The Tony Awards celebrate Broadway’s best and brightest. This year, they’ll be broadcast live from NYC on June 8, hosted by Hugh Jackman. The performances throughout the evening—including the opening number and excerpts from the nominated shows—are always a highlight. But are those of us watching at home missing any of the action? We asked Charlie Williams, who has performed at the Tony Awards for the past four years as a dancer in the opening and as part of the casts of Memphis and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, to let us in on a few behind-the-scenes secrets.
What happens during commercials?
Nothing, actually. Often there are comedians or a director of ceremonies to keep the live audience engaged. Other times they play clips of past Tony Awards on the big screens.
What was most surprising the first year you performed at the Tonys?
The camera hides a lot of the show’s craziness. It’s really a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, roller coaster kind of night. The cameras (typically 6 to 12 of them) add an extra layer to the performances. We don’t get to rehearse with the cameramen, who are sometimes also onstage. But they know how to dodge the battements and still get the shots.
Charlie Williams performs at the 2013 Tony Awards. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker)
The dancers in the opening number audition for the event—are any of them also in nominated shows?
No. It’s practically impossible to do both, although last year, some of the performers from nominated shows appeared in the opening. But no matter what, the casts from each show get ready at their own theaters. Then they board buses that take them to Radio City Music Hall right before their scheduled performances during the show. (The routes are even blocked off, so the buses don’t get stuck in traffic.) Afterward, they wait backstage until the final award for Best Musical, at which point the winning show performs again.
That seems hectic.
The whole day is crazy. The dress rehearsal that morning is a full run-through with hair and makeup—even the buses. On top of that, in between the two runs, you typically have a regularly scheduled Sunday matinee to perform. But every second of the exhaustion is worth it.
Do you have a favorite part of the evening?
The very end, when the nominated shows line up backstage before the last award. We all know only one group gets an encore. But we’re not giving each other the side-eye; we’re all in it together. There’s crazy energy back there. At my first Tony Awards, I was in Memphis, and when we heard our show won, we ran onstage and did our number to close the evening. It was a total pinch-me moment.