Tony Awards: 8 Things Seen and Heard Backstage and on the Red Carpet

Jonathan Groff, Alex Lacamoire , Leslie Odom Jr. and Brian d'Arcy James attend the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City.
 Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Jonathan Groff, Alex Lacamoire , Leslie Odom Jr. and Brian d'Arcy James attend the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City. 

Billboard was on the red carpet and backstage in the winners room catching up with the Tony Award nominees and presenters, and we got the scoop.

1. Brian d’Arcy James and Jonathan Groff are the “kings of the Tony Awards.” “Good evening royal subjects,” said d’Arcy James, who originated the role of King George in Hamilton at the Public Theater and is currently playing the role on Broadway. Groff was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of the King in the show last year. The two actors presented the special Tony Awards before the broadcast began and handed out the creative arts  

2. Steven Levenson is Evan Hansen. The book writer of the musical chatted with Billboard on the red carpet to talk about how his musical Dear Evan Hansen has struck a chord with young people. “I remember Rent was such an important show for so many people. To feel like something that I’ve been a part of has even a fraction of that effect on people is amazing because I know theater for me, especially when I was younger, felt like a haven and a refuge,” Levenson said.

3. Jon Jon Briones feels like a brother to Eva Noblezada. The Miss Saigon star feels a great sense of pride watching his co-star emerge as a star as Kim in the show. “I met her when she was 17 and to see her at that age with such composure and talent was amazing and the growth that she’s taken to now, I’m really proud of her,” he told Billboard on the red carpet. “She’s going to do a lot of great things.”

4. Dave Malloy wanted to create a musical pastiche with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. “When I first know that I wanted to turn this piece into musical theater, Les Misérables was very much my template. The story is so epic and the stakes are so huge for these characters, it just felt like opera was the form,” Malloy told Billboard on the carpet, adding that he was inspired by artists like Tom Waits, Radiohead, James Blake, Dirty Projectors, and Arcade Fire for his Tony-nominated score.

5. James Earl Jones thanked the NYPD. Jones received a standing ovation when he took the stage to accept the Tony Award for lifetime achievement. “So this is a big deal, huh,?” he laughed. He thanked past collaborators and his theater family and gave a shoutout to the New York City cops for “assisting us at our backstage doors every night.” He also thanked his late wife Cecilia Hart “for being such a wonderful companion in my life and in my work, and for being the great co-producer of our son, Flynn.”

6. A Tony is better than an Oscar.  The songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul know what it takes to grace the awards stage. “This is sacred ground to us and nothing compares to it,” Paul said backstage in the press room when asked if winning a Tony or winning the Oscar (for writing the lyrics to La La Land this year) was better. “We were musical theater majors!” Pasek exclaimed. 

7. It’s all about pop music for Alex Lacamoire. The orchestrator, who won the Tony Award for his works for Dear Evan Hansen (he won last year for Hamilton), said his favorite music to orchestrate is pop music. “I’m a child of the 80s!” Lacamoire told the press backstage, naming artists like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper as inspirations. 

8. Bette Midler researched her role with Carol Channing’s son. Midler recalled how she prepared to play Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! with the show’s original 1978 star and her son. “I visited Carol Channing in Palm Desert, and her son, who had been a child at the time this show started. He had been on the road with her as a 10-year-old, he remembered so much of what went down,” Midler told press backstage. 

Tony Awards 2017