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Of 10 nominations, Leon talks about his two top Tony wishes

2nd in a series of blogs on Atlanta director Kenny Leon before the Tonys. Come back for more on Thursday, and see a profile of Leon in Living on Saturday.

By Howard Pousner
hpousner@ajc.com

New York – You know you’re in a true theater town when, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, a line of umbrella-carrying ticketholders wraps around the block at the Cort Theatre off Times Square to see “Fences.”

Its Atlanta director, Kenny Leon, was out front, under the marquee where signs advertised the 10 Tony nominations hauled in by the August Wilson revival, greeting old friends in from Atlanta and making some new friends in the wet crowd of strangers, including some ultra cute Red Hat Society ladies in from New Haven, Conn.

He made eye contact with one woman waiting patiently in the cancellation line, hoping a ticket might become available. “How you doin’?” he asked. Then he added with a twinkle, “You’re in the right place,” no doubt meaning “Fences,” not the line.

The lady smiled and looked at Leon with an expression that said, “I don’t know who you are, but I bet you’re someone important.”

Then Leon dashed into the lobby for a minute and returned to say that he’d just spotted Cathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, the “Today Show” hosts, to whom he introduced himself and thanked for coming out.

Inside the theater a few minutes later, Atlantan Phyllis Lawhorn, whose now-retired husband John once acted in Wilson plays Leon directed at the Alliance Theatre, gave him a hug and told him she wished him good luck at Sunday night’s Tony ceremony.

He sighed and said, “I’ll be there.”

Leon and “Fences” have won a bunch of awards already, but there’s a lot of build up, of course, for the biggest and most prestigious honors of them all, the Tonys.

The director seems appropriately excited and maybe a little wary, knowing how subjective awards show voting can be.

“I’ve done the work and I’m real proud of what’s on the stage,” he said. “It would be nice for the awards to meet the work, so if they were to call our name, especially for best revival of a play, that would mean the most to me. Because that, to me, honors August Wilson in a really huge way.”

In addition to recognizing the great playwright known for his 10-play Century Cycle chronicling American life, who died in 2005, it would also honor all of Leon’s “Fences” collaborators, backstage and onstage, he said.

After best revival, he’s most hopeful that his star Denzel Washington walks away with a statue for best actor.

“I want Denzel to get honored, because he’s a great artist and he’s given up a lot to do a Broadway play,” Leon said of the popular movie actor. “And last time he was in town [acting in “Julius Ceasar” on Broadway], it was almost like he wasn’t here. He didn’t even get nominated then. So I’d like to see something good go to good people.”

Plus, Leon said, if an actor as famous as Washington can win a Tony for “Fences,” it can only mean more August Wilson productions popping up across the country.

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