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Tony Awards: Secrets From Inside the Room — And the After-Parties

Variety logo Variety 6/12/2017 Gordon Cox
© Provided by Variety

About six million people watched the Tony Awards Sunday night on CBS — but a live audience of only about 6,000 caught the show from inside the room itself. Here’s what you missed if you weren’t sitting in Radio City Music Hall.

Kevin Spacey skipped the commercial-break shtick.

In previous years, much-liked hosts, including James Corden and Hugh Jackman, have kept their live audience warm by engaging in goofy, charming shtick with the crowd during the telecast’s frequent, lengthy commercial breaks. Not so with Spacey — and that didn’t help the mood in the room much when his work onstage began to disappoint. The significant downtime also allowed audience members the freedom to get up and shmooze in the aisles — to the dismay of telecast producers, who pleaded with Tony-goers to return to their seats.

The Bidens blew the roof off.

With audience enthusiasm waning throughout the proceedings, Jill Biden got one of the biggest roars of the evening when she took the stage to make a pitch for the industry’s Got Your Six campaign to support military veterans. She and her husband, former Vice President Joe Biden, had already earned an explosive cheer when they were introduced during the pre-telecast portion of the show, and at the Tony Awards’ official after-party, there was a huge traffic jam in the Plaza Hotel food court as partygoers clamored to get a selfie with the Veep.

The standing O for Ben was somewhat more sweeping than Bette’s.

You could tell “Dear Evan Hansen” was a crowd favorite from right out of the gate, when a cheer erupted as a snippet of an “Evan Hansen” song played during the orchestra’s pre-telecast overture. When that musical’s star, Ben Platt, earned the leading actor in a musical trophy that pundits predicted he would, the whole room leapt to its feet to salute him. When Bette Midler won her own much-anticipated trophy for her work in “Hello, Dolly!,” most of the room stood — but there were noticeable pockets of the orchestra where audience members stayed in their seats. It’s not clear that there’s something to be gleaned from that discrepancy — after all, the night was long, the room was stuffy, and everyone had just stood for Platt — but it seemed possible that Midler didn’t win by quite the landslide that Platt did.

Scribes were the subjects of well-reviewed video tributes during commercial breaks.

In a ceremony that didn’t get much acclaim from revelers at the after-parties, there was one new element that looked like a success. For the first time, the Tonys trotted out the playwrights themselves to introduce their own plays. All four writers acquitted themselves admirably (even if it was the first time reading from a teleprompter for some of them, including Lynn Nottage). During the commercial breaks prior to the broadcast speeches, the writers were the subject of classy video segments that only the live audience saw.

The NYPD got some love.

The police force assigned to the Times Square blocks that make up Broadway become just as much a part of a show’s life as its cast and crew — especially if you’re a show like “Hamilton” that needs serious crowd control. During the pre-telecast awards, lifetime achievement honoree James Earl Jones took a moment to thank New York’s finest “for assisting us at our backstage doors every night.”

Rachel Bay Jones melted hearts.

The live audience united in a universal “awwww” during the acceptance speech of Rachel Bay Jones, who won a supporting actress Tony for “Dear Evan Hansen.” First there was the sweet story about her grandmother selling her engagement ring so Jones could pursue acting, and then the kicker was her tribute to a daughter “who sacrificed having me around for so many bedtimes so I could be up here doing what I love.” The minute the daughter showed up on the big screens in the auditorium, the crowd melted.

“Dear Evan Hansen” partygoers got striped blue polos.

A couple of hours after “Dear Evan Hansen” won the top Tony, the place to be was the show’s rooftop after-party at the Empire Hotel. The show’s creative team, including songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and book writer Steven Levenson, whooped it up with friends and family, and there was color-coordinated candy (in the show’s signature shades of blue) for guests to munch. On the way out, each partygoer received a nicely boxed blue polo that matched the one worn by Platt in the show. Rumor had it that the producers had originally had the shirts made to send to Tony voters during the awards campaign, but ultimately decided it might be too much.

The Carlyle was the night’s finish line.

Since it was launched almost a decade ago, the after-party thrown at the Carlyle Hotel by Broadway press office O&M Co. (now officially DKC/O&M, since the company was acquired by DKC) has become the unofficial finish line of the night. By 3 a.m., everyone from Spacey to Glenn Close to Darren Criss to Olivia Wilde were chilling in the lobby bar or trying to cram into the multi-floor suite booked on the 22nd floor.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

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