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At the Actor's Fund's Tony Awards benefit, Annette Bening gets a second chance to honor Brian Stokes Mitchell

June 14, 2010 | 11:43 am

ABBSMTT[1] With all those Hollywood celebs showing up at the Tony Awards in New York on Sunday, doesn't it make sense that Broadway stars would be in Los Angeles watching the festivities on a live feed?

Broadway boy wonder Tommy Tune sailed into town to host the Actors Fund's 14th annual Tony Awards viewing party, honoring past Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, at Skirball Center.

With all the cross-cultural exchanges in the entertainment industry these days, up is now officially down -- and yet, all roads to the event started in Rome, in a manner of speaking. Annette Bening, a movie star who has trod her share of boards in L.A. and New York, was there to present a Julie Harris Award to Mitchell -- whom she'd known since their days at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego. In fact, the two performed together in dance class.

"He choreographed it and taught it to me," Bening said. "We both got the credit, but he did all the work. That's how he lives his life."

Now, Mitchell may be a much-loved guy in the business, and it was nice of Bening to present the award, but frankly, she owed him. By coincidence ...

... she also had presented the Tony for best actor in a musical in 1998 -- the year Mitchell was nominated for his performance as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in "Ragtime."

Mitchell re-created the moment for the crowd.

"For most performers, this is the moment you have dreamed about your entire life," he said. "Many of us have practiced our speeches in front of mirrors at San Diego Junior Theatre ... but what really hits you is it's not so much about your own artistry, it's about luck, the incredible alignment of events to get you there. ... As best actor in a musical, you're one of the last ones up and there's a very long time to wait, so you're waiting and waiting. So finally the moment comes -- 'Please welcome to the stage, goddess of the theater and film, Miss Annette Bening.'

"You try to be cool and squeeze your wife's hand probably a little harder than you intend to and they read the names of the nominees. And the camera with the red light is right in your face as they read your name and you try to remember don't clap for yourself, and then the big moment comes and Annette opens up the envelope and she says, 'The winner of the Tony Award for the best actor in a musical is somebody else.'"

Hey, don't cry for Mitchell, who will be joining Patti Austin, Joe Jackson and others onstage at the Hollywood Bowl for "A Beatles Celebration" July 9 through 11. The onetime "Trapper John M.D." star turned Broadway icon went on to win a Tony for "Kiss Me Kate."

Other stars of stage and screen at the event included Lorna Luft, Ken Howard, Anne Archer, Cathy Rigby, Rip Taylor, Doris Roberts, Scott Bakula, Holland Taylor, Theodore Bikel, Sharon Lawrence, Michael Learned, Michelle Lee, Anne Jeffreys and Patricia Morison.

-- Irene Lacher

Photo: Annette Bening, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Tommy Tune at the Actors Fund benefit. Credit: Bill Dow

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