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The Ultimate Tony Awards Experience

June 10, 2014

Thanks to Blumenthal Performing Arts, I had the opportunity to accompany our “seat filler,” Bailey Patterson of Stuart W. Cramer High School, at this past Sunday’s 68th annual Tony Awards, which were filmed and broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. “Seat fillers” help keep the theater looking full on camera when guests get up to go to the restroom, present an award or grab another cocktail, for example.

The experience was amazing, to say the least. I will give you a quick rundown of the day including who we were able to see and interact with, and our actual duties as seat fillers.

We arrived in NYC on Saturday and spent the afternoon running around in Times Square. It was Bailey’s first time visiting, so seeing that part of the city was a must. Later that evening we saw Newsies, and it was great! Considering the fact that a few of my co-workers are HUGE fans of the show and the movie and had really “talked it up” to me, I wasn’t sure what to expect since we tend to have different tastes in musicals. I was not expecting to love it as much as I did. The tapping in the show is exciting and requires an immense amount of talent, and the voices were equally as captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Evan Kasprzak live. I was a fan of his on season five of “So You Think You Can Dance.” I can’t wait to see how the tour compares when it comes to Belk Theater in January! Here’s to hoping a few of the boys from Broadway take to the road.


The Tony Awards dress rehearsal.

Bright and early Sunday morning, we headed to Radio City and waited in a line full of excited first-time seat fillers, as well as some veterans. Some people were there because of connections to the Broadway League or the American Theatre Wing. Others had won a contest or knew someone involved in production. Nevertheless, we were all there and we were excited! Once we entered the theater, we were immediately split into three groups. One group would fill seats throughout the entire night and the other two groups, one of which Bailey and I were in, would have a “special role” in the production. We soon learned that we would be on stage during the Rocky the Musical performance as boxing match attendees. We were ecstatic and a wave of excitement flowed across all of us!

From that point we were able to watch the dress rehearsal in its entirety, minus the parts when we were backstage getting ready to take the stage for the Rocky rehearsal. We formed a line and were escorted backstage to a hallway that served as our holding area before the performance. While backstage we were able to see a variety of performers and presenters, including Fran Drescher, Jonathan Groff, host Hugh Jackman and more. When I told her she looked gorgeous, Fran, who is the wicked stepmother in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,  replied with “thanks, honey” in her trademark, nasal voice. I nearly died. “Did the Nanny (who I have been a fan of since age 5) actually talk to me? Did she really just call me ‘honey?’ Pinch me.”

Then we continued on to the wings of the stage where we were held next to Alan Cumming and the cast of Cabaret. He was pacing around backstage warming up his voice. It was so cool to see a Broadway star moments before his performance. It really showed us that even though they are celebrities, they warm up and get the pre-performance butterflies too. Just because you’re a seasoned performer doesn’t mean you lose that good, nervous feeling. After our part in the rehearsal, we were sent back to the house of the theater where we watched the remainder of the rehearsal.

Our Tony Awards attire.

Our call time for the performance was 4 p.m., so we grabbed some lunch and headed back to relax for a little while and prepare for the big night. Bailey wore a gorgeous black and white gown and I went with a traditional tux and vest combo.

We arrived at the theater and took seats in the back of the house where members of the Tony Awards production team introduced themselves and gave us an overview of our responsibilities as seat fillers. We waited until after our appearance in the Rocky performance to begin filling seats.

Being on stage at the Tonys was such an adrenaline rush. Looking out into the sea of Broadway fans filling Radio City gave me such a high and only reaffirmed the fact that I am in the right industry. In that moment, my love of Broadway and the performing arts was even more secured than ever before.

After the performance, Bailey was quickly placed in an empty seat about 10 rows back where she sat for the remainder of the show, and I bounced around in the first 20 or so rows. I practically had a different seat between each commercial break. Sitting among the stars, and so close to the stage, was an incredible feeling. I was even able to sit right beside Orlando Bloom for a portion of the show. My main memory of him is that he smelled really good. The cologne hoarder in me wanted to ask which cologne he was wearing, but I refrained.

I was most excited for the performances from Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig, Carole King with the cast of Beautiful and Jennifer Hudson in the preview for the upcoming Finding Neverland musical. I had great seats for all of those performances, so I was thrilled!

Attending the Tony Awards was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was so incredible to be in a theater full of people who live, eat, sleep and breathe Broadway. The performing arts are an integral part of my life. Not only is it my passion, it’s my livelihood, and my participation in the arts throughout my life has made me who I am today. Attending the ultimate celebration in a theater full of people who can say the same was a life-changing experience for Bailey and me.

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