Putting It Together For PBS: How the First Tony Hour Is Created

Tony Awards   Putting It Together For PBS: How the First Tony Hour Is Created So proud is PBS-TV of carrying live coverage of the first ten Tony Award winners on Sunday, June 4, the broadcast's producers have named the show, "The First 10 Awards: Tonys 2000." As it has since 1997, PBS broadcasts the first hour of the Tonys (8-9 PM, EST), with CBS-TV carrying the remaining two hours. Rosie O'Donnell will host the whole evening, with Nathan Lane serving as co-host for the PBS hour and "special guest" for the CBS broadcast.

So proud is PBS-TV of carrying live coverage of the first ten Tony Award winners on Sunday, June 4, the broadcast's producers have named the show, "The First 10 Awards: Tonys 2000." As it has since 1997, PBS broadcasts the first hour of the Tonys (8-9 PM, EST), with CBS-TV carrying the remaining two hours. Rosie O'Donnell will host the whole evening, with Nathan Lane serving as co-host for the PBS hour and "special guest" for the CBS broadcast.

According to a Thirteen WNET spokesperson, the PBS hour will feature backstage interviews and footage of this season's Broadway productions, as well as the following awards: Direction (Play and Musical), Choreography, Original Score, Book of a Musical, Costume Design, Scenic Design, Orchestration, Lighting Design and Regional Theater (already announced as the Utah Shakespearean Festival).

Jac Venza and Jeff Folmsbee are co-executive producers of the PBS broadcast, with documentary sequences produced by Mark Mannucci.

Asked when the process begins for putting together the PBS broadcast, Mannucci told Playbill On-Line (May 31), "We start in mid-March to think about what our show will look like, and how we're gonna tell the stories... The toughest part is trying to edit these stories in a way that makes you want to root for these nominees and learn from them. Even so, we don't know what the show will look like till the nominations are announced, May 8."

Added co-executive producer Folmsbee, "It's like a haiku; you're compressing the work of a season into a series of short packages." Both Folmsbee and Mannucci work in the culture and arts department at Channel 13, Folmsbee creating and producing "City Arts," which morphed into the current arts show, "EGG." Both series covered the arts across America, with regular stories on theater year round. "We've been covering the theater for five years," Folmsbee told Playbill On-Line, "using a cinema verite approach. That's how we got this gig [the Tonys]. In the months before the Tonys, we did segments on Arthur Miller's The Price, Julie Taymor and The Green Bird, and David Mamet at the Atlantic. There was also a show about experimental theatre and `fringier' work. The theatre's our beat.

"Our opinion of a show doesn't come into play," stressed Folmsbee. "We showcase what's great on Broadway and translate that to television. `How can I make that look good on TV? How can I capture that moment?' We see every eligible show and make notes on how to clip it in case it gets nominated... We try to respond to the material, which is: excellence on Broadway. We'll see the designers sketching, the choreographers working on the dance. It makes theatre more accessible to the world."

For all the clips and documentary-style sequences in the hour, the heart of the upcoming broadcast will be live. "We have Rosie [O'Donnell] and [Nathan] Lane as co-hosts of the PBS broadcast," said Folmsbee. "They're amazing comic presences, good on their feet, which gives us much more live material. They'll open with a live musical number, and Nathan will remain a presence throughout our show.

"We work very closely with [CBS co-executive producer] Walter Miller. It's a three-hour ceremony covered by two networks, so if we didn't constantly call each other, help each other out, we'd be lost. We're on the phone ten times a day."

And rather than sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labors during the actual broadcast, both Folmsbee and Mannucci have to be on-the-spot until the show's over. "It's an extremely urgent, sweaty process," Folmsbee said of running the PBS hour. "You have to respond to how long the speeches are going. The whole game is to run exactly 8 hours, 56 minutes and 46 seconds, and you can only predict so much. We prepare for no-shows and other things by doing different versions of different documentaries. So Mark is in the truck working during the show; I'm backstage at the producers' table talking to Nathan and Rosie as they come off, telling them when to stretch a little, when to go faster. And through it all, you try to keep it funny. If somebody trips and falls, you go with it. To an extent, we're making it up as we go along."

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The 54th annual Tony Awards ceremony will take place at newly renovated Radio City Music Hall. (Host O'Donnell recently responded to the New York Post about its report that a longish opening number was causing a time crunch for the CBS show; she promised to have the show on-time and not sacrifice any nominee's musical number -- thus avoiding last year's controversy over It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues.)

Among the stars scheduled to appearing at the Tonys, either as presenters or in other capacities, will be Kelsey Grammar (Macbeth), Susan Lucci, Bernadette Peters, Jane Krakowski (Grand Hotel), Kathie Lee Gifford, Jesse L. Martin, Jack Wagner (Jekyll and Hyde), Carol Burnett, John McDaniel (presenting the award for Best Orchestrations), Christine Lahti and Megan Mullalley. Kristin Chenoweth, late of Epic Proportions and last year's You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, will present two or three of the design awards, according to a PBS spokesperson. Lane will join her in one or more of those presentations.

Production numbers scheduled for the CBS broadcast include:

Contact -- highlights from scene three, featuring Boyd Gaines and that Girl in the Yellow Dress, Deborah Yates.
James Joyce's The Dead -- Stephen Bogardus and Blair Brown will sing "Parnell's Plight." (Bogardus took over for original cast member Christopher Walken shortly before The Dead closed.)
Swing! -- Ann Hampton Callaway and Laura Benanti lead the ensemble in a medley.
The Wild Party -- Mandy Patinkin, Eartha Kitt and Toni Collette take part in a medley.
Jesus Christ Superstar -- the ensemble perform "Superstar" and "Gethsemane."
Kiss Me, Kate -- the ensemble do "Too Darn Hot."
The Music Man -- Craig Bierko leads the troupe in Seventy-Six Trombones."

As for nominated Best Plays, those, too, will be recognized on the broadcast, though it's unclear how at this point. Previous showcases have included reenacting brief scenes, showing video clips, and last year's poorly-received piecing together of dialogue from various plays into a word collage.

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In other Tony news, at a meeting on May 24, the Tony Awards Administrative Committee voted to create a new award category, entitled "Special Theatrical Event." The new heading is meant to encompass shows which do not easily fit into the best play, musical and revival categories. The ruling takes effect in the 2000-01 season.

"With many new forms of entertainment being produced on Broadway, the Committee felt the current categories were not sufficient to address the changes we are seeing in the theatre," said Roy A. Somlyo, president of the American Theatre Wing -- which co-produces the Tony broadcast with the League of American Theatres and Producers -- in a statement.

"This new approach allows apples to be compared with apples," added Jed Bernstein, president of the League. "Shows that have a non-traditional aesthetic can now be evaluated in an appropriate manner."

As usual with the Tonys, the 2000 nominating process inspired many arguments within the theatre community as to which shows should be included in which categories. The most heated arguments surrounded Contact, which was deemed a new musical, though it does not possess an original score or one singing cast member. In other debate engendering categorizations, the dance revue Riverdance: On Broadway was called a musical, and Squonk was declared ineligible as play or musical.

Additionally, the Tonys have for many years wrestled with the problem of how to treat such one-person entertainments as Dame Edna -- The Royal Tour and Jackie Mason's many evenings of stand-up material. Typically, the show is awarded a special Tony, as Dame Edna was this year.

Conceivably, the introduction of the "Special Theatrical Event" category could, in 2001, see shows as different as Dame Edna, Contact and Riverdance competing with one another.

In other news, the Tony Administration Committee admitted Studio 54 as an eligible Broadway theatre. The number of Tony houses thus rises to 38.

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On May 8, Tony nominations for the 1999-2000 Broadway season were announced at Sardi's restaurant by Bebe Neuwith and Kelsey Grammer. The annual Tony Brunch at Sardi's restaurant was held May 17.

Here are the 1999-2000 Tony Award nominees:

Best Direction Of A Play :
Michael Blakemore, Copenhagen
James Lapine, Dirty Blonde
David Leveaux, The Real Thing
Matthew Warchus, True West

Best Direction Of A Musical :
Michael Blakemore, Kiss Me, Kate
Lynne Taylor Corbett, Swing!
Susan Stroman, The Music Man
Susan Stroman, Contact

Best Choreography:
Kathleen Marshall, Kiss Me, Kate
Susan Stroman, Contact
Susan Stroman, The Music Man
Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Swing!

Best Original Score:
Elton John, Tim Rice, Aida
Shaun Davey, Richard Nelson, James Joyce's The Dead
Michael John LaChiusa, Marie Christine
Michael John LaChiusa, The Wild Party

Best Book of a Musical:
John Weidman, Contact
Richard Nelson, James Joyce's The Dead
Michael John LaChuisa, Marie Christine
Michael John LaChuisa and George C. Wolfe, The Wild Party

Best Costume Design :
Bob Crowley, Aida
Constance Hoffman, The Green Bird
William Ivey Long, The Music Man
Martin Pakledinaz, Kiss Me, Kate

Best Scenic Design :
Bob Crowley, Aida
Thomas Lynch, The Music Man
Robin Wagner, Kiss Me, Kate
Tony Walton, Uncle Vanya

Best Orchestrations:
Doug Besterman, The Music Man
Don Sebesky, Kiss Me, Kate
Jonathan Tunick, Marie Christine
Harold Wheeler, Swing!

Best Lighting Design :
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, The Wild Party
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Marie Christine
Peter Kaczorowski, Kiss Me, Kate
Natasha Katz, Aida

Special Regional Theatre Tony
Winner: Utah Shakespearean Festival, Cedar City, UT.

[NOTE: The following awards will be given during the CBS broadcast]

Best Revival of a Musical:
Kiss Me, Kate
The Music Man
Jesus Christ Superstar
Tango Argentino

Best Revival of a Play:
Amadeus
Moon for the Misbegotten
The Real Thing
The Price

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play:
Gabriel Byrne, A Moon for the Misbegotten
Stephen Dillane, The Real Thing
Philip Seymour Hoffman, True West
John C. Reilly, True West
David Suchet, Amadeus

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play :
Jayne Atkinson, Rainmaker
Jennifer Ehle, The Real Thing
Rosemary Harris, Waiting in the Wings
Cherry Jones, A Moon for the Misbegotten
Claudia Shear, Dirty Blonde

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical :
Craig Bierko, The Music Man
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kiss Me, Kate
George Hearn, Putting It Together
Mandy Patinkin, The Wild Party
Christopher Walken, James Joyce's The Dead

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:
Toni Collette, The Wild Party
Heather Headley, Aida
Rebecca Luker, The Music Man
Audra McDonald, Marie Christine
Marin Mazzie, Kiss Me, Kate

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play :
Kevin Chamberlin, Dirty Blonde
Daniel Davis, Wrong Mountain
Roy Dotrice, A Moon for the Misbegotten
Derek Smith, The Green Bird
Bob Stillman, Dirty Blonde

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play :
Blair Brown, Copenhagen
Frances Conroy, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan
Amy Ryan, Uncle Vanya
Helen Stenborg, Waiting in the Wings
Sarah Woodward, The Real Thing

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical :
Michael Berresse, Kiss Me, Kate
Boyd Gaines, Contact
Michael Mulheren, Kiss Me, Kate
Stephen Spinella, James Joyce's The Dead
Lee Wilkof, Kiss Me, Kate

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical:
Laura Benanti, Swing!
Ann Hampton Callaway, Swing!
Eartha Kitt, The Wild Party
Deborah Yates, Contact
Karen Ziemba, Contact

Best Play:
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn
Dirty Blonde by Claudia Shear
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan by Arthur Miller
True West by Sam Shepard

Best Musical:
Contact
James Joyce's The Dead
Swing!
The Wild Party

Special Lifetime Achievement Tony
Winner: T. Edward Hambleton, founder of the Phoenix Theatre.

Excellence in Theatre
Winner: Actress Eileen Heckart.

Special Awards
Winners: Encores! at City Center & agent Sylvia Herscher.

Shows with multiple nominations:
Kiss Me, Kate: 12
The Music Man: 8
The Wild Party: 7
Contact: 7
Swing!: 6
Aida: 5
Dirty Blonde: 5
James Joyce's The Dead: 5
Marie Christine: 5
The Real Thing: 5
A Moon for the Misbegotten: 4
True West: 4
Copenhagen: 3
Amadeus: 2
The Green Bird: 2
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan: 2
Uncle Vanya: 2
Waiting in the Wings: 2

-- By David Lefkowitz
and Murdoch McBride, Robert Simonson