The 70th annual Tony Awards, named in honor of the 30s and 40s actress/producer/director Antoinette Perry and co-presented by the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League, will telecast live from the Beacon Theater on CBS from 8–11 PM. There’ll be the traditional red carpet arrivals, and an additional hour, not telecast, for honorary and design awards.

This year’s Tonys will feature performances from the Tony-nominated Best Musicals and Best Revivals. The telecast will feature a not-to-be missed performance by Gloria Estefan and the cast of On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. Tony nominees on hand to entertain will be Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski of She Loves Me; Alex Brightman and the cast of School of Rock; Danielle Brooks, Cynthia Erivo, and the cast of The Color Purple; Danny Burstein and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof; Carmen Cusack and the Bright Star company; Brandon Victor Dixon, Adrienne Warren, and cast of Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed; Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, and Daveed Diggs of Hamilton; Jessie Mueller, Christopher Fitzgerald, and the cast of Waitress: and cast members of Spring Awakening.

Also appearing will be Uzo Aduba, Cate Blanchett, Claire Danes, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Hayes, James Earl Jones, Daniel Dae Kim, Carole King, Diane Lane, Nathan Lane, Angela Lansbury, Lucy Liu, (Tony nominees) Steve Martin and Edie Brickell (Bright Star), Marlee Matlin, Audra McDonald: Patina Miller, Andrew Rannells, Saoirse Ronan, Barbra Streisand, Blair Underwood, and Oprah Winfrey.

The 70th Annual Tony Awards begin at 5:30 P.M. on with live Red Carpet coverage, followed by the Behind-the-Scenes Show complementing the telecast, airing live on CBS from 8 P.M/7c (delayed PT) – 11 P.M, from the Beacon Theater. Hosting will be Tony winner James Corden (host of CBS’s “Late, Late Show”), who’ll certainly bring along his favorite catch phrases -- The incredible! The beautiful! The magnificent! The sensational!

Check, hosted by IBM, where you’ll find a roster of the nominees and nominated shows, a ballot for voting, video vignettes with nominees and past winners, and interactive features such as mobile alerts, Tony trivia, an archive of nominees/winners, and a profile of Antoinette Perry, namesake of the Awards. You can watch the Tony Awards online with CBS All Access.


So what do the Rolling Stones, Sting, Willie Nelson, Bob Marley, The Temptations, Motorhead, Kenny Rogers, and the Dalai Lama have in common? They played the historic, Art Deco 2,894-seat Beacon Theater. Thanks to Radio City’s New York Spectacular, the Tonys are moving on up – to the Upper West Side, to join that iconic list.

The excitement's building. Harry Winston and Tiffany's have raided their vaults for diamond loan outs. Rentals of black tie have been exhausted. Designers have fitted their gowns. Nerves are at the breaking point, but the champagne's iced and gift bags are stuffed with luxury items. The only downer is that with the Beacon being two-thirds the size of Radio City Music Hall, a lot of fans who wanted to be there – no matter the sky-high price — won’t even get to sit in the balcony. That’s where many sponsors and cast members of nominated shows will be.

The 70th Anniversary onys is a far cry from the Awards’s humble beginnings. At the first ceremony, in April, 1947, a banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria, producer Brock Pemberton first used the word “Tony” for the prizes. There were no mounted silver medallions with the masks of comedy and tragedy on one side and a small engraving of Antoinette Perry on the other. Winners received a scroll – and, for the women, an engraved compact; for the men, an engraved cigarette lighter.

From the first national Tony Awards telecast in 1967 right through last year's presentation, there've been so many memorable moments, sadly too many to list.

One sensational moment came in 1983 at the Uris Theater in an all-star salute to the Gershwins [for whom the theater was renamed at broadcast's end] that featured Ginger Rogers, Jack Lemmon, Diahann Carroll, and, among others, Dorothy Loudon.

Miss Loudon who had a delicious, devilish sense of humor could be quite bawdy. She began her Broadway career in 1962 and was vastly popular as one of the gals who was just one of the boys. Very simply, she was an adored journeyman actress. When she made her spectacular 1983 entrance, the house erupted in applause. The response threw Miss Loudon for a split second, but conductor Elliott Lawrence kept the music going. As she began, in that famous growl of a belt, an obscure Gershwin/Herbert Stohart song from 1925's Song of the Flame, "Vodka," the response approached pandemonium. Miss Loudon said, "I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was on Cloud Nine and could have floated offstage!"

Then there were the twin showstoppers at 1984's Tony tribute to Broadway's tunesmiths. Miss Loudon entered the Gershwin stage in a white gown dotted with rhinestones and a mink-trimmed plunging neckline. It was worthy of Catharine the Great! And she wore a tiara. Standing atop a silver Rolls Royce, she was serenaded by Robert Preston, Tony Randall, Tony Roberts, Robert Guillaume, Larry Kert and a male chorus – all in red riding outfits in tribute to Mame, revived that summer with Angela Lansbury returning in the lead.

Miss Loudon didn't sing, but her ad libs were priceless: "Don't look in your program! It's me! Oh, Jerry [Herman], think of me for the sequel! I was thinking of keeping the gown, but I got one just like it at home. So I'm gonna keep the car! And the boys." Moments later, she brought the house down again with a rendition of "Broadway Baby” from Follies.

By the time she won a 1997 Tony for Annie and was nominated in 1998 for Ballroom, she was a candidate for sainthood. Miss Loudon left the stage she so loved in 2003 as the pure definition of Broadway pizzazz.

The 65th Tonys (2011) were hosted, for the second time, by Neil Patrick Harris. Featured was an avant garde production number, "Broadway Isn't Just for Gays Anymore," and when Harris introduced three-time Tony host Hugh Jackman for their battle-of-the-hosts medley of showtunes that included Irving Berlin’s "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)" from Annie Get Your Gun. It was also the season for The Book of Mormon and The Scottsboro Boys, and marked the return of “Harry Potter’s” Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed … It was also the telecast where CBS kept both hands on the Bleep Button in case Chris Rock, starring in The Motherfucker with the Hat, let loose with a litany of four, five and 13-letter words.

Amazingly, in addition to never being inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, Larry Kert wasn't nominated for a 1958 Tony for his Tony in West Side Story. However, he holds the distinction of being the only cast replacement to be Tony-nominated in 1971 for Best Actor, Musical for his Bobby in the original Company. He won that honor over opening-night star Dean Jones, who two weeks into the run, and after recording the cast album, pulled out for reasons still unknown (though many were given).

The Tony Administration Committee ruled that not enough nominators caught Jones, whose reviews as Bobby could have established him as a major Broadway player after such Disney fare as “That Darn Cat!” and “The Love Bug.”

"It was a crowning glory moment," said Kert, who died in 1991, three days after the Tonys. "Hal Prince and the entire company of West Side Story were puzzled how leading lady Carol Lawrence was nominated in the Featured category. To this day, I can’t fathom why Chita [Rivera] was overlooked – as I was. So, being nominated for Company was sweet, indeed."

Speaking of WSS, it was nominated for six Tonys, including Best Musical – losing to Meredith Wilson’s Music Man; stunning even Mr. Wilson. It won for Jerome Robbins’s choreography and set design. However, in what appeared to be a purposeful snub, only Wilson was nominated in the score category. He won! In yet another nominating committee mind-boggler, Barbara Cook, The Music Man's co-star, was nominated in the Featured category.


Isabelle Stevenson was president of the American Theater Wing, which was co-founded by Antoinette Perry, for 32 years. The Wing now co-presents the Tony Awards with the Broadway League. Roy Somlyo spent 37 years on the Tony Awards – eventually becoming a producer and multi-Emmy Award winner before stepping in to fill the position of Wing of president. Both had vivid memories.

Stevenson cherished Anne Bancroft's win at the 1958 Tonys, for Best Actress, Play, for Two for the Seesaw. "Anne excitedly ran the gauntlet of tables and chairs in the ballroom to the stage to breathlessly take her Tony from the hands of Laurence Olivier. She looked into Larry's gorgeous eyes and sighed, ‘I wish you came with it!' It brought down the house.’”



Looking back over the last 70 years, mainly through a lot of research since there were a couple of early decades I wasn’t able to cover, change has been vast – in the recent landmark productions such as Hamilton, and such shows as Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk (1996), Spring Awakening (2006), Passing Strange (2008), and American Idiot (2010). Even off-beat work you’d only see Off Broadway has made it to the main stem, such as last season’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

“You’ve come a long way, baby” might be the anthem for the 2015-2016, to borrow a slogan of a product hyped to women beginning in 1968. Now, women have long played a vital role in theater/Broadway, and not just in, say, costume design. Before Tony Awards namesake Antoinette Perry became an immensely successful producer/director beginning in the late 20s, there were the pioneering producer/director Margaret Anglin and writers such as actress/playwright/director Rachel Crothers, and later, Edna Ferber, Zona Gale, Clare Booth, and Mary Chase.

Susan Stroman, Kathleen Marshall, and Diane Paulus have carried the torch forward. However, this season the glass ceiling was really broken with the creatives of Waitress. The show’s book is by Jessie Nelson, based on the film by Adrienne Shelly, and has a score by Sara Bareilles, with music supervision by Nadia DiGiallonardo, arrangements and orchestrations by Bareilles and DiGiallonardo, and choreography by Lorin Latarro.

In the era of lifestyle changes, which have certainly affected the way the population views TV, with all its adjuncts, the American Theater Wing and Broadway League, co-presenters of the Tonys, have a loyal partner in CBS and Leslie Moonves, its president and CEO. The network has carried the Tonys since 1978 in the face of ratings that have rarely been blockbuster.

"The Tony Awards, which are the embodiment of live theater in America," says Moonves, "have a rich tradition on CBS. We're delighted this spectacular show is on our network. The Tonys represent what we represent: the best quality entertainment. As long as I’m here, the Tonys will be here."

It might have something to do with Moonves being a former actor and for 11 years a Broadway GM. He even produced. Once. Off Off-Broadway. “And though I’ve made my bones in television," he recently told the New York Post, "the Tonys keeps me attached to something I love — the theater.” The Tony creative teams have returned the favor by winning a plethora of Emmy Awards for excellence.


Harold Prince has earned more Tony Awards than anyone else (21 awards), including eight for directing, eight for producing, two as producer of the year's Best Musical, and three special Tonys. Marian Seldes, who passed in 2014, was Tony-nominated five times, winning in 1976 as Featured Actress in A Delicate Balance. "I experienced the same thrill each time, even when I didn't win,” she stated in her famed stage whisper. "I never thought of losing as losing. It's possibly a cliché, but it's thrilling to be nominated, to get the recognition for your work when you've spent your life in the theater. To be nominated, to be singled out is meaningful. When I started out, I never thought about winning anything. What is wonderful when you are nominated is that it brings you together with people you love and admire and some you've never met – and some to whom you feel like a fan. Being included with such warmth and positive feeling is glorious. You remember it always." She took a pause, sipped tea from a delicate China cup, then added, “Of course, winning is nice!”

She considered it “good fortune” to have played in the works of Tennessee Williams, Peter Shaffer, Edward Albee, Neil Simon and Terrence McNally. "And I could go on," she quips. She performed with John Gielgud in Albee's Tiny Alice, where she stood by for Irene Worth; also Crime and Punishment; and, at a mere 18 years of age, Medea. Then with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, in Albee's A Delicate Balance; a young Audrey Hepburn in Ondine; Gladys Cooper, Siobhán McKenna, and Fritz Weaver in The Chalk Garden; Tallulah Bankhead and Ruth Ford, and Tab Hunter, the short-lived revival of Williams's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore; and John Wood [and later John Cullum] and Frances Sternhagen in Deathtrap.

What kept Seldes working all those years? "I don't play anything as usual, as expected, in a stereotyped way. If you're in a recurring TV role, you constantly replay the part, but if you do plays you don't play the same part over and over. That's the magic of life in the theater, certainly with the living playwrights I've worked with. They don't repeat themselves."

Of Tennessee Williams, she stated: "If he was a shy man - and, indeed, he was when we first met, he was so convivial. I admired his hearty laugh and not taking himself seriously. Tennessee was easy to be around, lovely to be around. You never felt his ego. What I found surprising for so brilliant a writer was how depreciating he was of his gifts. He did have a way with words, and he also created some of the very best female roles ever."


Movie-musicals legend Ann Miller made her Broadway debut in the short-lived George White’s Scandals in 1939, then was off to Hollywood. She returned to the boards in 1969 to become the fourth to follow her long-time friend Tony-winning Angela Lansbury in Mame. "My Tony moment came in 1980, when I was nominated for Sugar Babies. That was the year of Evita, so I didn't have high hopes; but, as they say in Hollywood, it was a thrill to be nominated! Especially for something I've loved doing all my life - tap dancing."

She made a splash at the 2001Tonys, in a skin-tight red gown slit “up to here” exposing her still-gorgeous right leg, when she came in tribute to the revival of 42nd Street. She dripped with diamonds. "I was awestruck seeing the cast tap down the aisles of the Music Hall and onto that great stage. I was so proud of Randy Skinner, who was nominated for choreography, and how far he'd come working with my old friend Gower Champion on all the tap routines [along with Karin Baker]. I’d admired his work for a long while. He was going to be one of my Sugar Babies boys, but that didn't work out. But we did a tour of Anything Goes and had a blast. He was our dance captain and one of Reno's boys. We never lost touch."


Chita Rivera says her refusal to think negatively helped her through her worst crisis. In a 1986 automobile accident, her left leg was crushed. The prognosis wasn't good, but Rivera was determined she'd dance again.

"When I saw the x-rays," she states, "I realized I had work to do; but dancers don't know anything else. Thank God for the discipline. Pity wasn't a word in my vocabulary. I've never been one who does anything half-way."

Amazingly, she was released three weeks later, albeit with 18 screws in her leg. "From day one," Rivera notes, "I did exactly what I was told. I could feel my leg mending." Eleven months later, she had enough mobility to make her realize she could still have a career. "I wasn't happy with my dancing, but I was on my feet!"

She did a couple of "shakedown" engagements before signing on for the 1988 tour of Can Can. "How crazy was that?" she screamed. "Of all shows! But I didn't miss a kick!" Rivera says she’s happy the accident didn't happen when she was younger, as she may not have been as strong. “Every day, I pinch myself for my blessings. I'm the luckiest woman in the world!”


On her daily TV show, Rosie O'Donnell fiercely promoted Broadway. It was a natural for her to be selected as host of 1997 Tonys. To say the road to the telecast was rocky between she and executive producer Gary Smith is to err on the polite. Says Smith, "We came to fisticuffs. The problem was that I was in charge, and she wanted to be. She knew more than I knew. We never patched things up. I tried." The next year, he was out. Co-producer Walter Miller became executive producer, with O’Donnell as producer. During the commercial breaks, O'Donnell was merciless to her Grease producers, Fran and Barry Weissler. Audience members were dumbstruck at her crude humor, which didn’t get a lot of laughs. The Weisslers were big and getting bigger.

O'Donnell passed on hosting in 1999 but was back in 2000 as co-executive producer and co-hosting with Nathan Lane. Once again, she needled the Weisslers, coming down so hard you knew they had to be thick-skinned. Aren’t all producers? However, the question that haunted many in the audience, so used to seeing O’Donnell in pants suits, was who convinced her to wear a couture, but nonetheless ill-fitting, black gown which did nothing for her figure. One reporter wrote that he came across as Morticia from The Addams Family.


The 1976 Tonys was the year of A Chorus Line [12 nominations in 10 categories and nine wins, including Best Director]. "When Michael Bennett and Bob Avian's names were announced as winners for choreography,” recalled Mrs. Stevenson, “Michael bounded out of his seat and kissed his partner. That was a first, and for the rest of the evening the floodgates were open and everyone was kissing!!"

Somlyo reported one of the funniest moments came in 1967 on the first national telecast, hosted by Mary Martin and Robert Preston. "It was a star-studded evening with Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Zero Mostel, and Barbra Streisand presenting. Flashers were in the news. We were a class event with Alex [producer Alexander Cohen] dictating everyone wear black tie — stars, ticket takers, ushers, TV crew, stagehands. But . . .

“Barbara Harris was accepting for The Apple Tree, and from out of nowhere this man ran down the aisle, jumped onstage, and planted a kiss on her." Then he sprinted like a panther into the Shubert Theater wings. Harris, a nervous wreck even in calm circumstances, was visibly shaken. Jerry Adler [later an actor in “The Sopranos” and “The Good Wife”] was stage manager, and Alex yelled ‘Stop that man! ' Jerry said, ‘Who?' Alex replied, ‘The guy in the tuxedo!' ‘All the men are wearing tuxes,’ exclaimed Adler. [The man infiltrated the proceedings as an ABC-TV crew member.] The following year, Alex rescinded the decree that everyone had to wear black tie.”

They agree that their single, most moving Tony memory was in 1990 when the late Michael Jeter won Featured Actor, Musical, for Grand Hotel. "It was an emotional moment," said Ms. Stevenson, "as this tiny man leaped to the stage and stood there so humble. He said, ‘I was an alcoholic. I was a drug abuser. I was the lowest thing you can imagine. But I came back to win this, and if I can do it anybody can.’ You could hear a pin drop. He was clutching his Tony as if he'd never let it go." Said the late Mr. Somlyo, "Whenever I see that moment, it brings tears to my eyes. What that man accomplished, speaking from the heart. It was much more effective than reading prepared remarks or a long list of thank yous."

In 1984, two years before longtime executive producer Alexander Cohen stepped down [that’s the way it was reported, but there was ill will on his part] as executive producer of the Tonys, he’d had two sleepless days of prep and rehearsal. His immense dislike for tough New York Times critic Frank Rich, dubbed The Butcher of Broadway for his scathing reviews, was legend. As an ashen Cohen exited the stage door of the Gershwin Theater after the dress, a Times reporter yelled, “How about a scoop, Mr. Cohen?” Well, droned Mr. Cohen loudly as he passed, “In case you're wondering, this year's theme is Fuck you, Frank Rich!'"


Ellis Nassour
June 2016
Secondary Subjects: 
Tony Awards, West Side Story, Dorothy Loudon, Larry Kert