PLAYBILL BACKSTAGE By Starla Smith: Cheek to Cheek in the Tony Press Room

Tony Awards   PLAYBILL BACKSTAGE By Starla Smith: Cheek to Cheek in the Tony Press Room From upper left: Alan Cumming smooches his Tony, Marilu Henner gives a profile, Nathan Lane mugs, Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery play Siamese twins, Jane Seymour draws sighs, Paul Simon and Ednita Nazario show they're good sports -- all for the New York press photography corps (center).

From upper left: Alan Cumming smooches his Tony, Marilu Henner gives a profile, Nathan Lane mugs, Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery play Siamese twins, Jane Seymour draws sighs, Paul Simon and Ednita Nazario show they're good sports -- all for the New York press photography corps (center).


Photographers come together in one room every year on Tony night to snap-to-it for their agencies and various publications. These are the pros, who provide the world with images, but Tony night brings a touch of class to the paparazzi -- clad in black tie, we're on our best behavior.

Backstage at Radio City this year, 27 of us in a very confined space, a 20 by 28 foot converted rehearsal room enclosed by well-worn burgundy velvet curtains to which even Scarlett would have said no. But our hosts did feed us and ply us with champagne -- Tattinger, naturally!

The evening started with the usual complaints about seat assignments. The back row wanted the front row. Those on the flank wanted the center. Like the theater, your seat made the difference for the performance -- two rows, two levels, roughly six men for every woman, a statistic that went unnoticed. Seats were assigned according to the importance of the publications. The best seat in the house, forever and always front row center is usually assigned to the news services. Next are the daily newspapers, and the top photo agencies. Playbill made the middle grouping, slightly to the left.

A monitor was set up to the left, while the center area was reserved like the winner's circle at the horse races. One after another, the winners were lead through for a two-minute photo op. The bottom line was who's coming backstage, and how many times you get them to look directly into your camera. The audio went something like this:

"Natasha! Look to the left."

"Natasha! Look up at the second row."

"Who designed your gown?"

"Could you look at the center just once more?"

"Give us some teeth."

"Look to the right, Miss Richardson, please look at us. Nobody ever looks at us."

"Could you kiss your Tony?"

"Well, just hold it close then."

"Hold your Tony up, but your arm down."

"Turn the medal around."

"Look up here just one more time."

"Do you happen to know the score to the Bulls game?"

In some ways the press room was like a family dinner. People talk about their new babies, try on the earrings, Turn up the monitor. Bet on the winners. Tell each other to hush up.

While history was being made in the theater, we were vying for the best shots.

Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery pretended to be Siamese twins, a la Side Show. Audra McDonald cried. Tom Murphy was overwhelmed with tremors. Nastasha Richardson had a slight attack of vertigo during the final shoot. Marisa Tomei didn't come backstage; neither did Liam Neeson or Rosie O'Donnell.

Annette Bening and Jane Seymour inspired the most lust among the photographers. Angela Lansbury inspired the most respect. John Lithgow inspired the most good humor. Nathan Lane was the funniest and the fastest through the line.

The tackest statements of the evening from my colleagues were:

To one another: "If you want to blow in my ear, wait a little while."

To Terence McNally: You should have brought a cross to stand on."

To the TV monitor: "Hey Rosie, sing, 'God Bless America'."

At the end of the telecast, Tony winners, followed of course by the paparazzi, dispersed to the Tony Supper Ball for 15 minutes or so, then on to their round of parties. But the Beauty Queen winners raised a toast to put it all in perspective. "Here's to the Beauty Queen. In the past two years, we've gone from a tiny theater with a dirt floor in Galaway to a Broadway stage. Here's to the journey and the joy. So now let's go over to O'Lunny's. It's not a party, but you're welcome to join us."

-- By Starla Smith

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