Leadership / 06.02.20
Memories of the Tony Awards
The annual Tony Awards were originally scheduled for June 7, 2020. But the American Theatre Wing announced in late March that Broadway’s biggest night of the year would be postponed. And, man, am I feeling it! I love the Tonys. I don’t live in New York, so the Tonys and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with its performance snippets at Herald Square is where I usually get my fix of the great shows of the stage each year — and then eagerly anticipate the eventual touring productions.
The Tonys usually have all the drama of a great musical or stage play, too. John Burnett, Vice President and CFO for The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, still remembers when “Avenue Q” upset “Wicked.” Probably my earliest Tonys memory is “Nine” topping “Dreamgirls” in 1982.
Ultimately, whether this year’s Tonys are eventually canceled, given out via Zoom or some other video-conferencing platform, or clumped together with 2021’s broadcast, it’s not going to be the same. Still, there is comfort in talking about past shows. This last week, I spoke with several ticketing and theatre professionals who are similarly missing the Tonys to get their favorite memories of awards won, awards lost, favorite hosts and random cool moments.
Experiencing the Tonys in Person
“Gosh! My favorite Tonys moment is hard, as there are so many over the past nine years that I have been privileged to lead the [American Theatre Wing]. But if I must choose, I would say sharing the 2019 Tony Awards with my niece, who just this moment completed her freshman year as a theatre major at Boston University. To see theatre magic through young eyes, there is just nothing better than that!” —Heather Hitchens, President and CEO, American Theatre Wing
“My favorite Tony Awards memory is the 2007 show when the opening number was from the ‘Chorus Line’ revival. ‘A Chorus Line’ is the show that turned me into a lifelong Broadway lover. It was my first Tonys as head of the Broadway League. The lights went down. Pitch black. Marvin Hamlisch was on top of the marquee of Radio City Music Hall playing the piano, and the cast was in the lineup with the pictures of themselves doing that number. Then, the lights rose in the theatre and all 60 members of the ‘Chorus Line’ cast were on stage covering the whole stage in their gold costumes singing ‘One,’ which is still one of my top five Broadway songs. To say I had to repair my makeup after would be an understatement!” —Charlotte St. Martin, President, The Broadway League
“My favorite Tony Awards memory is attending the Tonys for the first time and really rooting for my favorite show to win. It didn’t, and I still feel it was robbed! Entering Radio City dressed to the nines and seeing the theatre community in their finest was like walking into an MGM movie.” —Joseph Guglielmo, Director, Consumer Ticketing and Membership, TheaterMania
“The first year I went was the year of the domination of ‘The Producers.’ And when Mel Brooks went up for his first award, I took his seat and wound up spending most of the night in that seat sitting next to Anne Bancroft, who was very sweet.” —Stuart Levy, Ticketing Manager for ‘Wicked,’ 321 Theatrical Management Ticketing
“The 2003 ceremony was only the second time that I had attended the actual awards. I was co-Executive Producer of Richard Greenberg’s ‘Take Me Out.’ It won Best New Play! It was incredibly thrilling and something I never thought that I would experience.” —Greg Holland, CEO, Broadway San Francisco LLC
“My favorite memory was of the 2003 Tony Awards. I was the company manager for ‘Movin’ Out,’ and we opened the show with Billy Joel playing ‘New York State of Mind’ in Times Square and then transitioned to the cast of ‘Movin’ Out’ performing a medley at Radio City Music Hall. It was amazing.” —Sean Free, Vice President of Sales and Ticketing, Nederlander Producing Co. of America Inc.
“As a Brit, it has to be James Corden’s opening from 2019’s ceremony, complete with interruption from Bryan Cranston. In the world we are now inhabiting, that night is an even more powerful reminder of how brilliant live theatre is.” —Peter Monks, INTIX member & former Board member, owner of Shakespeare Distillery
“Attending the awards in 1998 when The Denver Center for the Performing Arts won the Tony for Best Regional Theater was memorable, as seeing the show from the inside gave a new perspective. It’s far more fun to watch it on TV where it looks easy and magical. It’s like that saying that you never want to actually see the sausage being made … better to enjoy it on the other side.” —Nancy Rebek, President, Rebek Productions and NRPR LLC
Watching the Show on TV
“I do love watching the Tonys with my mom. It’s something we always tried to do when I lived at home. When I moved out, we would watch it at the same time and call each other during or after to talk about our favorite parts. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember winners or nominations because I only watched to see the performances! Living in Indiana, Broadway wasn’t something I got to enjoy for myself in person until recently.” —Tiffany Kelham, Member Services and Executive Associate, International Ticketing Association (INTIX)
“I was in high school, and it was the year ‘A Chorus Line’ was nominated. The Tonys broadcast had come to an end, and the very first commercial after the broadcast was for ‘A Chorus Line.’ I don’t know why this impressed me so much, but it did. I had just watched the Tony Awards for crying out loud, and the coolest thing in my mind was the commercial that followed the broadcast? What can I say, I was only 15!” —Lawrence Paone, President, Local 751, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)
“James Corden opening the 2016 Tony Awards. This was just hours after the Orlando club shooting. The creative team struggled all day with what to do to appropriately address the horror and grief of that moment and still have an awards show. James wrote an incredibly moving ‘Hate will never win’ speech that were to be the first words of the broadcast. They tried to tape it moments before the broadcast started. But due to a tech glitch, he had to do it live. Made us all so proud to be part of this business.” —Tom Gabbard, President and CEO, Blumenthal Performing Arts
“At the 2019 Tony Awards, seeing Ali Stroker win for Featured Actress in a Musical was a powerful moment of hope and beauty. I didn’t go to any parties last year, and I’m glad because I was a crying mess! I’m a disabled woman of color who has been working in theatre for my entire life. I’ve gotten used to being in the minority, but you always want to see the world change for the better. That moment, Ali’s speech, and everyone in the industry who work to make theatre more accessible for people of all abilities both on and off our stages bolster me every single day as I strive to do the same.” —Sarah J. Hom, Director of Audience Services, Roundabout Theatre Company
The Magic of Billy Porter
“I love the Tony Awards and do attend every year. I think the best and most recent memory is of Billy Porter singing from his seat when host James Corden was doing Carpool Karaoke from the Tonys. It was a real ‘Broadway moment.’ And the best part is that it was during a commercial break, so it really was a ‘live’ moment that only those in Radio City Music Hall that night got to enjoy. A once-in-a-lifetime moment … until it was shared all over social media and on the news.” —Stephanie Baker, COO, Entertainment Benefits Group
“At last year’s awards, host James Corden asked various Broadway stars to sing a song from his ‘Broadway Karaoke’ songbook during the commercial break. Billy Porter’s version of ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ was so spontaneous, energetic and joyful. He commanded the room, and the crowd just ate it up. It will always stand out as an enduring memory. —John Ekeberg, Executive Director – Broadway, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
Most of those interviewed for this article had a favorite past Tony Awards host. For TheaterMania’s Guglielmo, it will always be Angela Lansbury. “Classy, elegant and classic!” he says. Hitchens of the American Theatre Wing couldn’t pick just one, but she did note, “I thought Josh Groban and Sarah Bareilles were utterly charming together and exuded what Broadway is about.” James Corden, of course, always delivers.
But most interviewees pitted Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman against each other for Best Host Ever. To many, they are the Pepsi vs. Coke, Target vs. Walmart, “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” of Tonys hosts past (and hopefully future). And you won’t get any argument from this writer (although I still have mad love for Whoopi Goldberg doing her best Mary Poppins at that one Tonys):
The Case for Neil Patrick Harris
“We’ve had so many good hosts, but my favorite is Neil Patrick Harris. He once closed the show doing a rap that Lin Manuel Miranda wrote that recapped the evening. There was no way to rehearse it since Lin wrote it throughout the show. The fact that he could do it for the first time, live, showed what a talented pro he is.” —Gabbard
“Several years back, Neil Patrick Harris incorporated some magic tricks into his act, and both he and the illusions were very impressive. My father was an amateur magician, so I appreciate the art form.” —Paone
Hugh Jackman for the Win
“I choose Hugh Jackman because he hosted both the 2003 and the 2005 Tony Awards. I co-executive produced the Best New Play winners both those years, so I got to meet him both times. He seemed so genuinely thrilled about the winning shows. In 2011, BroadwaySF — then SHN — hosted Hugh Jackman for the world premiere of ‘Hugh Jackman on Broadway.’ Having the chance to work with Hugh after meeting him at the Tony Awards was amazing.” —Holland
“If I had to pick one, I’d go with Hugh Jackman. The definition of talent and class, and a fantastic sense of humor. I assume someone counted his ‘hops’ in 2014?” —Ekeberg
“My favorite host would be Hugh Jackman. He has this electric personality, especially if you see him live and you also see how much he loves theatre as well.” —Levy
“Hugh Jackman. Here’s an actor who, one minute, is playing at a theatre near you on the big screen, slashing evil mutants with his blade-like claws while showing off his topless bod. He’s SO ripped, you’re wondering if it’s actually him or CGI. The next minute, he’s at another theatre near you belting show tunes and dancing in a Broadway musical like … Wolverwho? In this business where the performer is constantly told that they are this type or that type and nothing more, it was so good to see him hosting the Tonys, singing and dancing his heart out while reminding us and the world why we as artists do what we do. It is because we are so much more than just a type. We are a plethora or colors! And every color longs to express itself.” —James Brown-Orleans, actor and 18-year cast member of ‘The Lion King’
Brown-Orleans was part of the spectacular Opening Number of the 2008 Tony Awards, and he relates the experience of that night in a special sidebar for INTIX.
This year, Broadway On Demand is producing an event to bring together the theatre community in celebration of the Tony Awards. Click on this tweet for more information. Additionally, on June 11 at 7 p.m. EDT, the New York Times is celebrating the Broadway season that was cut short due to COVID-19. Learn more about the event, and click here to RSVP.
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Theater , Broadway , Leadership , Inclusion , COVID-19 , Coronavirus