3 Tony Awards Mishaps You Can Never Forget

Seth Rudetsky   3 Tony Awards Mishaps You Can Never Forget
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares backstage stories of past Tony performances gone wrong for Tituss Burgess and more!
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Tituss Burgess Russell Rowland

Happy post-Tony Awards! And happy post-opening night for Disaster!. We have one more week of performances at the Connecticut Repertory Theater and I am loving it! I don’t like reading reviews but I’m posting this one because the headline looked so fabulous! Read it here.

Jack and I are hoping that Disaster! goes to London in the fall of 2019 and wanted to use this production to try out some changes…including adding a mega-mix to the end of the show. The music in the show is so great!! We do “Knock On Wood,” “Saturday Night,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “Sky High,” “I Will Survive,” and “Hot Stuff.” It’s so much fun to perform! As well as completely telling of my lack of cardio strength. In my dressing room right after the megamix, I could barely catch my breath. It’s also the “before” section of a heart medication commercial.

We added a mega mix to @disastermusical and my cardio level is NOT up to snuff!

A post shared by Seth Rudetsky (@sethrudetsky) on

Come see us in Storrs, Connecticut! Tickets here.

Disaster! at Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Disaster! at Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Now that the Tony Awards are over, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite Tony Award mishaps. Do you remember when Tituss Burgess’ body mic didn’t work during his Guys and Dolls performance? A stage hand had to run out during the performance and give him a handheld. Yet, Tituss seems super relaxed during the performance. Turns out, it’s because they always film the dress rehearsal and he figured that was what they were showing to the TV audience. He didn’t know he was on live TV! Regardless, his voice is amazing! Watch!

Audra McDonald always compares the Oscars to the Tony Awards. Oftentimes, interviewers will ask Oscar-nominated actors what they’ve done on the day of the Academy Awards. They always talk about spending the day getting a facial or massage and, no doubt, a high colonic. Broadway actors, however, have a different experience.

They do eight shows during the week, but are also doing morning shows and spending a ton of time at Radio City doing camera blocking. When The Light In The Piazza was up for Best Musical and Victoria Clark was nominated for Best Actress, she did two shows on Saturday then had to wake up at 7 AM so she could rehearse again at Radio City in full costume. Then, out of her costume, she went to the theatre to do the show and got back in costume again. Finished the matinee, out of her costume and got into her glam gown for the red carpet. Got to Radio city, did red carpet then put her costume back on again. When she was backstage she was reviewing the new speech Craig Lucas had written her to start the number. It set up who and where her character was so the at-home audience could understand the show better. Well, as Adam Guettel was making his speech in front of the curtain accepting his Tony, literally seconds before she got onstage, a stagehand told her that her body mic wasn't working and promptly handed her a handheld mic that was twice the size of Bob Barker's. What about her handheld props? How could she carry a mic and her gloves, pocketbook and guidebook? She shoved them all into her other hand and went into a full anxiety attack/shut down mode.

She assumes Kelli O'Hara noticed it across the stage, even though Radio City is the size of a football field, because suddenly Vicki heard Kelli yell "It'll be OK! Don't worry!" Well, that relaxed her enough to walk out onstage and start her newly memorized speech into her microphone while walking forward towards a moving camera and also looking at the stagehand to the side of the camera who was making enormous hand motions. She thought he was telling her that her body mic was still broken. This went on til the ve-e-e-e-ry last moment of the speech where he gave her a big "A-OK" sign (off-camera) and took the microphone away and she immediately started singing into a fully functioning body mic. You have to watch it to see her panicked walking, shifting eyes and last-minute mic trade off. Terrifying/hilarious! Of course, the number sounded beautiful…and the Matt Morrisson hat trick at the end worked!

Then there is my absolute favorite: Judy Kuhn’s performance from Rags. Originally the great Teresa Stratas was going to perform but dropped out a week before the Tony Awards. Judy was asked to sing the title song instead. It was nerve-wracking because she hadn’t sung it since the show closed almost a year before, but she said yes.

Judy was now doing Les Misérables and was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for playing Cosette. Luckily, her category was first. So, she was able to dress up and sit in the audience. Frances Ruffelle wound up winning (for playing Eponine) and Judy wanted to go backstage right afterwards to practice for her Rags appearance.

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Judy Kuhn and Lonny Price in Rags Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

In addition to the long gap of time since the last time she sang the song on Broadway, it was also scary that they had shortened the song for the telecast. They couldn’t decide on the right cut of the song and dropped certain sections during the week and then put them back in until finally they were satisfied. Judy knew she had to review it to remember exactly what was out and what was in. The Tony Awards people told her to stay in her seat and that someone would come get her and take her backstage to get ready. Well, the show kept going and no once came. She didn't know what to do because she didn't really know how long the awards ceremony was. Should she wait? Did she have plenty of time? Was she being neurotic? Finally, she decided she was going to go backstage and prepare even if she was super early. She ran out during a commercial break, terrified the show would begin again and catch her scurrying through the aisles. When she walked backstage someone yelled, "Where have you been!?!?! You're about to be on!" What the — ?

The next thing she knew, she was thrust into a dressing room, thrown into a costume/wig and pushed onstage. She was completely frazzled and had no time to practice the new version of the song. She began it, but one third of the way through she thought, "The orchestra is off!" Then she thought, "Wait...the orchestra is on tape…I'm off!" The late, great Dick Latessa was singing with her and just went along with what she did. Luckily, within four measures she was back on track. And if you watch it, you can't even tell. Unless you realize that she repeats the lyrics "Dreams…you gave me dreams…" twice. Regardless, she gets her complete sass back and her vocal placement at the end of the song is one the most thrilling moments I’ve seen on the Tony Awards. Watch!

Right after that happened, she wanted to ask people backstage if they noticed but she had no time because she again grabbed, taken out of her costume and then thrust into another one to perform “One Day More.”

P.S. The Rags lyric mishap was stressful, but if she hadn’t performed that number she might never gotten her next job. Trevor Nunn had directed Judy in Les Miz and knew her as a soprano only. When he heard her amazing Rags belting he realized she’d be great as Florence and cast her in Chess!.

Peace out and brava to all the winners!

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