A Tony Manager For All Seasons: Roy A. Somlyo

Tony Awards   A Tony Manager For All Seasons: Roy A. Somlyo
 
From the Special Tony Playbill:

From the Special Tony Playbill:

THE MANAGING PRODUCER OF THE TONY® AWARDS DISCUSSES HIS MULTIPLE RESPONSIBILITIES

For 30 years Roy A. Somlyo has been a major force in the annual production of the Tony Awards telecast, while at the same time enjoying a successful career as a Broadway producer and manager. He has been involved with the gala event since its first network telecast in 1967.

His titles and responsibilities have changed during the years, from Associate Producer to Co-Producer to Executive Producer, and now, to Managing Producer. In his tidy quarters atop the Sardi Building, he modestly displays his two Emmy Awards as co-producer of "The Tony Awards" and "Night of 100 Stars."

The lauded Tony Award telecast is a two-hour spectacular, but the preparations for it require a year's painstaking work. Asked what his responsibilities are as Managing Producer, Somlyo replies, "I think of myself as the glue that holds the Tony Awards together. I touch base with all the departments as well as the network."

He has negotiated contract deals through the years. "The current one with CBS is a five-year contract, which has four more years to go," he explains. "I also relate to the sponsors by helping the network get and keep them. That means coming up with an attractive marketing concept that will tie us together. But what is most time-consuming is my relationship with the telecast executive producer, Gary Smith.

"Our relationship is one of those storybook kinds. We work so well together, even though he's based on the West Coast and I'm in New York. There will be days when we make 15 phone calls, and then two weeks can go by with none. I think he's the best. We solve each other's problems. His producer/director, Walter Miller, has been with us for ten years. He is simply terrific. And Ricky Kirshner, executive in charge of production, is an efficient joy to work with."

Then there are the union deals involved with the telecast. "Every union asks for a one-year deal," Somlyo says, "whether it's Equity, the Musicians' Union, the stagehands, the hair stylists, or all the others. I have to handle all that, plus the financial aspects of the show. The telecast producer submits a budget to us, which our committee must approve. There are all kinds of marketing deals. I make the arrangements with Continental Airlines to provide transportation, with Kobrand products for their wines and Taittinger champagne, and with the Marriott Marquis Hotel for lodging and use of their ballroom." The telecast is distributed internationally by The Freemantle Corporation, a company Somlyo has used from the onset.

Another area which can be delicate is the matter of requests for tapes of the Tony telecast or excerpts from it. "Under certain circumstances I issue a license for the use of material and am pleased that the Tonys are getting the exposure," Somlyo explains.

A vast number of theatrical leaders combine their expertise to make the awards telecast a memorable occasion. These include Isabelle Stevenson, president of the American Theatre Wing and her staff; and Cy Feuer, president of The League of American Theatres and Producers and his diligent staff, now headed by the energetic new executive director, Jed Bernstein; Keith Sherman Associates, public relations firm for the Awards; Sandra Hance and Jim Woolley, who handle ticket sales and seating for the theatre and the supper ball afterwards; Lutz and Carr, the accounting firm that sends ballots to voters; and renowned producer Robert Whitehead, who serves as artistic consultant.

At the core of the Tony Awards are the three committees who make all the decisions. The Tony Management Committee, comprised of five Wing and five League members, meets at least once a month and has the overall responsibility for all aspects of the awards. The Administration Committee is composed of ten Wing and ten League members, four members of crafts organizations and numerous alternates. Annually, this committee reexamines the rules by which the Tonys are awarded and effects changes that it feels are needed. The Administration Committee determines who is eligible for what awards and who should receive a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement, who should receive a Tony honor and which regional theatre should receive a special Tony based upon a recommendation from the American Theatre Critics Association.

One of the Administration Committee's most important duties is the selection of a Nominating Committee of 14-17 distinguished theatre-oriented individuals without a conflict of interest, who meet in early May to decide on nominations in all categories. The Committee members strive to see all Broadway productions of the season in order to be comprehensive in their nominations.

Somlyo oversees the Nominating Committee, which meets two or three times a year. "We've had to make some important changes," he admits. "For example, the Nominating Committee used to meet on the morning of Nominating Day in order to announce the results that afternoon. But because of delays in the voting process one year, the media was kept waiting, and that was unfortunate. Now, the Committee meets at 4 PM Sunday, and the announcement is made at 8:30 AM the following morning. You couldn't get a better group of nominators than we have. They're wonderful. They take their jobs seriously."

Of ultimate importance to the Awards are the voters (approximately 720 this year). These include persons on the opening-night press list, League members, Wing board members, boards of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Actors' Equity Association, the Dramatists Guild, the United Scenic Artists and certain members of the Casting Society of America.

The Administration Committee makes or amends the rules. For a long time Somlyo felt that producers were delaying invitations to Tony voters to see their shows until the last minute, feeling that a voter was more likely to vote for a production they had just seen. "What was happening," he says, "was that our voters were forced to see shows every night of the week. I finally got a rule a few years ago that a producer must invite Tony voters within 16 weeks after the show opened. That heightens the chance that voters will see the show's original cast instead of replacements who are not eligible for a Tony nomination and also spaces the voters attending shows. This rule seems to be working."

One of the difficulties every year is finding a theatre for the Tony telecast. "It's a very complex situation," Somlyo admits. "So many factors must be taken into consideration. It's always easier when a large theatre is dark, but as Broadway continues to thrive, our job gets more difficult. But as long as we have such creative talents putting on the telecast, we have been able to turn what might have been a disaster in other hands into a triumph over adversity."

Reflecting on his 30 years with the Tony Awards, Somlyo concludes that the times have changed and so have the Tonys. "In the beginning," he recalls, "the show was an hour, then it went to 90 minutes, then three hours, now it's two hours. Then, there's the matter of TV's technical progress‹simple productions are no longer in fashion. All the TV award shows have gotten more elaborate and so have Broadway productions‹with helicopters landing onstage and chandeliers plunging over the audience's heads. The Tony Awards telecast is more disciplined now. We don't do themes anymore‹you can't devote a great deal of time to a cute theme in two hours, present 21 awards, showcase the best of Broadway and entertain a global audience. We have to keep pace with what's happening on TV."

"I know our ratings are not as high as the Oscars or the Grammys," Somlyo admits, "but we're considered a quality show. You only have to reflect on the high profile of the Broadway theatregoer‹socially and economically‹to understand the quality of our sponsors: Cadillac, Merrill Lynch, Clairol, AT&T, etc. I am genuinely proud to have been a part of the Tony Awards telecasts for the past 30 years. They are truly a class act."

-- By Louis Botto

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