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Inside, Outside, and Underneath the Tony Awards: A Sort-Of Scrapbook

We’ve been watching since we were kids. And last year, we live-tweeted the Tony Awards from The Mick’s apartment in our pajamas. We drank beer and had snacks, and it was fun. But as the show ended, we said, “Next year, we’re going.” Like that was somehow a real thing we could do. Only… This year, we went.

This is what we saw. But also, this is how we saw it.

The Prep

Going to the Tony Awards is like prom night for grownups. You do all the same things you do when you go to the prom: nails, hair, dress. Like the song in Evita. So Christian Dior-me. Because even when you’re just covering the show, there’s a sense that you need to look as good as the show, even though you’re working and not really celebrating. Or you’re doing both. It’s a strange line to walk. Not that we’re complaining, though. Because who doesn’t want to get all gussied up and fussed over for a morning? Even if that means you’re working frantically in your dress the second before you have to leave.

Prep Montage

The Carpet

In the taxi on the way over, we wanted to vomit. From nerves, from excitement, from the knowledge that we were going to see Jeremy Jordan in a suit very soon.

After we checked in, we were each escorted to our clearly marked places—one of us with the photographers and one of us with the writers. The pen where all the photographers have been placed was a pit of insanity. At first everyone seemed so calm, chummy, and willing to stick to their spot and abide by the rules. And as Roger Rees and Rick Elice proceeded down the carpet, that holds, probably because no one knows who they are. I was beside hardened news photographers, after all. This was decidedly not about theater for them. This was about the money shot. Their living depended on it.

Pretty soon, everything changed. Rivalries became clear, there was some infighting, some sniping at press agents. Mostly, though, there was just shouting. A wall of sound that roars out through the camera-flash-wall of light. Steve, look here. Sheryl, up to your right. To your right. RIGHT HERE! Andrew, second row. No your other left. Jeremy! Jeremy! Jeremy! Jeremy!

And when someone truly famous arrived, all bets were off. The fight for the shot turned into an actual fight. Velvet ropes tumbled and photographers spilled onto the carpet before they could catch themselves; the line between us and them breaking open for just a second.


Mandy Patinkin_a
I asked Mandy Patinkin a question. He didn’t hear me at first and I had to repeat it. And when he did hear me, he said, “Yes, dear.” And the way that he said that, it was like he was talking to his daughter. Kind of sweet and protective. And for the first time in my life, it occurred to me that I’m young enough to actually be his daughter. I had never considered this once – not in my living room as a fifteen-year-old, watching the VHS of Sunday in the Park; not listening to the cast recording of The Secret Garden – that Mandy Patinkin is actually old enough to be my father. To me, Mandy is kind of frozen in time. He’s Che. He’s George. He is up there somewhere, someone I’m watching on a stage. And for half a second in time, he called me “dear.”


Jeremy Jordan Montage
When Jeremy Jordan arrived, he looked more beautiful and beaming than ever—with the perfect subtle texture to his suit, the crispest bow tie of human times around his neck—fiancée Ashley Spencer on his arm. Except, it seemed like Jeremy had maybe forgotten that this was his night, his Tony Nomination, his story. Or maybe he just wasn’t comfortable with any of it. Couldn’t conceive that the shouting was supposed to be about him. Proceeding down the line of photographers, Jeremy kept stepping out of the spotlight. Posing for a second and then standing aside as if he were just the doting date, not the actual star. Photographers shouted for him to turn, to pose, to be the picture. “Take pictures of her,” he kept saying, in one way or another, gesturing toward his perfectly poised fiancée, “She’s prettier.”


Turns out the aforementioned shouting of the photographers was not just reserved for the actors/actresses/general famous people. Their spouses and dates were subject to the insanity, too. Laura Osnes’ husband Nathan Johnson was a champ, smiling so proudly it looked like his face might fall off, as he stood happily off to the side and let his lady shine. Alan Menken’s wife heard her name screamed down at her, almost as much as Alan heard his. And then there was David Alan Grier, whose date looked fantastic, but had no name. None that the photographers knew at least. At one point, a photographer shouted at David to get his “wife” in the picture. Gamely, David grabbed his date and joked with her through grin-clenched teeth, “I guess you’re my wife now.”


Jax Maxwell
Jan Maxwell knew she wasn’t going to win. You could tell. It was in the swaggering hang of her beautiful shoulders, in the toss of her head. She seemed both resigned and totally confident – a look that works on her. And God, that dress. She knew she looked damn good in that dress, too.


A photographer asked Laura Osnes to turn around, so they could get a shot of her back. And it is a gorgeous back, utterly worth making the girl take a minute to turn around. When she did, about a quarter-inch of her bra was showing above the line of her peacock-green frock. And she laughed and shimmied and put herself back into it, and her husband just beamed and stepped forward, maybe to like… cover her up. Or help, as if he could.


Matt Morrison
You knew when Matt Morrison arrived instantly because the fans across the street began shrieking like banshees. Only minutes behind Ben Vereen and John Stamos—who had both defied the traffic on Amsterdam to cross over to say hello to the fans—beautiful, stubbly Matt Morrison behaved like a big star too. Only he trumped Vereen and Stamos both, not just crossing to stop with a fan or two, but sprinting down the barricade high-fiving everyone in a line. The crowd went wild. The police seemed slightly less enamored.


The Show

During the telecast, the press room was weirdly quiet and subdued. Half of the reporters were hooked up to headsets, listening to what’s happening on TV, while others asked questions of the winners, who were brought in while they were still holding their trophies. It was all very polite. No one asked Audra how it felt to make history. Judith Light talked about selling her jewelry on HSN. Alan Menken reminded everyone that he’s still an Emmy away from EGOT. The applause was polite, sometimes nonexistent. We were two blocks away from the real show, after all.


Inside the photo room, we were organized into labeled seats and left to our own devices to set up and raid the buffet and wait. Wait for the winners to be announced, wait for them to get from the theater down the block up to the Jewish Community Center where we were stationed. Wait for them to finish whatever other room they were in first—one-on-one video interviews, bloggers, the press room.

When the waiting was over, there was chaos again for a second. Calling people’s names and pushing forward and battling for the shot. Complaining if people moved too fast or too slow or stood to close to the seam between step and repeat backdrops.

But this time, we had winners on our hands. People were damn happy to be there, to be blinded and shouted at and memorialized in this moment, forever.

Paloma Young

Paloma Young is a costume designer, so she clearly had the most beautiful dress of the night. That’s sort of expected, if you’re the costume designer. You have something to live up to. Though backstage, she said she didn’t design her own dress for the Tonys. She bought it. Which kind of makes sense. The Tonys are a party, not your job. In her acceptance speech, when she thanked her dad for allowing to have great adventures, we wanted to be her friend. OK, we wanted to be her friend anyway, before she even said that, because look at that green dress. But still.


Christian Borle Montage
It felt like forever waiting for Christian Borle to arrive. I was practically bouncing in my seat, constantly checking the door, knowing at any minute after he won he could arrive, not realizing he had to stay at the theater and perform first. When he did arrive, Borle was as cute as expected, and charming to boot. I fired that camera like I was afraid to let go of the shutter, like if I did he would disappear. Of note? There is true hilarity in listening to people shout PUT IT NEAR YOUR FACE over and over and over at another human being.


Hugh Jackman
Then there was Hugh Jackman. When he walked into the room… I can’t… there is nothing to compare it to. The photographers roared, shouting for his attention until it was so out of control a Press Rep shouted back at us, telling us to shut up. It was so fervent and loud, Lucky heard it from the other room. When he left, instantly it was over, and half the room fell into a full swoon. One photographer even commenting on how beautiful Jackman looked with his wife, zooming in on the pictures of them smooching, wondering aloud if there was anyone anywhere on earth who didn’t love Jackman. No one argued.


Kazee & Corden Montage

Finally, FINALLY, “the four” entered the room. That’s what they kept calling them, all the leading actors and actresses: The Four. There were cute group shots and serious group shots and then they broke off into pairs, boys together and girls together, taking turns on each side of the room. Watching James Corden and Steve Kazee from across the room—because what else would I be doing when Steve Kazee is in the room?—I saw Corden lean up and whisper something to Kazee and I knew instantly that something good was about to happen. Suddenly, Kazee and Corden began ‘laughing’ maniacally, like the happiest crazy people you’ve ever met (or vice versa). Photographic gold? I think so. Also golden? Their real giggles afterward, and the lovely posed shot I captured next.


The thing that made me love Steve Kazee even more was when he’d just won, and he stepped into the press room, and he acknowledged that his mother’s death was a fundamentally personal thing, and that no one – not one of us – were obligated to care about it. But she died too soon, he said. And he got to say her name on TV, and that he was her son. And that’s what was important to him.


Audra McDonald
In the press room, there was a journalist who’d gone to the same arts school in Fresno as Audra McDonald, and he told her so. And she seemed so happy and shocked by that. It turned into a whole other side conversation, this moment between these two people. There was a teacher that the man mentioned, and he said, “Well, she hated me.” And Audra laughed and said, “She hated me, too.” Then Audra asked when he’d graduated. “Oh,” she said. “God, You’re so much younger than me.”


The Aftermath

By the time we arrived at the End of the Rainbow bash, we were so hungry that we were shaking. They provide food in the press room, but neither of us had the wherewithal to eat any of it. In the last moments before the press room closed, The Mick handed me a glass of water. That’s pretty much all I had all night, until the party. When Michael Cumpsty arrived, everyone howled and applauded. Same for Tracie Bennett, who wore glorious pink Thakoon and said she was sick and tired of people who came up to her acting all apologetic that she’d lost.

Then we went to the Carlyle. It was sticky and impossibly crowded with beautiful people and every time we moved we were convinced we were going to knock over some priceless art. If the art was priceless, that is. Frankly, we don’t know. Everything just seemed so nice. And smelled distinctly of Diptyque Baies candles, which were burning on almost every surface. In other words, this was the party of our dreams. In fact, we’d be certain we’d dreamt it all up if it weren’t for the photos. It happened. Right down to the broken glass on the carpet in the room below. We stayed until sunrise lit Central Park up outside the windows, because… wouldn’t you?

Party Montage

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