Tonys, cont'd: Parts Deux & Trois

As some of you know by now, my first ever article on my Tony Awards experience is now live on REALITYCheckGirlMagazine.combut if you didn’t, check it out and comment!

Now, the article itself was actually edited (but of course) and pared down significantly — so, as promised, here are Parts 2 & 3, in all their pure, unadulterated glory!

Part Deux:

On June 7th, the big day arrived.

Now, where to start?  I s’pose I should start off by saying that Sunday, June 7th, 2009 did not start out ideally – I’d arrived at Hunter College all the way from 23rd and Madison later that afternoon from the Philippine Independence Day Parade.  I don’t know if any of you in New York remember, but it was uber-hot that day, so I probably was sweating buckets by the time I got to Hunter.  Not to mention the fact that there was literally a pool of puke in the car I had ridden on the 6 train – if ever there were a sign of a bad day, I think that one took the cake.

Despite all that, I tried not to let it detract from the excitement that lay ahead for me that night.  After I got myself all mussed up, gown and all, I hailed a cab from Hunter and demanded the cabbie (a la Audrey Hepburn, naturally) to hotfoot it to Radio City Music Hall, the venue at which the Tonys are annually held.  By the time we reached the vicinity of Rockefeller Plaza — just around the corner from Radio City — I could already see a long line forming along the sidewalk, bending around the famous institution, all the way down the block!  The cabbie and I were confused as to where I should be dropped off: at the end of the increasingly long line, or at the corner?  We ended up at the corner, only to find that there was a street fair, of all things, happening and making traffic worse than it already was.

So, I paid the 8 bucks I owed the cabbie, and – feeling very much like someone out of Gossip Girl – walked past all the SUVs, town cars and other cabs, in heels and all.  There were curious tourists across the street watching the spectacle, and a tiny part of me fancied that they were all paying attention to me as I strutted (yes, strutted) down to the end of the line.

After that, not much else happened during the wait, as the line inched closer to the entrance doors.  The only thing I can think of that is worth mentioning was the party standing in line behind me.  I noticed that they had Southern accents, very much like that of Hunter Bell, who was up for a Tony for Best Book of a Musical (for [title of show]).  My inner fangirl fought the urge to turn around and ask if they were by any chance relatives of Hunter Bell’s, but – of course — the Gossip Girl side of me did otherwise.

Before I knew it, I was giving my ticket to one of the employees standing sentry at the Golden Gates; she handed my ticket stub back after scanning and ripping the perforated end, and handed me something small and plastic, which I later realized was a plastic “lighter” to be used during the Rock of Ages performance.  Weirdly enough, this made me even more excited and giddy than I already was.

I am going to take this time out to say that the lobby of Radio City is GORGEOUS.  Everything from the dimly lit chandeliers to the art-deco architecture made everything seem more palatial, and with everyone dressed to the nines, the glamour heightened all the more.  Many people stood around the lobby and landing of the first mezzanine, content to chat people up and hopefully glimpse at one of the stars nominated for the night.  I contemplated sticking around, even snapping a photo or two of the chandeliers and official Tonys banners hanging up on the walls with my phone, but I didn’t have any friends with me in attendance and I felt awkward if I just stood around all alone.

So off I went, up to the 3rd mezzanine, to search for my seat.  As I walked past the various doors to each of the lettered aisles (mine was Aisle B), I could see the Tonys set through the doorways, and I have to say, my heart actually skipped a beat.  I remember thinking in that moment how surreal this whole experience was; that I was right there, in the flesh and NOT dreaming!  As soon as I snapped out of it, I found Aisle B and the usher guided me to my seat, which was fortunately right on the aisle.

After sitting a while and reading a bit of the Official Tonys Playbill (which is significantly thicker than regular ones, and on really glossy stock, too), I took some time out to call my mom at work and freak out.  The 3rd mezzanine isn’t as bad as it sounds, and below me I could see the stagehands and various crewmembers rigging last minute cameras and whatnot by orchestra seats.  On the PA system (if that’s what it’s called at Radio City), they were playing Original Broadway Cast Recordings (but of course), and I could hear Liza singing “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret:

Not a loser anymore
Like the last time and the time before
[…] All the odds are, they’re in my favor
Something’s bound to begin…

“Something’s bound to begin,” indeed!

Part Trois:

So, after calling my mom and giving in to my Fangirl Moment (wherein lots of high-pitched squealing and hyperventilating took place), my mother gave in to her own Mom Moment and reminded me to go to the bathroom before the Creative Awards were to start, at 7 p.m.  I left my seat and headed down the hall to the Ladies’ Lounge, and let me just say – the Lounge was fancy schmancy indeed!  Again, it had gorgeous art-deco design, along with bulb-lit mirrors and gilded crown molding.  There was even a separate room just for sitting, where cushioned love-seats greeted you before you even get to the stalls!

If ever there were a weirder time to feel glamorous and pampered, it was me going to the bathroom.

809,923 re-applications of lipgloss later, I went back to my seat on the 3rd mezz, by which time even more seats were filled.  It was getting pretty close to 7 p.m., and before I knew it, Laura Benanti (Tony-winner for Gypsy, 2008) and Brian Stokes Mitchell were onstage presenting.  The Creative Arts Awards, which are not aired on live television, recognize the works of those behind the scenes — such as lighting, set (which is known as scenic design here) and costume, for both musicals and plays.

Throughout this particular part of the ceremony, Laura Benanti was cracking jokes with that bubbly personality of hers, which made this normally tedious part of the night much more entertaining.  She even referenced the infamous “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!” moment in Gypsy this past year, when Patti LuPone infamously stopped the show – literally – during “Rose’s Turn” to scold a fan that had been taking pictures! (“To those taking pictures from the fourth row, you know who you are…and what can happen to you.  Fair warning.”)

There were a couple of notable Creative Arts wins, which include: a tie between the teams of Next to Normal (Tom Kitt & Michael Starobin) and Billy Elliot, The Musical (Martin Koch) for Best Orchestrations and  Billy Elliot’s Peter Darling for Best Choreography , among others.

Now, onto the live telecast!

After the Creative Arts awards were all given out, we had about 5 minutes before going live.  I decided to forego a trip the Ladies’ Lounge to admire myself in the mirror and waited in my seat with bated breath for the show to start.  Before I knew it, it was 15 seconds until blast off we went live, and over the loudspeaker, I – along with the rest of the audience — could hear the director count down the seconds.  With each second that passed, I got even more excited, and pretty soon, the show finally began.

Here’re the highlights (and lowlights) of the night:

The Opening Number.  As excited I was to see the three Billys all perform on one stage alongside Elton John, it seems that the sound guy somehow wasn’t – from the opening note of “Electricity”, there were some sound glitches that viewers at home noticed (the glitches weren’t apparent to us sitting in the audience – at least, to my memory).  What amazes me is that they manage to have sound problems after years of broadcasting on live television. Goodness gracious, Tonys people!

Despite the technical difficulties, the three Billys – David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish – managed to go out and do their thing.  Those kids are wicked talented, and such professionals, not even flinching at the sound problems.  Also, big ups to Elton for being undeniably Elton.

Next performance worthy of note was a “special appearance” by none other than Stockard Channing, singing “Bewitched” from Pal Joey, in an ear-splitting (not in a good way, mind you) medley with Next to Normal hunk, Aaron Tveit, who sang the show’s “I’m Alive.”  First of all: Why? And second of all: WHY?!  As much love as I have for both performers and their respective shows, this just seemed like a last-minute mash-up and an (unsuccessful) attempt at a revival of The Graduate.  Though, as one YouTuber commented, there is something delightfully naughty about the pairing…

Okay, now that you all have that image forever ingrained in your minds, let’s turn our attention to the news-grabber of the night that was the Brett Michaels Debacle.  Which is to say:  a piece of the Tonys set falling on him as the Rock of Ages performance ended.   Of this, I only have two words to say: EPIC. FAIL.

Also included in the Epic Opening Number of All Time: the incredible revival cast of Hair (my newest Broadway Obsession!) and LIZA MINELLI, the showstopping goddess before whom all must bow to! She performed in support of her Special Event this past year, Liza’s at the Palace!

Neil Patrick Harris Hosting.  Um, need I say more? This man is so utterly charming, and so ridiculously talented on top of that.  During the commercial breaks, he kept us entertained by doing these cute little “magical tricks” in which he tried guessing a number (between 1 and 100, mind you) that an audience member was thinking.  Also, his “11 O’Clock Number” was hilarious, and was a welcome surprise to all (including me) who’d hoped to hear him sing that night.

This man needs to get on a Broadway stage, STAT (pun fully intended)!

Tony Performances.   My favorite performance of the night, without a doubt, had to be the Hair revival.  Though I was all the way up in the 3rd Mezzanine, I could feel the energy the cast was giving off from the stage – it was that palpable.  They sang the shows eponymous number, shaking their heads (and booties!), even going out into the audience – attendee Anne Hathaway definitely looked like she particularly enjoyed Gavin Creel’s serenade!

Next to Hair, my second favorite has to be Billy Elliot, Trent Kowalik as Billy doing the “Angry Dance.”  Here, I am reminded of a review I’d read on the show, in which the show is described as having layers of underlying themes.  In “Angry Dance,” Billy has just found out that not only his father disapproves of his going to ballet school, but also that his mother has just died.  Meanwhile, the British Coal Miners’ strike (1984-85) is taking place, a defining moment for Thatcherism and the Conservative Party at the time.  It also reminded me of another article wherein each of the “Billys” are described as having different portrayals by Kowalik, Alvarez and Kulish, respectively.  The resulting performance was powerful and moving, and any doubts I’d had about the show were immediately diminished after Kowalik’s intense display of talent.

Another show that completely won me over post-performance was, of all things, Shrek: The Musical.  (I know, I know.) I absolutely love Christopher Sieber, and had no clue that he played Lord Farqaad in the show.  Also, leave it to Disney to score Brian D’Arcy James, Sutton Foster (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Daniel Breaker (Passing Strange) as Shrek, Princess Fiona and Donkey, respectively.  In any case, the performance itself was about the cutest thing ever, and I loved the nod to Wicked at the end!

Other performances of note: West Side Story’s beautifully intact Jerome Robbins choreography, as well as the Guys & Dolls cast dealing with the sound problems in the most professional manner.

Tony Wins.  It turned out that Billy Elliot, the Musical sweeped the Tonys this year, which was no surprise considering Elton John’s Golden Touch (well, sometimes – let’s not forget the disaster that was Lestat, shall we?).   Their wins included: Best Direction (Steven Daldry), Best Scenic Design (Ian McNeil), Best Sound Design (Paul Arditti), Best Featured Actor (Gregory Jbara) and Best Leading Actor (David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish) and Best Musical.

The most memorable acceptances of these had to be the Three Billys for Leading Actor – they were all so nervous and cute!  Though I had my own reservations about the triple nomination for the single role, and had wanted to root for Constantine Maroulis  Gavin Creel, the trio’s speechlessness was totally cute, and pretty much made up for it.

The Best Musical win was also noteable, in that Sir Elton gave a wonderful (and most likely, appreciated) shout-out to the Next to Normal composers in his speech (“May you stay together and write many more musicals, and enjoy tonight, just as we’ll enjoy tonight!”).  I definitely thought that was noble of him.

Another memorable – and joyous – win was Hair for Best Revival of a Musical.  This was an absolutely amazing moment, not only because the whole tribe rushed to the stage in utter excitement (along with Director Diane Paulus, and Public Theatre Artistic Director Oskar Eustis), but because of Eustis’ words: “Peace now, freedom now…EQUALITY NOW!”  Needless to say, I gave the legendary Eustis a big round of applause on that one.

Other acceptances of interest: Alice Ripley (Best Leading Actress: Musical, Next to Normal) quoting John F. Kennedy, enunciating EVERY other WORD like THIS.  I love you, Alice, I think you’re just fierce, but…no.  Also, Karen Olivo (Best Featured Actress: Musical, West Side Story) giving an emotional speech, and Angela Lansbury (Best Featured Actress: Play, Blithe Spirit) receiving a standing ovation during her win.

All in all, it was a glorious night, and I’m glad to have been a part of it.  Though, I have to say: as much as I loved the whole Gossip Girl, glamorous side to the Tonys, I definitely missed my annual tradition of yelling at the television screen in my pajamas, bowl of ice cream in hand.  Still, I enjoyed my first time, and will likely never forget it.

So thanks, American Theatre Wing – hopefully you’ll see me up there, someday!