3 Tony Award Performances That Almost Went Awry

Seth Rudetsky   3 Tony Award Performances That Almost Went Awry
 
This week, Seth hosts a watch party for Broadway's biggest night.
Tony Awards Logo_HR
The Tony Awards Slate PR/Getty Images for Tony Award Production

The Tony Awards are finally happening and I’m going to be hosting a watch party at Asylum NYC with trivia, sing-alongs, prizes, giveaways and inside Broadway sass! Come hang out with me.

The Tony Awards are live and one of the things I love best is seeing how Broadway performers are so well-trained to deal with in-the-moment problems. Betty Buckley began her career singing outdoors at Six Flags in Texas and always says you don’t fully have your skill set until you can swallow a bug and continue belting. Broadway performers are amazing at acting like nothing is wrong because they’re used to performing live. Here are some of my favorite near-mishaps.

Kelli O&#39;Hara and Victoria Clark in <i data-rte2-sanitize="italic">The Light in the Piazza</i>.
Kelli O'Hara and Victoria Clark in The Light in the Piazza. Joan Marcus

One of my favorite Tony terrifying triumphs happened with Light in the Piazza on Tony night. For the on-air performance, Craig Lucas had written a new monologue for Victoria Clark to read so the audience knew what the show was about. She was nervous about doing something new for the first time on live TV but didn’t have a choice. Right before she was about to enter the stage, a crew person told her that her body mic was out and she had to use a giant handheld mic. She completely froze. She had a new monologue to worry about and didn’t know how she would carry the mic since she was already carrying her pocketbook and a guidebook.

Kelli saw her looking frozen from across the backstage area and shouted “You can do it, mother, just do it!” That was all it took. Victoria started the monologue (holding a mic that looks like it’s from the 1970s) while a person knelt in front of her walking backwards, telling her to keep using it and then near the end her speech, he indicates that she should hand it off (you see her eyes dart to the left), she passes the mic and her body mic comes on. It’s terrifying but exhilarating to watch.

Do you remember when Tituss Burgess’ body mic didn’t work during his Guys and Dolls performance? A stagehand had to run out during the performance and give him a handheld. Yet, Tituss seems super relaxed throughout it all. Turns out, it’s because they always film the dress rehearsal and Tituss figured that the previously recorded version was what they were showing to the TV audience. He didn’t know he was on live TV! Regardless, his voice is amazing.

Josh Blake, Teresa Stratas, Dick Latessa and Judy Kuhn in <i>Rags</i>
Josh Blake, Teresa Stratas, Dick Latessa and Judy Kuhn in Rags Photo by Martha Swope

And here’s my favorite: Judy Kuhn’s performance from Rags. Originally the great Teresa Stratas was going to perform but dropped out a week before the Tony Awards. Judy, who played Bella, was asked to sing the title song instead. It was nerve-wracking because Judy hadn’t sung it since the show closed almost a year before, but she said yes anyway.

Judy was now playing Cosette in Les Misérables and nominated that year for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Luckily, her category was first. So, she was able to dress up and sit in the audience. Frances Ruffelle wound up winning for playing Eponine and Judy wanted to go backstage right afterwards to practice for her Rags appearance. She was already nervous because it had been a while since she sang it—but then they kept shortening the song for the broadcast. The powers-that-be couldn’t decide on the right cut of the song and dropped certain sections during the week and then put them back in until they were satisfied. Judy knew she had to review it to remember exactly what was out and what was in.

The Tony Awards people told her to stay in her seat and that someone would come get her and take her backstage to get ready. Well, the show kept going and no once came. She didn't know what to do because she didn't really know how long the awards ceremony was. Should she wait? Did she have plenty of time? Was she being neurotic? Finally, she decided she was going to go backstage and prepare even if she was super early. She ran out during a commercial break, terrified the show would begin again and catch her scurrying through the aisles. When she walked backstage someone yelled, "Where have you been!? You're about to be on!" What the—? They had told her to stay in her seat. Where was the acknowledgment?

The next thing she knew, she was thrust into a dressing room, thrown into a costume/wig and pushed onstage. She was completely frazzled and had no time to practice the new version of the song. She began it, but one third of the way through she thought, "The orchestra is off." Then she thought, "Wait...the orchestra is on tape… I'm off!" The late, great Dick Latessa was singing with her and just went along with what she did. Luckily, within four measures she was back on track. If you watch it, you can't even tell. Unless you realize that she repeats the lyrics "Dreams…you gave me dreams…" twice. Regardless, she gets her complete sass back and her vocal placement at the end of the song is one the most thrilling moments I’ve seen on the Tony Awards.

Right after that happened, she wanted to ask people backstage if they noticed but she had no time because she was grabbed again, taken out of her costume, and then thrust into another one to perform “One Day More.” Yes, after belting up a storm she was able to bring out her full stunning soprano voice. Watch it here and Happy Tonys!

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