What it’s like to watch the Tony Awards from Radio City Music Hall

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I’ve been covering the Tony Awards for years, but I had never set foot in Broadway’s biggest party until this year. When I was offered the last minute opportunity to attend the 75th Annual Tony Awards, I jumped at the chance to experience the awards show first hand. Here’s what it’s like to get ready for the big event without notice, and what it’s like to sit inside Radio City Music Hall.

My invite came just a day before the telecast, so I hastily arranged a trip to the hairdresser and started putting together an outfit. Then horror struck on Tony’s day: I couldn’t find my black dress shoes anywhere. Did I leave them at the hotel on my last trip? Did I accidentally put them in the bag of clothes I gave to Goodwill? Who knows, but it was already 3 p.m. I ran all the way to Manhattan, hysterically begged an Aldos employee to find a shoe that fit me, then drove home to Queens to shower and change. It was pretty much like the huge amount of dancing Hugh Jackman did in “The Music Man” (he didn’t, but I sweated as much as he did), so I considered that frenetic afternoon my “Sunday morning”.

When my car finally arrived, I confidently confirmed to the driver, “I’m heading to the Tony Awards in Radio City!” From the blank, silent stare that formed his response, it clearly meant nothing to him. But at least knew how to take me to Midtown. New York will always keep you humble, I guess.

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Upon entering Radio City Music Hall, the first thing that struck me was the energy in the room. It’s buzzing and electric. Everyone has donned their most expensive and fabulous clothes, they take selfies in the opulent lobby, leaf through their thick collectible Playbills and gaze in wonder at the gilded ceiling of the auditorium which wraps over the audience like a heaven’s embrace. A stage manager’s voice comes through God’s mic at the end of every commercial countdown, asking us to give “a little applause please”, but this crowd of theater people really didn’t no need to be encouraged to start clapping and clapping.

I took my place in the center of the first mezzanine among the members of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, while my partner Chris sang in the tribute to Angela Lansbury, honored for her lifetime achievement. The feeling of seeing someone you love perform on this particular stage, with so much history tied to this city and this industry, makes you want to get out of your skin with excitement. Indeed, the night is full of people who squeal with joy when their friends, colleagues and loved ones take the stage. And it’s contagious. While you can’t catch every whimsical camera angle, the ceremony feels most alive when experienced in person, as everyone attends in support of a person or production.

In addition to encouraging the choir after their performance of “Mame”, I applauded the artists who took the stage, several of whom I had the privilege of interviewing this season. Deirdre O’Connell’s win for Lead Actress in a Play got me especially excited, my hands flying in the air as her name was spoken aloud. My shouts of delight at the recognition of such a unique and “downtown” performance drew stares from my seat neighbors. They clearly hadn’t seen “Dana H.” and I didn’t know why I was losing my mind. (Didi: If you heard the sound of a crazed banshee emanating from the first mezzanine, it was me. Sorry).

It’s remarkable how tightly choreographed the show is, and I’m not just talking about the dance numbers. A production number ends, the scenic elements exit the stage on the left, while a presenter enters on the right, caught by the cameraman who runs across the stage and turns at the right time to ensure that the plot descendant is out of frame. There is not a single second wasted.

SEE Top 7 Tony Awards acceptance speeches: Patti LuPone, Jesse Tyler Ferguson…

Beyond this highly orchestrated magic, true Broadway nerds (like yours truly) will be captivated by the activity during commercial breaks. Nobody’s just sitting around twiddling their thumbs here. We saw a highlight reel of classic Tony performances (Ethel Merman “Gypsy,” by Carol Channing “Hello Dolly!” and Cynthia Erivo “The Color Purple”, among others), the complete presentation of the Isabelle Stevenson Prize to Robert E. Wankela recognition of presence-senator chuck schumer for supporting the arts during the pandemic, and the full speech of the recipient of the Excellence in Theater Education Award Roshunda Jones-Kumba.

Just before Jones-Koumba delivered his speech, the president of Carnegie Mellon University Farnam Jahani incorrectly referred to CMU alum Billy Porter as Billy Idol, prompting laughter from the audience (Laurence Fishburne cheekily brought back this amusing gaffe during Porter’s In Memoriam segment intro, referring to the Tony winner as “the idol for us all”). Jones-Koumba received loud applause from the crowd, having to wait for the cheers to die down to launch into his speech about the power of the arts in black and brown communities.

As the ceremony concluded, people flocked to the halls and orchestra to take photos and offer congratulations, and lucky guests made their way to buses parked outside to take them to the Tony Gala. I wish I had been one of those gala attendees, if only because I was absolutely starving having not eaten since 4:00 p.m. (no snacks or alcohol were served in Radio City, just cups of coffee). water I was swallowing to counteract my suffocating body under my layers of finery). Too tired for an after party; I took selfies with my partner, said LaChanze she looked absolutely fabulous as she twirled her dress down the aisle and headed back to Queens; setting a personal record for “most inter-borough trips in a day”. Our after-party was a private party, hosted by a McDonald’s delivery guy, and otherwise attended only by two tired dogs wondering where the hell we had been. With the thrill of seeing the big Broadway night unfold before my very eyes replaying in my brain, I laid my head on my pillow and dreamed of Tonys.

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