BWW Blog: Greg Reuter - Performing on the Tonys 101
Hey readers! first off, a little housekeeping. I'm trying to keep my blog interesting and relevant. My desire is to impart some experiences I've had in a painfully honest manner. That being said, this title sounds self-aggrandizing. I get it. I just finished the book "Humblebrag" by Harris Wittels (head writer of NBC's "Parks and Recreation"), and it's made me gun shy to write ANYTHING! (PS- awesome book).
I never thought I'd get to perform live on the Tony Awards. Not once. I watched the broadcast as a kid in Southeastern Michigan, and was oddly captivated by it. One of my best friends, Dossie McCraw, is a ratings analyst (among other things) at HBO, and he will tell you the Tony Awards don't have great numbers compared to the other awards broadcasts. He's right. But they're still magical to me.
Let's do a humble walk through of what it's like to perform on the Tony Awards…ok? First off, it's terrifying. Why? Because it's forever. Somewhere in Fort Wayne, Indiana- in a random gay bar there WILL be a drag queen with a laser pointer on "Music Theatre Monday" pointing to the poor boy or girl that fell out of their triple pirouette on the Tony's. Guaranteed. If you're in a movie, you get multiple chances to get your "take" right- but not on live television. It's one shot, all eggs in the basket, let's make a Broadway omelette.
Even though I was fortunate enough to do it twice, I still have palpable anxiety for my friends who go through this alternately blissful and scary wormhole of the Tony Awards Broadcast. It's not fun. Correction- it's super fun…the second it's over. The earlier part requires either extreme confidence, or Xanax.
Breakdown. You were cast in a Broadway show. Said show (or brilliant revival) was nominated. You're going to "the show". This is how it goes down (BTW- the following may not be glamorous, but it IS honest). As everyone knows, one does 8 shows a week on Broadway, over the course of 6 days. In a standard "new" show, you will have a 3pm matinee on Sundays. The Tony Awards traditionally occur on the first Sunday evening in June.
You start with a traditional dance studio presentation in front of the camera director and cameramen/women. They take a look at what you're planning on doing (remember, the Tony's are like an almost free three-minute commercial for your show). There is also usually a broadway director of note on hand to translate stage manners to the tv folks (often Rob Ashford- super nice and efficient guy). This happens mid-week in the Tony broadcast week.
Next up is a formal camera rehearsal on stage. This traditionally occurs very early Sat morning. There are donuts and coffee, and you get to see all your friends, and you feel giddy (then you all go off and do 2 shows). It's the next part that can be nerve-wracking and pivotal. The logistics of getting (usually) 4 original casts, and 4 revival casts to the venue (I did it twice at Radio City Music Hall) is impossibly complicated. Gotta hand it to CBS. It's a well oiled machine. Just ask Charlie Sheen.
The casts do their Sun matinee, have a catered dinner, and then get back into costume and wigs. Then you wait, and wait some more. A bus appears at your theatre, and the cast (in costume), quickly shuffles onto said bus- while tourists stand around completely confused. You get off at the venue and are ushered to a holding area, and you have about 20-30 min before you go live. Remember that you're doing your "performance", on a recreation of your set, built by (great) tv people. Sometimes, producers will pay to have certain set elements brought over from the theatre, but this is extremely expensive. A couple of big stars generally announce your performance, but you only hear their amplified voices bounce off the back of the theatre- 200 yards away.
It's off to the races. Nerves. Pee. Flop sweat. More nerves. Then, as soon as it begins, it's over. My personal experience of adrenaline drop off was alarming. They tell you (casually), that you might be asked to stick around the venue if you're up for a big award (Best Musical, Best Revival), as they enjoy having the cast come on stage for the big moment.. That happened to us in Spamalot. I can assure you the request for us to hang around was stone-faced casual. I can honestly say, that in any other season- each show that year deserved a Tony. It was an impossibly strong year. Genius shows- "Spelling Bee", "A Light In The Piazza", "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels", and "Spamalot". I promise you, nothing was guaranteed. We just all stared at each other backstage in fandom.
That year, 2005, we won Best Musical against this field of incredible shows. I remember Hugh Jackman making the announcement on stage, but stumbling over the words slightly enough for all of us to give pause. Then we had PA's shoving us onto stage while the orchestra swelled. It was magical. But I can honestly say, we respected our colleagues SOOO much, that it seemed completely out of left field. Any of the nominated shows could have, and should have won that year. There was a dense artistic confluence on Broadway in 2005…to be sure.