The 2008 Tony Awards

The 2008 Tony Awards were held on June 15 at Radio City Music Hall. The evening was a mixture of paying tribute to classic revivals as well as inventive new pieces. Walking the red carpet before the awards, the stars were excited and eager to see what the evening held.

Sierra Boggess, who made her Broadway debut as Ariel in The Little Mermaid this winter, described the feeling as “really, really amazing,” saying with a broad smile, “I’m so excited!”

Many members of the cast of In the Heights were walking the red carpet, including Lin Manuel-Miranda, the author and star of the multi-nominated musical. Decked out in a classic black tuxedo, he described the evening as feeling “surreal.”

“What I compare it to is like having a kid and it growing up,” the 28-year old said of the show’s long journey to Broadway, which he began writing in college. “It’s very gradual and natural for me, but my friends are like, ‘Holy crap, you’re kidding!”

Priscilla Lopez, also from the cast of In the Heights, was not surprised by the show’s successful transfer from off-Broadway to Broadway this spring. “I just assumed it was coming!” she said. “How could it not?”

Other performers did feel surprise at the nominations they received. Kerry Butler, currently starring in Xanadu and nominated for Best Actress, knew that her show was good, but said “never in a million years” would she have expected to receive a nomination for the show.

In the media room, following the awards, many of the winners still seemed surprised. Stew, author of Passing Strange and recipient of the Best Book of a Musical, said, it was “incredibly insane’ to be in the winner’s room at the Tony Awards.

Fame, however, was never Stew’s goal. “My intention was just to write a good show…to try to mount a show that would be true to the kind of music people actually listen to, as opposed to the music people listen to when they actually go to the theater. To put music onstage that people are listening to on their IPODs on the street and on the subway…when they’re at home getting stoned or at a party.”

Rondi Reed, who received the award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her work in August: Osage County, had said her plans for New York were to win the Tony Award and go back to performing in Wicked in Chicago. “Never in a million years would I have dreamed it would happen,” she said. “New York has given me a huge Valentine in my career and in my life.”

Bartlett Sherr, director of South Pacific, said while preparing for the show he felt completely panicked. “Every single place I went, all I heard was that was the greatest musical…we felt like we mostly could only fail.” He spent 15-18 months preparing the show and was surprised by the reaction of old and new audiences. “To hit this weird crease in culture with everything around it…I don’t know anything like it in my life. I was surprised by how audiences celebrate it.”

As winner of Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Laura Benanti, who plays Louise in Gypsy, claimed she did not know what she said in her acceptance speech. As the realization sunk in, she declared she was going to start referring to herself as “Tony Award Winner” on her answering machine. She also said she was going to make her award into a necklace, asking, “You think it’ll be too much?”

Benanti’s joy was shared as her co-star Boyd Gaines won and Benanti yelled, “Oh my God!” mid-sentence.

Gaines’ win had a ironic back story to it. He had been stopped by someone on the subway that morning who said, “I’m sorry about the Tony.” When Gaines asked him what he meant, the man said he had read in the paper that Gaines was not going to win.

Paulo Szot, winner of the Best Actor award for his role as Emile in South Pacific, had never expected to win. He said after the first day of rehearsals for the show, he wntaed to take the first plane back to Brazil.

“I was so scared,” he said.
Szot , an opera singer who has never performed on Broadway before, has been amazed by the response from the audience in the show. He can hear them singing along with him during the performances. “If I forget a word, they will help.”

Patti LuPone, winner of the Best Actress Award for her role as Rose in Gypsy, refused to stop her acceptance speech when the obligatory music began, shouting “Shut up It’s been 29 years!”

While she was honored to receive the award, LuPone said she thinks that people put too much emphasis on awards and should focus instead on the work they are doing. “The point is not the award,” she said. “It is how much you are moving the audience.”

“Art is the soul of the nation,” she said. “And we need to elevate our society. We need to put those ideas out there and stop censoring. Audiences are very smart and very hungry. They’re desperate for an emotional connection.”

She was thrilled to receive the award, after having been nominated and not winning for several different performances.

“It’s been a long time,” he said, spinning her award in a circle. “Wee!”

In the Heights won Best Musical and Miranda described it as “the best prom ever.”

Miranda said he was proud of the fusion of modern music and theater that he accomplished with the show. “Popular music and theater music were friends a long time ago, and I’d like them to be friends again,” he said.

The award was a wonderful validation for him, both personally and professionally.
“As someone who never felt like he fit in anywhere, to have that validated and have people say you got that right is the greatest feeling,” he said.

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