Mackie won best costume design for a musical for “The Cher Show,” getting laughs for saying “This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old.”

The dark retelling of “Oklahoma!” beat the crowd-pleasing, dance-heavy revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” for best musical revival. “The Boys in the Band” won best play revival.

The awards cap a strong season for Broadway, with a reported record $1.8 billion in sales, up 7.8% from last season. Attendance was 14.8 million — up 7.1% — and has risen steadily for decades.

___

Associated Press writer Mark Kennedy contributed to this report.

Jocelyn Noveck, The Associated Press















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National Entertainment

Gloria Vanderbilt, heiress, jeans queen, dies at 95

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NEW YORK — Gloria Vanderbilt, the intrepid heiress, artist and romantic who began her extraordinary life as the “poor little rich girl” of the Great Depression, survived family tragedy and multiple marriages and reigned during the 1970s and ’80s as a designer jeans pioneer, died Monday at the age of 95.

Vanderbilt was the great-great-granddaughter of financier Cornelius Vanderbilt and the mother of CNN newsman Anderson Cooper, who announced her death via a first-person obituary that aired on the network Monday morning.

Cooper said Vanderbilt died at home with friends and family at her side. She had been suffering from advanced stomach cancer, he noted.

“Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms,” Cooper said in a statement. “She was a painter, a writer, and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend. She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they’d tell you, she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest, and most modern.”

Her life was chronicled in sensational headlines from her childhood through four marriages and three divorces. She married for the first time at 17, causing her aunt to disinherit her. Her husbands included Leopold Stokowski, the celebrated conductor, and Sidney Lumet, the award-winning movie and television director. In 1988, she witnessed the suicide of one of her four sons.

Tributes online came from celebrities and fans of her clothes alike. Alyssa Milano called her “an incredible woman,” Dana Delany said she treasures one of her paintings and one Twitter user mourned by remembering the canary Vanderbilt jeans she wore in junior high school.

Vanderbilt was a talented painter and collagist who also acted on the stage (“The Time of Your Life” on Broadway) and television (“Playhouse 90,” ”Studio One,” ”Kraft Theater,” ”U.S. Steel Hour”). She was a fabric designer who became an early enthusiast for designer denim. The dark-haired, tall and ultra-thin Vanderbilt partnered with Mohan Murjani, who introduced a $1 million advertising campaign in 1978 that turned the Gloria Vanderbilt brand with its signature white swan label into a sensation.

At its peak in 1980, it was generating over $200 million in sales. And decades later, famous-name designer jeans — dressed up or down — remain a woman’s wardrobe staple.

Vanderbilt wrote several books, including the 2004 chronicle of her love life: “It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir,” which drops such names as Errol Flynn, whom she dated as a teenager; Frank Sinatra, for whom she left Stokowski; Marlon Brando and Howard Hughes.

She claimed her only happy marriage was to author Wyatt Cooper, which ended with his death in 1978 at age 50. Son Anderson Cooper called her memoir “a terrific book; it’s like an older ‘Sex and the City.'”

“I’ve had many, many loves,” Vanderbilt told The Associated Press in a 2004 interview. “I always feel that something wonderful is going to happen. And it always does.”

Noting her father’s death when she was a toddler, she said: “If you don’t have a father, you don’t miss it, because you don’t know what it is. It was really only when I married Wyatt Cooper that I understood what it was like to have a father, because he was just an extraordinary father.”

In 2016, Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper appeared together in the HBO documentary “Nothing Left Unsaid.”

Gloria Laura Madeleine Sophie Vanderbilt was born in 1924, a century after her great-great-grandfather started the family fortune, first in steamships, later in railroads. He left around $100 million when he died in 1877 at age 82.

Her father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, was 43, a gambler and boozer dying of liver disease when he married Gloria Morgan, 19, in 1923. Their daughter was 1 when Vanderbilt died in 1925, having gone through $25 million in 14 years.

Beneficiary of a $5 million trust fund, Vanderbilt became the “poor little rich girl” in 1934 at age 10 as the object of a custody fight between her globe-trotting mother and matriarchal aunt.

The aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 59, who controlled $78 million and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, won custody of her niece.

A shocked judge had closed the trial when a maid accused the child’s mother of a lesbian affair with a member of the British royal family. The fight was chronicled in the bestselling 1980 book “Little Gloria … Happy at Last,” made into a TV miniseries in 1982 with Angela Lansbury playing Whitney.

The “poor little rich girl” nickname “bothered me enormously,” Vanderbilt told The Associated Press in 2016. “I didn’t see any of the press — the newspapers were kept from me. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t feel poor and I didn’t feel rich. It really did influence me enormously to make something of my life when I realized what it meant.”

After spending the next seven years on her aunt’s Long Island estate, Vanderbilt went to Hollywood. She dated celebrities and declared she would marry Hughes. Instead, the 17-year-old wed Hughes’ press agent, Pasquale di Cicco, prompting her aunt to cut Gloria out of her will.

Vanderbilt came into her own $5 million trust fund in 1945 at age 21. She also divorced Di Cicco, whom she said had beaten her often, and the next day married the 63-year-old Stokowski. The marriage to the conductor lasted 10 years and produced two sons, Stanislaus and Christopher.

After her marriage broke up, Vanderbilt found herself embroiled in another custody case, this time as the mother. During the closed hearings, Stokowski accused Vanderbilt of spending too much time at parties and too little with the boys. She accused him of tyrannizing his sons and said he really was 85, and not 72 as he claimed.

Justice Edgar Nathan Jr. gave Vanderbilt full-time custody. But he commented that the court had wasted a month on “the resolution of problems which mature, intelligent parents should be able to work out for themselves.”

Vanderbilt married Lumet in 1956 and lived with him and her children in a 10-room duplex penthouse on Gracie Square. She divorced Lumet and married Cooper in 1963.

Their elder son, Carter, a Princeton graduate and editor at American Heritage, killed himself in 1988 at age 23, leaping from his mother’s 14th floor apartment as she tried to stop him. Police said he had been treated for depression and friends said he was despondent over a break-up with a girlfriend. Vanderbilt says in “Nothing Left Unsaid” that she contemplated following him, but the thought of how it would devastate Anderson stopped her.

After her success in designer jeans, Vanderbilt branched out into other areas, including shoes, scarves, table and bed linens, and china, through her company, Gloria Concepts. In 1988 Vanderbilt joined the designer fragrance market with her signature “Glorious.”

By the late 1980s, Vanderbilt sold the name and licenses for the brand name “Gloria Vanderbilt” to Gitano, who transferred it to a group of private investors in 1993. More recently, her stretch jeans have been licensed through Jones Apparel Group Inc., which acquired Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp. in 2002 for $138 million.

Vanderbilt became the target of a swindle in the late 1970s and early ’80s when she made her psychiatrist and a lawyer associates in her business affairs. A court held that the two had looted millions from Vanderbilt’s bank accounts.

Vanderbilt also made headlines in 1980 when she filed, but later dropped, a discrimination complaint against the posh River House apartments, which had rejected her bid to buy a $1.1 million duplex. She claimed the board was worried that black singer Bobby Short, who appeared with her on TV commercials, might marry her.

In 2009, the 85-year-old Vanderbilt penned a new novel, “Obsession: An Erotic Tale,” a graphic tale about an architect’s widow who discovers a cache of her husband’s letters that reveal his secret sex life.

In an interview with The New York Times, she said she wasn’t embarrassed about the explicitness of her new book, saying: “I don’t think age has anything to do with what you write about. The only thing that would embarrass me is bad writing, and the only thing that really concerned me was my children. You know how children can be about their parents. But mine are very intelligent and supportive.”

Ula Ilnytzky, The Associated Press




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Friends in high places: Garth Brooks adds show after Saskatchewan premier asks

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REGINA — Country music legend Garth Brooks will be in Saskatchewan a little longer this summer thanks to the premier.

A statement from Brooks says he has added a second August concert in Regina at the request of Scott Moe.

The singer’s Aug. 10 concert sold out in 59 minutes.

The added show is to take place on Aug. 9.

After the second show was announced, Moe said on Twitter: “Great News Saskatchewan!”

It will be the first time Brooks will headline a concert in Regina and the first time Mosaic Stadium is the venue for a country music concert.

The Canadian Press

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