A Press Room View of the Tony Awards

Audra McDonald and Hugh Jackman Record breaking and bouncing, respectively Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris / via

So here I am in the press room of the Tony Awards after dodging this task for several years, only to find out first thing that I won’t be at the swanky top of Rockefeller Center as we all were the last time I did this. Instead, I’m with fellow scribes on the second floor of a nondescript but undoubtedly NBC-affiliated building in a boring room.

Audra McDonald and Hugh Jackman Record breaking and bouncing, respectively Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris / via
Audra McDonald and Hugh Jackman
Record breaking Tony winner and bouncing Tony host, respectively
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris / via

Now I’m set up in the first of several rows of computers, just feet away from one of the two large flat screens on which the actual show is being piped in. Only a few feet in front of me to my left is the long, low, black riser on which winners will stand for our questions.

Story continues below.

But enough about me. What about the winners? So far this evening it’s been the awards that one reporter behind me described, loudly, as “the ones nobody cares about.” Christopher Barreca, who’s won for one of those categories nobody cares about (the set design for Rocky: The Musical), told us after taking the riser (to thin applause) that he proposed the idea to bring the boxing ring out from the proscenium, but that everyone else said they’d been thinking that way as well.

And now it’s Beowulf Boritt, winner for the set of Act One at Lincoln Center Theater, who says he’d never read Moss Hart’s showbiz memoir Act One before playwright-director James Lapine gave him the assignment to design the stage adaptation.

Now there’s a lull in our sanctum, the kind I know will happen throughout the night. Simultaneously, however, the After Midnight opening number takes place on stage and screen with Huge Ackman — er, hyperkinetic host Hugh Jackman —- joining in. Apparently the revue’s current guest artist, Patti LaBelle, was also in the number, but fan of hers that I am, I missed her. (She was joined by Fantasia and Gladys Knight and missed them, too.)

Story continues below.

Okay, the first award that apparently everybody cares about is Best Featured Actor in a Play. It goes to now three-time winner Mark Rylance for his Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night. He thanks his mentor Sam Wanamaker, the American actor who was the most influential force behind the rebuilding of London’s new Globe, where Rylance was artistic director for 10 years or so. In my estimation, there will likely be no more heartfelt and meaningful speech tonight.

On the flat screen, there is now a Les Miz medley so intense, so really scarifying, that it makes me wonder whether it’ll help sales or hurt them. Not that producer Cameron Mackintosh has to worry about attendance at this entrenched (but revamped for this revival) worldwide hit.

By the way, not every winner is going to be doggedly mentioned here. Not to worry. The winners list shows up everywhere, and if you didn’t watch the show, you’ve probably read up on the ipsy-pipsy event elsewhere. What hits my eye, my ear or my funny bone is what I’m here for.

(Parenthetically, something that got me going about the Tonys was one of the, uh, fun facts the press gang sent out a few days before the big night: 908 costumes created for the nominated musicals and plays. I’m only guessing that Disney’s Aladdin, which wasn’t nominated for costumes, had at least 908 costumes run up for it alone.)

Sophie Okonedo from A Raisin in the Sun Photo by Evan Agostini/AP / via
Sophie Okonedo from A Raisin in the Sun
Photo by Evan Agostini/AP / via

And now to steal a song title for what’s happening around me: Oh, there’s a lull in my life, not in the winners’ lives, of course. But hey, suddenly Kenny Leon is in the room talking about his Best Director of a Play win — and then Sophie Okonedo shows up on the screen, winning as Best Featured Actress in a Play for Leon’s A Raisin in the Sun revival. He cheers her.

Story continues below.

Audra McDonald wins her sixth Tony, making Tony history as the most honored actor in Broadway history. And, amidst McDonald’s tears, she dedicates her award to Billie Holiday. It’s the kind of tribute that also should make music history. Watch this space for her possible appearance in the media room. And a half hour or so later, here she is, briefly, mentioning that she’s taken her shoes off and then confiding she found Billie Holiday’s voice by channeling her own grandmother’s voice.

Alan Cumming gives the American Theatre Wing speech in a white suit splattered top to the bottom with what looks like black ink. He’s a walking Rorschach test.

Story continues below.

Don’t ask me why, but Aladdin’s Best Featured Actor in a Musical winner James Monroe Iglehart is receiving the most questions and giving the most amusing answers from the reporters’ ranks. Among the responses, he infos that after the show, he and his wife will go to McDonald’s to remind themselves to remain humble.

Story continues below.

Bryan Cranston, who’s a naturally funny guy and noticeably shorter than President Lyndon B. Johnson, whom he won his Best Leading Actor in a Play award portraying, curtails the Breaking Bad meth jokes to say he researched the role by reading Robert Caro, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Joseph Califano but didn’t really get much from footage, because Johnson went into affectations whenever he faced television cameras.

Lena Hall & Neil Patrick Harris
in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Photo by Joan Marcus

As Neil Patrick Harris accepts Best Actor in a Musical for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Lena Hall, his costar who also picked up a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, arrives to face the media room crowd. In order to get up in her cross-dressing role, she says she watches her costar’s role and adds that she spent much time watching men, including Marlon Brando (on celluloid, no?), to build her character.

Story continues below.

Has it crossed anyone else’s mind that more men have kissed men on camera tonight than women have kissed women or men have kissed women and vice versa? Just asking.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder just won the Best Musical Tony on the Radio City Music Hall stage, Hugh Jackman closed with “On Broadway” and now our flat screens have gone back to the Tony Awards logo.  No, the familiar color test pattern you don’t see so much anymore has popped up and some generic jazz is playing.  That’s probably to soothe us while we wait for the later winners to come see us. Or not. Hold it. We’ve just been informed that a few straggling winners will materialize.

Jessie Mueller, who won Best Actress in a Musical for Beautiful,and Carole King, whom she impersonates, have become a double act, and that’s how they show up here, graciously deferring to each other and pouring on the compliments. David Binder, producer of Best Musical Revival Hedwig, notes that the original downtown production cost around $25,000 but won’t say what the Broadway incarnation cost. The Gentleman’s Guide producers and writers allow that the hurting box office has turned around since the nominations and, no surprise, state they’re confident it’ll do even better now. Neil Patrick Harris has no idea when he’s getting married to David Burtka. He’s too busy on the “juggernaut” show.

A few of the unofficial statisticians around me are tallying the big winners. The truth is, there are no big winners. There are just a couple of Tony-copping small winners—four for A Gentleman’s Guide and Hedwig. So a muted closing cheer for them.