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He Wuz Robbed

Raul Esparza, Tony Award nominee for Taboo and for last season's illuminating revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company, was back home in Miami last week.  He wasn't working, just hanging out with family and friends, "touching base with life" after an emotional ending to one of the best theater experiences in his eclectic, deservedly praised body of work.

Everyone (me included) thought he would win the best actor in a musical Tony for his portrayal of Bobby, the perennial bachelor who looks at the lives of his married friends with a mixture of envy and horror, until he finally commits to risk via the stirring anthem Being Alive.  If you watched the Tonys June 10, you know that while Company got the Tony as best revival, Esparza (who had already won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards) lost to former Frasier star David Hyde Pierce, the singing gumshoe in Curtains.

Company didn't last long beyond the Tonys, and Esparza remembers that the first performance on Tuesday after the awards show was, at first, painful.

"I was down and upset," he says.  "Being Alive was tough to get through that night.  But the audience started to applaud and wouldn't stop.  They rose to their feet and applauded for over two minutes.  They were screaming and cheering.  I started crying, and so did the other actors.  It happened almost every night after that until we closed."

Although Esparza says his heart "was just broken" that Company didn't run longer, he has moved on.  In November, he'll be playing the pimp Lenny in a Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, a 40th anniversary production that will also star Ian McShane (of Deadwood), Michael McKean and Eve Best, a Tony nominee for last season's revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten.  Esparza at first was weighing taking a replacement role on a television series, but Sondheim kept telling him to do the Pinter play.  And so he will.

Company hasn't entirely vanished. The production, directed by Tony winner John Doyle, was filmed before it closed on July 1 and will be shown on PBS in early 2008.  But just to tide you over, check out Esparza singing Being Alive on the Tony telecast.  See? He should have won.

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