Tonys Producers on 'Stereophonic,' New Changes to June 16 Show


Last year, Tony Awards producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner had the challenge of putting on the live ceremony without a written script, amid the writer’s strike, with the aid of host Ariana DeBose. 

This year, the longtime Tonys producers have the benefit of a script and of working again with DeBose, who choreographed the opening number. They also have a new space, with the Tony Awards taking place in the Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater for the first time on June 16, after being held at the United Palace theater in Washington Heights last season and other venues before that. 

The change of venues has brought up a certain amount of logistical challenges, and solutions. For example, Weiss, who also serves as director of the ceremony, says the ceremony this year will not have a wall that comes down between production numbers and awards, and instead will show choreographed transitions with the cast coming on stage and sets changing in front of the audience. 

“We’re trying to present theater more like theater on television, and that, to me, is really exciting,” Weiss said. 

There’s also a plan to continue to highlight plays, which have been a big part of this past season of Broadway, and rumblings of a performance by Stereophonic

Weiss and Kushner, who produce the Tony Awards as part of White Cherry Entertainment alongside the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about plans for this year’s ceremony, including how they choose what shows to perform, plans for co-producers on the broadcast and what else to expect. 

How are you feeling about the show this year compared to the challenges of last year?

Glenn Weiss: It’s been an incredible season on Broadway, in just volume of shows that opened, but also the volume of shows that opened very close to the end of the eligibility period. It’s been a pretty intense time for us. That said, there’s great material out there. 

Ricky Kirshner: Every year is different. We try and look at each show as its own thing. And I think we learned some lessons last year. Obviously we’re excited to have Dave Boone, our writer, back, but also I think we’ll use some of the things we learned last year.

Like what?

Kirshner: I think with the time that we had, we were able to focus more on the plays which we will continue to do, give the players some love. I think that some of our intros to some of the performances this year will be a little bit like last year with the sizzle reel. Some will be written intros, so we’re mixing it up depending on the show and how it fits best to get introduced and I just think we can always evolve and learn.

Last year we did packages on best play, best revival of a play, and I think people really love the love we gave them. We also had acting packages for all the nominees in the play category. And we’d like to continue with that also. So you’ll get the flavor of the plays, both generally, and then see each actor acting within their play.

One of surprises among this year’s performance lineup was the fact that Stereophonic, a play which is nominated for best score and features live performance as part of the show, was not included. Have there been further discussions about them performing? 

Weiss: There are always discussions that start here and here [Weiss says putting his hands out the length of about a ruler]. There’s a lot of speculation and people forming their own judgments and opinions, and we are trying on our show to represent the season as well as we possibly can with the time that we have. But stay tuned. There are so many chapters not written yet. 

So you’re saying there’s still a chance Stereophonic could perform? 

What I’m saying is you never know what’s gonna happen on the Tony Awards.

How do you think about what shows you want to perform on the telecast?

Kirshner: Honestly, we wish we could have everybody, but we also have to fit into a certain amount of time. The desire there is to put everything on, the ability to do so is limited by physical time and space. That said, we are really feeling great about what this year was on Broadway, and we hope that by the time we get done with everything announced and not announced and people who are coming into present who you might know, but some that you might not know of yet, we just hope that in that three hour period of time or four-and-a half if you include the Pluto [broadcast], we hope people are really getting their fill in Broadway in a really, really positive way.

One new development this year is the fact that co-producers have been asked to go to risers in the lobby when their show’s category is called, for a potential live shot to be included in the telecast, if their show wins. In the past, they’ve been able to join lead producers on stage. Can you talk about why that came together?

Kirshner: At the end of the day, it’s not really our world to say who gets to go up or any of that kind of thing. It’s more our world to make the overall show flow and work and structure. I think part of what the organization is trying to do is work within and, this is hard for us for the show too, space constraints within this theater. Every year we’re in a different theater brings a different kind of challenge. Part of the communal decision was that compromise to try to help get everything on the show.

Are those space constraints in terms of not having enough space on the stage, or getting people from their seats to the stage in time for the award? 

Kirshner: Probably a little of all of the above, just literally the logistics, the quantity of seats that are available. It’s a very different challenge this year, from years past, so I’m not sure there’s a formulaic answer to any of this, and then kind of on a case-by-case basis every year knowing how many potential co-producers there could be, for example, versus how many seats are available that even have access to the stage 

How else did the space inform the show? 

Weiss: When we moved into the new theater and started looking at flight lines and backstage space, we actually came to the conclusion that when we sit in a Broadway show, as scenes change during the show, the curtain doesn’t come in and then go back up in your new scene unless it’s by design. Everything happens in front of you as the evening unfolds. Sometimes it’s cast moving stuff. Sometimes it’s stuff on traps. Sometimes it’s a scenic change, but it all unfolds in front of your eyes. So why aren’t we representing theater shows in that way on television? So we made a really big bold move this year to not have a close down [wall].

So when we’re giving an award, [the presenter and recipient] can be center, we don’t have to be relegated to stage left or stage right. And after the award, when we set up a musical, instead of this close down clunky thing going up, everything on stage is going to change right in front of your eyes and right on TV. And you’re going to experience our transitions just the way you would in a Broadway house. We’re actually really excited about this. And, again, the journey from theater to theater and us analyzing a new theater, it’s not that we couldn’t have closed down here, but it opened our eyes to look at it differently. And I’m really glad that it did, because I think this is a really exciting change to watch out for.

You’ve also worked on the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Daytime Emmys and more. What’s different about working on the Tonys, other than the live performance?

Kirshner: It’s live performance, but the Grammys obviously has live performance. But this is a little bit different, these people are doing it eight times a week as it is. In some cases, they’re molding their number for our show a little bit, maybe restaging it a little bit, changing their music a little bit. So in their brain, they’ve gotta fix it a little when they come. But also from the point of view of TV producers, we have people that are nominees and are in a big production number and wardrobe, etc. So we have a whole team and really it’s a show unto itself. But the shows get dressed in their own theaters, believe it or not, and then they get on a bus and then they come here and then if you’re a nominee, you change into your award show look for the red carpet and then back into your [costume]. I mean, that doesn’t happen anywhere else. And then back to your theater, unless you’re a nominee, then we reseat you, then you go up for your award, then you go to the press room. It’s a long day. And we have a dress rehearsal that morning at nine o’clock and maybe you have a matinee [that day] also, and you had two shows on Saturday.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.



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