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Tony Awards: Billy Porter’s Jaw-Dropping Commercial Break Performance Wasn’t Planned

The Tony Awards may be a night of competition, but once their respective afterparties have ended, the cast and crew of every Broadway show end up in the same place: publicity firm DKC/O&M’s party at the Carlyle Hotel. On Sunday night (and well into Monday morning), stars ranging from Laurie Metcalf to Billy Porter put in appearances and settled their differences – occasionally on the dance floor.

“What people don’t see is how wonderfully supportive the shows are of one another,” Timothy Hughes, a member of the “Hadestown” ensemble, told Variety. “After somebody performs, everybody receives a standing ovation, a line of high fives as they go to change their costumes and come back — it’s the most thrilling waiting room I’ve ever been a part of. I think it’s gotta be rare.”

That sense of community didn’t end with the telecast — as Hughes noted, the celebration at the Carlyle had enabled some unusual alliances. “Out of the context of the Tonys, I don’t know if I’d be able to have these conversations.”

Asked what viewers at home had missed, “The Prom” star Brooks Ashmanskas had an immediate answer: “Billy Porter! The first person I met in New York. He was marvelous. He sang ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses.’ He had his heels on; he looked beautiful. The highlight of the evening, I thought.”

Porter’s performance came as part of an off-camera bit orchestrated by host James Corden, who had members of the audience sing karaoke during commercial breaks. (Ashmanskas himself, however, never does so. “It’s what I do for a living,” he pointed out wryly. “You don’t ask stenographers to type at the bar, do you?”)

Porter himself had no idea his performance would make such an impression. In fact, he didn’t know he would sing at all until he was on stage. “Everybody is like, ‘That had to be planned,’ but I didn’t know what that bitch was gonna ask me to do!” the “Pose” star joked of Corden. “I’m crossing the stage to do my little thing, and Corden is like, ‘I need you to do karaoke!’ I’m like, ‘Okay, what does that mean?’ Lucy Liu’s trying to airdrop me some pictures. Here she comes. Here Corden comes. He has the book. I’m like, ‘Oh, you mean for real!’”

Porter paused, gesturing pointedly to his glasses. “These are not readers — they’re distance — so I’m like, ‘I literally can’t see what’s on it.’ So, I just go, okay, the first on the list: ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses.’ He starts playing. Wrong key. I know the song, and I know if we try to play in the key he’s playing in, we busted. So, I ask for a change of key, we sing it, and all I’m thinking about is time: is the commercial over? But I look over at Corden and he wants the whole song – what’s a b—h supposed to do? I was called upon!”

Darren Criss agreed that the impromptu, off-camera performances were the best part of the ceremony. “If there’s anything I like to pride myself on, it’s knowing when to shut the f— up and sit the f— out,” he said, laughing. “I was with Anthony Ramos, and he picked a song from ‘In the Heights’; Anthony has done ‘In the Heights’ and is about to star in the feature film version, so if he’s gonna pick a song from that, I’m gonna sit the f— down! That was knowing my place. But I would’ve loved to have sung a song tonight.”

He, too, singled out Porter’s performance as a high point. “The best, obviously, was Billy Porter doing ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses,’” he told Variety. “There’s no other show where the host can accost the audience and the audience can blow your mind. Billy Porter taking the stage and blowing everyone’s minds was not planned. Only the Tonys. Only on Broadway. Only with theater people.”

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