So many choices ... and so many contrasts

TV crew is prep­ping for view­ers, tourists, hash­tags

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Stephen Battaglio

NEW YORK — When a scene from one of Broad­way’s hit mu­si­cals or plays is per­formed on Sun­day’s CBS tele­cast of the 69th Tony Awards, an im­me­di­ate surge of on­line and tele­phone or­ders for tick­ets is al­most guar­an­teed.

The Amer­i­can Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards have al­ways been the tro­phy show with the most di­rect inf lu­ence on the fu­ture busi­ness of its nom­i­nees, but the show’s im­por­tance has in­ten­si­fied as the wa­ter-cooler chat­ter of live TV events now hap­pens in real time, thanks to so­cial me­dia.

Jack Suss­man, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for spe­cials, mu­sic and live events for the net­work, said that has been the pat­tern for awards show view­ing in the In­ter­net era — but it’s even more pro­nounced with the Tonys.

“That mo­ment in time on tele­vi­sion is re­ally im­por­tant for that pro­duc­tion,” Suss­man said while watch­ing the cast of “An Amer­i­can in Paris” re­hearse a Gersh­win med­ley on the stage of Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall, where the cer­e­mony will be held. “Win­ning the Tony makes a big

dif­fer­ence. [Peo­ple] are go­ing to say, ‘When I get to New York, that’s the show I want to see.’ ”

The Tony Awards, watched by just over 7 mil­lion in 2014, do not gen­er­ate the mas­sive au­di­ences of the Academy Awards, the Gram­mys or Golden Globes. Rat­ings had once fallen to a point where the first hour was handed over to PBS to broad­cast. But over the last decade, CBS has com­mit­ted to turn­ing the TV event into a cel­e­bra­tion of Broad­way.

“Yes, it has kind of a niche au­di­ence, but it’s broad­en­ing ev­ery year,” Suss­man said. “[Stars] are com­ing to Broad­way who hadn’t come to Broad­way be­fore. It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of a great year in Amer­i­can theater that al­lows peo­ple who can’t get to Broad­way or haven’t had a chance to get to Broad­way to ba­si­cally see the best of Broad­way in three hours.”

While Broad­way had a strong year at the box of­fice — grosses were up 7.6% to a record $1.36 bil­lion for the 2014-15 sea­son — none of the nom­i­nated shows be­came huge pop cul­ture break­throughs, such as “The Pro­duc­ers” or “The Book of Mor­mon.”

“It’s a strange year, and many of the shows opened up in the last week of el­i­gi­bil­ity,” said Glenn Weiss, who co-pro­duces the show with Ricky Kir­sh­ner. “The chance of peo­ple watch­ing at home hav­ing seen the show is re­ally slim. Some of the shows have only been open five or six weeks at this point.”

The range of nom­i­nees also re­flects the kind of split­per­son­al­ity sea­son that just ended. There are tra­di­tional crowd-pleasers such as the bal­letic “An Amer­i­can in Paris” and the re­vivals of “On the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury” and “The King and I.” There is also newer, edgier fare such as “Fun Home,” a mu­si­cal based on a graphic novel set in a fu­neral home; the Shake­speare-as-rock-star story in “Some­thing Rot­ten!” and “The Visit,” a macabre Kan­der and Ebb work that took nearly 15 years to get to Broad­way.

You can also ex­pect an ap­pear­ance by the de­monic pup­pet from one of the nom­i­nated plays, “Hand to God.”

“It was a full year,” said Broad­way vet­eran Kristin Chenoweth, who is co­host­ing this year’s tele­cast with Alan Cum­ming. “There’s some­thing for ev­ery­one. I think th­ese shows are go­ing to be here for a sec­ond.”

The Tonys show will also fea­ture num­bers from three mu­si­cals not nom­i­nated but still run­ning on Broad­way — “Find­ing Nev­er­land,” “Gigi” and “It Should Have Been You.”

“We de­cided to open the show up to give as much en­ter­tain­ment value as we could and brought other mu­si­cals that are up and run­ning into the tele­cast,” said Suss­man. “They are alive and well on Broad­way, and we wanted to cel­e­brate them.”

Weiss and Kir­sh­ner take a f irm hand in de­cid­ing which mu­si­cal num­ber or play ex­cerpt gets on the air.

“We try to walk in ob­jec- tively and say, ‘If I’m watch­ing this 31⁄ min­utes, is this

2 giv­ing me enough to want to buy a ticket?’ ” Weiss said. “If we feel we’re pre­sent­ing it well enough that peo­ple want to see the show, then we feel like we’ve done some­thing right.”

The tele­cast is “re­ally im­por­tant not only for the busi­ness of Broad­way but also for the in­ter­est in theater,” Weiss added. “We want peo­ple to come to Broad­way, but we also want peo­ple to connect to theater.”

Theater afi­ciona­dos should ap­pre­ci­ate the ef­fort by Chenoweth, who this week has been re­hears­ing at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall dur­ing the day and costar­ring each night in “On the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury” at the Amer­i­can Air­lines Theatre.

“It’s the hard­est thing I’ve ever done,” she said dur­ing a meal break at Fri­day’s re­hearsal. “I’m not quite sure what I was think­ing. But when all is said and done, I’ll be happy. I need sleep.”

Tire­less trouper that she is, you’d think her pa­tience would be tested by hav­ing to come out on stage in an E.T. cos­tume, hav­ing con­fused “phone home” with “Fun Home.”

“It didn’t take much con­vinc­ing,” the diminu­tive diva said. “I fit the cos­tume.”

In­deed, a theme park ca­reer could be a vi­able backup plan to Broad­way, she joked. “I used to work at Opry­land when I was 18,” she said. “So maybe I can go back there when I re­tire.”

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

THE TONY AWARDS gala is sched­uled to take place Sun­day at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall in New York.

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