Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Homeless Tonys in search of space for awards show

NEW YORK — We know where next year's Grammy Awards will be held — at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Academy Awards? They'll be at their permanent home in the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. And the Golden Globes are telecast every year at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

What about the Tonys? To be determined — they're currently homeless.

Producers of America's most prestigious theater award show have been fanning across New York City in recent months to lock down a suitable venue for next summer's razzle-dazzle after losing their elegant, long-term space at Radio City Music Hall.

“Radio City is the perfect place for us, but since we don't have it, we're opening up our mind and looking out at virtually everything within New York City to find a home for the Tonys,” says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, which jointly produces the awards with the American Theatre Wing.

While finding a large performance space in a city the size of New York doesn't initially sound like such a difficult proposition, it turns out that locating the perfect spot to host the awards show this June poses a unique set of challenges.

For one, it has to be large enough to seat several thousand people. For another, it needs aisles for the multiple nominees to have access to the stage should they win, ruling out certain concert halls. It must also have a flexible stage and space for scenery. It has be affordable, of course. And, perhaps what is most important, it needs to be available.

That means the massive main arena at Madison Square Garden is out: The Nets and Knicks have booked it. It also means The Metropolitan Opera has to be crossed out: They have ballet and concerts scheduled all summer. What about the natural choice, a Broadway theater? Likely too small and unwilling to give the Tonys the several weeks they need to set up.

“The Tonys are always a great big puzzle. The model that's essentially been used for 15 years now has been upended. So it's a new puzzle,” says Howard Sherman, executive director of the Wing.

In many ways, the Tonys, which consistently win Emmys for their presentation, are victims of their own success. The awards began being televised in 1967 and a different Broadway theater — the biggest, the Gershwin Theatre, has about 1,900 seats — rotated as host each year. Producers often just added a glittery drop and a brought in a few props.

That all changed when Radio City became the new home for the 1997 Tonys. Producers suddenly had access to a 6,000-seat arena that had a stage bigger than any Broadway house and space to grow into an annual spectacle.

The party ended this summer when Cirque du Soleil announced it would be moving into Radio City and debuting a new show. The acrobats, like most current Broadway theaters, simply couldn't accommodate the time the Tonys need to set up.

The search for a new home — for next year or for a permanent place — was on. Producers are tightlipped about the process, not wanting to tip their hand during negotiations, but they say they've looked at all kinds of options: both indoors and outdoors, and using an existing venue or one they'd construct, such as erecting a building over Times Square made of Lucite. Some were too expensive, others unworkable.

“There are people who have asked about Times Square or Central Park outdoors. The Tonys are going to go on — whichever night they go on — at 8 o'clock. And if it's raining, CBS is not going to accept, nor should they, 'It's raining. We're not doing it tonight,'” says Sherman.

“Some of the solutions, which would be wonderful and romantic ideas, might work if we were in desert southwest, but they're not going to work in the changeable weather of Manhattan.”

Producers are scrutinizing mid-range spaces — something perhaps bigger than a Broadway house and yet smaller than the massive 19,000 Madison Square Garden arena — but finding that New York surprisingly doesn't have that many options.

Though producers declined to comment on exact locations, the search could conceivably take them nearby in Midtown to the 2,100-seat Best Buy Theater or to the Roseland Ballroom (1,800 seats), or far from Times Square, to the Beacon Theater (2,800 seats) on the Upper West Side, the United Palace in Washington Heights (3,400 seats) or even the Park Avenue Armory (55,000 square feet) on the East Side. But just because the size is big enough doesn't mean it'll work.

“Some of the larger venues are not theaters — they're really concert halls. So they may be lovely in terms of their appearance and their seating, but they're not theaters. They don't have fly spaces, they don't have traps under the floor, they don't have wings to move scenery on and off,” says Sherman.

At the same time, finding a new home and sacrificing the show's high production values isn't a very appealing option. “We can't go back to the glittery gold or silver drape, hang a show logo in front of it and have somebody do a number,” says Sherman.

St. Martin agrees: “We have to be able to present a show that resembles in style our last shows, which means we need a legitimate stage with the ability to have sets and lighting that appears great on TV. Because, after all, it is a TV show.”

Producers are narrowing their search from the several dozen initial potential spots and say an agreement could come soon. They aren't likely to return to an under-2,000 seat performance space, but also may not be able to find a spot as large as Radio City. That means there may be fewer tickets to the awards this year.

“There is not another comparable venue to Radio City in New York. There are other venues that may seat more; there are one or two that may seat as many. But as we've been looking at all the possibilities, it's very clear that something has to give now that Radio City is not available to us,” Sherman says.

One thing, though, is certain: The show will go on.

“There will be a Tony Award show,” says St. Martin. “Absolutely.”

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