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Tube takes new track to the Tonys

Producers hope new set, younger presenters will draw auds

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss are the new executive producers of the Tony Awards, with Weiss double-dipping as director of the 2004 awards show that will air live on CBS from Radio City Music Hall on June 6.

“Quo vadis, gentlemen?”

In what direction do “the new guys” (as everyone persists in calling these veterans) intend to take the Tonys? Will they let the big musicals continue to eat up the show? In what context will they present the straight plays? Which embarrassing nonlegit presenters will they haul out this year? How will they communicate the experience of live theater to a couch-bound TV audience?

Weiss has a director’s obsession with the show’s new set. “Radio City has a magnificent stage,” he says, “but it’s so big that players get dwarfed.”

The new set, which is built to the dimensions of an average midtown venue and comes with a false proscenium, “will make the experience very similar to being in a Broadway theater.” Both producers are counting on this technical innovation to “bring an energy and a life” to scenes from straight plays.

Kirshner will stage portions of the show in various venues, as was done the year that “42nd Street” opened the show from the Times Square subway station. “Some of the presentations will be live from Radio City,” he said, “but some will be live from theaters, and some will be staged at other locations.”

The producers plan to beef up the proceedings with archival theater footage. “If we make the show entirely about the brand-new musicals, only a very limited audience would know the material,” Weiss says.

Tilting the balance toward the outlanders, the presenters in this year’s show “will skew a little younger,” in Kirshner’s words, and feature more stars and celebs beloved by TV audiences. “The goal is to find people who have not been on the Tonys before.”

Unless, of course, his name is Hugh Jackman.

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