Glenn Weiss, the Emmy Award-winning director who has been responsible for the Tony Awards broadcast since 2001, doesn't mince words when talking about this annual celebration of Broadway's best: "The Tonys really are an incredibly big machine."
Weiss and his multiple-Emmy-winning partner, producer Ricky Kirshner, said that machine doesn't run just from the nominee announcements at the end of April to the show itself in early June. For Weiss, Kirshner and their award-winning team, that machine keeps spinning all year round.
Make sure to follow us on social media for all of our awards season coverage. The 2015 Tony Awards — hosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming — will be broadcast on Sunday, June 7, 2015 (8-11 PM ET/PT time delay) on CBS, live from Radio City Music Hall in NYC. For information, photos, videos, and more, go to TonyAwards.com.
Weiss and Kirshner are co-executive producers of the Tony telecast, as well as partners in the company White Cherry Entertainment. White Cherry has won a stunning eight Emmys for producing the Tony telecast over the past 10 years. Weiss and writer Dave Boone have each won Emmys on their own too, Weiss for directing and Boone for his scripts. The work for a broadcast from Radio City Music Hall actually begins, they all say, the morning after its predecessor has aired. Boone said, "It's a year-long process because you've got to think about what you just did and how to make things different while things are still fresh in your mind."
Beyond this, there's the fact that the new season sometimes begins just days after one year's awards show (witness Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, which opened just two days after the Tonys aired in 2011). What follows is ten months of theatregoing, as the men develop what Weiss describes as "a sense of the season and a sense of the pulse of what's going on in the community."
As the year progresses, all three begin — like the rest of the industry — to prognosticate about what the nominations might be, but as Weiss points out: "You're not an odds-maker. You can kind of hedge your bets on certain things that might come along." Kirshner adds, with a laugh, "We're usually 50 percent wrong, trying to guess in February. So we let it all shake out in April."
It's at this juncture that the trio marshal sizable teams to start what Weiss describes as "a graceful blending of two different art forms... We've got departments [of TV people] that interface with their counterparts on Broadway." For Kirshner and Weiss, they work closely with the creative teams from each nominated musical to select what numbers will be performed during the broadcast.
As they point out, it can be a tricky proposition. "Some things work better in the context of the show than they do on TV. And sometimes, if you haven't seen the show, the number that works best for the show won't work on TV. We try to help them figure out what works best for the three or three-and-a-half minutes that they get, going to an audience in America that, probably, has not seen their show."
Paramount for them is staging the excerpts from each nominated show in a way that captures their magic. Interestingly, experiences of producing the broadcast in the smaller Beacon Theatre (when Radio City was otherwise engaged for a Cirque du Soleil show) in 2011 and 2012 provided them with some valuable lessons for presenting musical numbers in the larger house.
Weiss says, "We'd literally photograph sets under different lighting conditions and then in the Beacon, put those photographs into a screen, so that we didn't have to bring all of the scenery on and off. And it's not that we don't want to; it's that we didn't have the space." Weiss says that the technique worked so well "we took back with us to Radio City."
Weiss also points out some additional design sleight of hand necessary to make that mammoth venue function properly for this one evening of reveling in all things Broadway. "Radio City has a 100 foot-wide proscenium, so we build a false Broadway-sized proscenium. That way everything is at the right scale for the actors and the scenic elements." Otherwise, he says, it would appear that the show was filled with "really small people in this really huge stage."
And while Weiss and Kirshner coordinate this aspect of the broadcast, Boone begins crafting the script. "We're working with [the hosts] from the minute they're announced and right up through while we're on the air. Presenters; for the most part, about a week or two before the show, we'll send them their scripts."
Boone's description of the rewriting that happens during the broadcast gives a sense of how immediate this celebration of live theatre can be. "Sometimes it happens in a matter of seconds... There are moments when something wonderful happens on stage," like when someone says something funny or memorable in an acceptance speech, "and you want to comment on it." At the same time, though, the rewriting can have its downside. "There are other times when the show is running long, and you've got to cut speeches down." Alongside such ad hoc changes complex logistical maneuvering of personnel goes on behind the scenes: "There are so many shows performing that even in a huge place like Radio City, we can't facilitate everyone we need to. So," as Kirshner tells it, "all of the casts report to their theatres. They get their costume, makeup, everything there, and then, they're put on a bus, they come to us, at the right time, they're brought in to take part in dress rehearsal in the morning, and they go back to their theatre."
It's the same routine during the broadcast, says Kirshner. "The show that you see on stage, live on television, moving seamlessly, has hundreds of people moving hundreds of people just to make it happen."
The ultimate goal, Weiss, Kirshner and Boone all agree, is to bring the magic of live theatre and the excitement of Broadway to a global audience. Boone, who remembers watching Tony broadcasts as a child, says that he hopes their work will ultimately "inspire somebody to go see a local show, or go to New York and see a show or maybe become a performer or a writer or a director or a lighting guy or something. That is really important to me."
And that's the fuel that keeps the Tony "machine" humming.
Andy Propst is a freelance writer whose book "You Fascinate Me So: The Life and Times of Cy Coleman" was published this spring.