Backstage at the Tonys

'Once,' 'Nice Work' winners sound off

Audra McDonald has now won five Tonys, including actress in a musical for “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” but she took time backstage to fondly remember her adolescence in Fresno, Calif.

“We were surrounded by arts, maybe not hoity-toity New York-style art, but we knew most of the musical theater canon from doing dinner theater and going to an arts high school. Fresno prepared me beautifully for Broadway.”


When it comes to this year’s Tony winners, “Once’s” Steve Kazee has the golden touch.

He went to school with Nina Arianda (“Venus in Fur”). He used to get drunk with James Corden (“One Man, Two Guvnors”). He was in “Spamalot” with Christian Borle (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) and Michael McGrath (“Nice Work If You Can Get It”) And he bonded with Judith Light (“Other Desert Cities”) as they both dealt with the loss of their parents.

Kazee said his Tony gave him a unique platform. “This,” he said, spinning the trophy medallion, “has given me the opportunity to share with all of you and however many millions of people were watching, how courageous and beautiful my mother was.”


A “Porgy” by any other name sounds just as sweet, as producer Jeffrey Richards noted after semi-controversial tuner “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” picked up the award for best musical revival.

“In 1935, this piece of musical theater debuted in what is now the Neil Simon Theater,” he said. “It is back where it belongs, on Broadway.”


James Corden, who beat James Earl Jones, John Lithgow, Frank Langella and Philip Seymour Hoffman for lead actor in a play, told aspiring thesps that haters should be ignored.

“There are lots of people who will tell you that you are too small, or too big, or too funny-looking, and the fact that I’m holding this is proof that if you never give up, you can’t fail.”

He praised Hoffman as the greatest living actor. “It’s kind of ridiculous that I should have this and he should be sitting there watching me.”

The British thesp’s victory also gave him hope for Blighty’s upcoming Monday soccer showdown with France. “I have a great feeling, 2-1 England!”


Hugh Jackman enjoyed his special achievement Tony, but he also enjoys the show itself.

“A lot of the awards shows are big on the awards and light on the show,” he said.

“The Tonys are big on the show and a little lighter on awards, which I think is the right ratio.”


“Clybourne Park” may have pulled the legit equivalent of a “Mad Men” by winning for best play and nothing else, but author Bruce Norris’ sense of humor shined backstage. Asked about the difference between regional theater and Broadway, he quickly quipped, “the money!”


For “Other Desert Cities” featured actress Judith Light, the theater is a spiritual experience.

“We get to be in a moment in time with the audience and we get to share that experience,” she said. “There’s nothing more important than being in the moment.”


Christian Borle got suckered into a life in the theater at a young age.

“When I was 15 years old, I was 4’11” and my best friend dragged me to an audition for ‘Oklahoma!’ and I got the role of Will Parker and that was it,” he said.

The “Peter and the Starcatcher” thesp noted backstage that his trophy would go into his dressing room along with his pop-art “Star Wars” posters, probably on his full wet bar.


Well before she won her Tony for “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Judy Kaye sang songs, including Gershwin tunes, with her father. After he had a stroke, she continued to sing to him, up until his death one week before Sunday’s telecast.

“He couldn’t make sense of anything, but he could follow along when I sang,” she said.


“Once” director John Tiffany described his decision to have a bar onstage as part of the show’s set by drawing on a memory from childhood.

“My dad used to play in a brass band back in Yorkshire and he would take me on drunken evenings with his mates,” he said. “There’s something about the way working-class men could communicate through song in a way that they couldn’t in words.”

Helmer was bullish on the future of life on the boards.

“I think theater is at a good moment because we can’t be digitalized. You have to actually buy a ticket and come into our space to see what we do.” He then waved to the reporters assembled behind their laptops. “Tweet away!”


Producer Emanuel Azenberg held out his lifetime achievement Tony and said, “Here, Variety, hold this.” Variety complied. The award spins! Azenberg then explained how Broadway had changed for the worse over his career.

“Mike Nichols recently said to me, ‘Do you realize that when we were kids we went to the theater to be depressed?’ It’s become very expensive to be depressed. There’s no containment, no equilibrium between money and art. That’s what I thought Broadway was, and I don’t think it is anymore.”


“Once” scribe Enda Walsh and orchestrator Martin Lowe both have upcoming projects, but the two demonstrated the makings of a good comedy team backstage. As soon as Walsh finished describing his upcoming movie, “The Great White Way,” Lowe asked, “Did you just make that up?”

The movie is about busking musicians in New York City, a plot that sounds a bit like a sequel to “Once.” Asked about the projects’ similarity, however, Walsh said the movie has a very different tone: “There’s a bit more grit to it. It’s more Penn Station than Grand Central Station.”

Lowe also described his creative process. “I came in totally prepped, and then got in the room and threw it all away. A lot of the orchestrations came about because someone raised their hand during rehearsal and said, ‘Could I play the mandolin on this tune?’ ”


Michael McGrath, winner of the Tony for featured actor in a musical for “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” revealed that his thank-you to his wife onstage (“Baby, you’re the greatest”) foreshadowed his next Rialto role: Ralph Kramden in a new “Honeymooners” musical now being developed.


When Paloma Young accepted her Tony for designing “Peter and the Starcatcher’s” costumes, she pulled a napkin out of her pocket, explaining that she had lost her speech. Backstage, she confessed that she had left someone out.

“The only name I forgot was the producer’s, because I just wrote a dollar sign,” she said, displaying the crumpled napkin for those in the room.


So how many newspapers get destroyed in the course of a performance of “Newsies”? Christopher Gattelli, who won for his energetic choreography, held his hand up around the middle of his chest.

“They’ve made reams of those papers, and the cool thing is they’re all period-accurate, the stories, the sepia tint,” he said.


Donyale Werle described scrounging for found objects around Gotham to complete the scenic design for “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

“There was a bodega on the corner of 4th and 2nd avenues. It was on fire and they were throwing out their doors and windows, and we got there before the fire department, so the door ended up in the rehearsal room. Everything stank of soot for a while.”