“Sixty seconds until live,” a male voice from above announced.
Guests dressed in their finest rushed down the aisles to make it back to their plush velvet seats before the live portion of the show began. The wisps of long chiffon gowns flowed behind the women in rivers of color as they whooshed past us to the front. This scene played out at every advertising break for the live broadcast of the 72nd Annual Tony Awards. The night was nearing the end, but excitement still buzzed through the air like bees in a rose garden. The biggest awards were coming up next.
“Thirty seconds until live.”
The big black crane holding the television cameras swung over our heads, moving into filming position.
I looked around in wonder. This was the one and only time our son, Ryan, my wife, Kathy, and I would ever be at something this grand. The lighting around the stage bathed the whole theater in an orange glow that mirrored the warmth in my heart. I almost couldn’t believe it was real. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were at the Tony Awards, the crown jewel of the Broadway season. I never would have dreamed it, yet somehow this was where the winds had blown us. We were surrounded by a sea of Broadway, TV, movie and music superstars. Tina Fey, Chita Rivera, Bruce Springsteen, Nathan Lane, Robert De Niro, and countless other A-listers were among the attendees.
We sat in our seats near the back of the orchestra at Radio City Music Hall celebrating the best of Broadway. The night had already been unforgettable. Only a few hours ago, we had watched as Andrew Lloyd Webber received a Lifetime Achievement Award. We were in the same room as Andrew Lloyd Webber! I remember falling in love with Phantom of the Opera as a teenager and playing the cast recording over and over again. Now I was in the same room as the man who had created it.
We laughed along with the rest of the crowd when Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles made the most of their hosting duties, playing two grand pianos that faced each other and singing the words, “here’s to the losers like us.” We cried when the choir from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sang “Seasons of Love” from Rent. We cheered when Tony Shalhoub and Ari’el Stachel from The Band’s Visit spoke about the beauty of bringing Muslims and Jews together on the Broadway stage and the trials of being of Middle Eastern descent in America.
In this theater, the Broadway community had come together, unified in the belief that art and theater could bring about change in this sometimes cold and divisive world. They might be small, slow advances, but at least the arts could inspire the conversations of change.
None of that was why our little family was here. We had come to celebrate the revival of our favorite musical, Once on This Island, with the Broadway world. It was the moment we’d been waiting for all night.
“Ten seconds,” the voice from above spoke again, and I focused on the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome two-time Tony winner Christine Baranski,” a female voice announced.
Festive horns played, and the crowd cheered as Ms. Baranski, dressed in an all-white pant suit, walked out to a microphone at the right corner of the stage. The large screen at center stage changed from an orangish-yellow glowing “Tony Awards” sign to a blue graphic saying, “Best Revival of a Musical.”
“This season’s musical revivals…” Ms. Baranski began.
I looked over at Kathy and our fourteen year old son, Ryan, and smiled. They clutched each other’s hands in hopeful anticipation. My heart sank as I realized they thought we had a chance to win. I knew otherwise. This moment had to be handled right.
Ms. Baranski continued, “Once again, here are the nominees for Best Revival of a Musical: My Fair Lady…”
The onstage screen came alive with a clip of the My Fair Lady cast performing “Get Me to the Church on Time,” which they had performed earlier that night. Enthusiastic applause emanated from the My Fair Lady seating area.
I knew Ryan was going to be upset. What kid isn’t disappointed by a loss? Everyone wants to be on the winning team. It was partly my fault. In my excitement about being a part of this evening, I had inadvertently conveyed to him that our show might win. I hadn’t explained that while yes, it was theoretically possible for us to win, tonight’s prize was almost certainly going to either the heavy favorite, My Fair Lady, or to the show many considered the dark-horse candidate, Carousel. Ryan didn’t know that, though. He hadn’t been following the Tony Award predictions. He was just a kid from Cleveland whose parents had gotten him swept up in all of this. He believed in Once on This Island, and he believed it had a chance.
Only two days ago, all of us Clevelanders had endured a crushing blow when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had been beaten in the NBA Finals by the Golden State Warriors. I could still see the hollow defeat in Ryan’s eyes from that disappointment. Now there would be this loss too. It was my duty to be a good role model. When the winner was announced, I would clap respectfully though not too heartily lest it look fake. Teenagers, I’ve learned, are quick to spot adults trying too hard. It wouldn’t be too difficult. I was truly grateful to be a part of this beautiful celebration of live theater no matter who won.
Ms. Baranski went on, announcing the second of the three nominees: “…Once on This Island…”
The center screen switched to the clip of the Once on This Island cast with Alex Newell belting out the end run of “Mama Will Provide.” At that, our entire section jumped up, cheering like crazed fans.
The stage screen changed once again as Ms. Baranski announced the third and final nominee: “…Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.”
We watched the recap of that show’s big dance number.
“… and the Tony Award goes to…” She held the black and silver envelope in her hands.
Time slowed nearly to a stop. I was hyper-aware of every sight and sound, suspended in this moment of love and appreciation for Once on This Island and what it had meant to Kathy and me throughout our lives. Now it was being showcased and honored on this stage and on CBS in front of six million viewers.
Ms. Baranski began to open the envelope with her left hand.
I looked over again at Kathy and Ryan. They quietly whispered to each other, “Rally Spirit! Rally Spirit! Rally Spirit!” It was our family’s good luck chant. They held tight to each other’s hands, believing in the impossible.
“And the Tony Award goes to…” Ms. Baranski paused. Complete silence fell over this room of six thousand people as we held our collective breath and waited for her to speak again. “Oops, sorry.”
She fumbled with the thick envelope and opened it. Her eyes scanned the page then brightened. She took a breath and continued…
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