The Tony Awards: A Behind-the-Scenes Timeline

Sure, Bret Michaels was beheaded and Prince found love, but that was just the beginning. What else did the cameras miss at yesterday’s Tony awards? New York’s Jada Yuan, Kyle Landman, Tali Yahalom, and Yelena Shuster were there. Below, a timeline.

9:15 a.m.: Lin-Manuel Miranda is first to arrive at Lipton Tea Gift Lounge backstage at Radio City Music Hall; gets a purse for his wife, a teapot for himself. “This is my first time in the free-swag room,” he said. “It’s a little surreal. It’s a little insane. I just keep thinking about the Sopranos episode where Christopher pops Lauren Bacall in the face. I feel like he is going to come around the corner at any moment.”

10:15 a.m.: Pals Jane Fonda (with cane, for upcoming knee surgery) and Liza Minelli try on Jil Sander eyeliner and sunglasses together at the Marchon booth. Fonda says she’s never been to a swag lounge, but she has seen swag. “I’ve taken the stuff they’ve given me and given it away.” Liza tells a staffer she’s really nervous for tonight: “Honey, I can’t rest on my laurels. Your laurels don’t last if you don’t keep working.” After the show, she says she’s not hitting any parties. “I’m looking forward to going to Joe Allen’s and having a hamburger after the show.”

10:40 a.m.: Bret Michaels enters the room in heavy black eyeliner. Says he hasn’t seen any plays this season. However, “I saw Phantom of the Opera a couple of years ago because they used all of the laser lights for our show. When I saw it, I said, ‘This is the truest story ever.’” Also, on the absence of new lady love, Taya: “It should be called Rock of Dating. I don’t think you are going to find love on a TV show in a month and a half. Taya and I just saw each other the other night. We’re dating and having a great time.”

10:46 a.m.: James Gandolfini and Jeff Daniels of God of Carnage sweep in, check out the swag, and file out. When asked by a reporter about a possible Sopranos movie, Gandolfini merely grunts.

10:48 a.m.: Fresh from rehearsal, Alison Janney is shaking off preshow jitters. “I just hope I don’t trip Dolly, because I have to walk onstage with her and she’s very teeny.”

11:15 a.m.: Security tries to prevent Ugly Betty’s Mark Indelicato from entering. His publicist insists that he is the official Twitterer for the Tonys, gaining him instant access. “They kind of pulled me into this Twittering thing,” he says, while apparently tweeting by an Altoids booth. “ I wasn’t a big tweeter before. If you want to follow me, my Twitter is: @MarkIndelicato. Yes. I need more followers.”

11:26 a.m.: Samantha Mathis reminisces about being Neil Patrick Harris’s first kiss back in the Doogie Howser days. “I was his first onscreen kiss. We worked together when he was 14 and I was 18. He was adorable! He was little Doogie Howser.”

11:33 a.m.: Edie Falco is the fifteenth celebrity we’ve met today who pretends they’ve never seen a piece of swag in their lives. “I still can’t get over that people are just handing me things,” she says. “It’s very bizarre.”

12:23 p.m.: While getting her daughter Vera Bradley Christmas stockings, Marcia Gay Harden discusses her love of hitting James Gandolfini in God of Carnage. “I am the most violent one in the play. I am the one who pounds people, who jumps on people, who hits James Gandolfini. That’s my character,” she says. “It become a bit of a dance, actually. You fly the the air and you land and he’s just very solid and he’s game, very, very game. Although, in two-show days, he says, ‘Go easy in the afternoon.’”

2:00 p.m.: Host Neil Patrick Harris shows up looking adorable in casual khakis and a polo. He eyes the Passchal handbags made from discarded tractor inner tubes, when a random fan approaches, “Loved you in Dr. Horrible!” Harris smiles. A dapper male handler in all black follows Harris around, carrying a floral Vera Bradley duffel to hold the swag. Press are warned to stay behind, because Harris is “not doing interviews.” A renegade theater blogger tries snapping a photo, but a press rep jumps in front to block the delicate Harris from being exposed to the flash.

6:11 p.m.: First “celebrities” start to walk the red carpet outside Radio City Music Hall, including some Elvis Presley–Johnny Cash-impersonator band, Jill Zarin of Real Housewives, and lifetime achievement honoree, Shirley Herz, randomly accompanied by Rod, the uptight gay redheaded puppet from Avenue Q. Herz reminisces about how the Tony Awards used to be a glorified dinner dance at the Waldorf. Rod makes a joke about how he hasn’t been watching Conan O’Brien, but “I love his hair.”

6:19 p.m.: Paul McGill, star of the upcoming Fame movie, comes by dressed like a Jersey Boy, in slicked-back hair and a teal dinner jacket. He tells a story about how he liked 9 to 5 so much he saw it twice in two days, but didn’t have the money, so entered a lottery and won a $25 rush ticket. “This job provides a good fan base,” he says, “but it didn’t necessarily make me rich.”

6:27 p.m.: Diane Paulus, director of Hair, reveals that the cast will be climbing on top of audience members, per usual. “We’ve actually picked certain people who we think will be fun and will play along,” she says. “Although I’ve told the cast, you can’t mess with any woman’s hair. It’s not like at the Hirschfeld. They’ve all, like, set their hair. It’s not very nice.” She also tells us that the Hair after-party will be at Tavern on the Green. “The invitation says, ‘Food and drink will be provided. Central Park is providing the grass.’”

6:32 p.m.: We spot Laura Benanti, a winner last year for Gypsy, and husband Steven Pasqual, now starring in Reasons to be Pretty, and recall how we met them at the bar after the ceremony last year. “I was probably hammered at that point. I actually had two glasses of Champagne that night and fell asleep,” says Benanti. Tonight, Pasqual says his first order of business is to find a glass of wine. Benanti says she has to forgo it or risk falling asleep onstage. Then after the awards, says Pasqual, “she’s going to go to sleep and I’m going to party the night away in her honor.”

6:35 p.m.: Lin-Manuel Miranda tells us how he’s been walking buddy Karen Olivo of West Side Story through her first Tony nomination. “I just told her to soak every bit of it in. I barely remember any of it,” he says. “Thank God there was a documentary crew following me around last year. Literally, in our PBS documentary, there is a picture of me hugging Patti LuPone. I don’t remember that happening. I was like, ‘When did I hug and kiss Patti LuPone?’” Miranda also promises to “Kanye West the stage” if Olivo doesn’t win. “’George Bush doesn’t care about Puerto Ricans!’ It’s going to be terrible.”

6:40 p.m.: Best Original Score nominee Jeanine Tesori, with writing partner David Lindsay-Abaire, tells a funny story about accidentally using Shrek’s green makeup, thinking it was her concealer. “That stuff is a bitch to get off! You need, like, turpentine.” Tesorio says she’s looking forward to meeting “the projectile-vomit scene from God of Carnage” at the GOCWest Side StoryShrek joint after-party.

6:43 p.m.: Someone near us spots Dolly Parton’s hair towering above the crowd. We never actually see Dolly herself.

6:46 p.m.: David Bologna, nominated for feature actor for Billy Elliot, shows up in an orange vest, bowtie, and Converse sneakers, and raves about his idol, Joel Grey. Bologna tells us the Billy Elliot cast is always pulling pranks on each other. “On April Fool’s Day, the girls got us really good,” he says. “They actually trashed our dressing room with a bunch of girls’ stuff. Like girlie posters and magazines, perfume ads and pink hearts.”

6:48 p.m.: Audra McDonald shows up with her daughter, who’s 6 or so and is already falling asleep. McDonald may be with Hair’s Will Swenson, but she says she will not strip tonight in his honor. “It took me an hour to get into this dress, honey. I’m not going to take it off. Are you kidding me? No.”

6:53 p.m.: Alice Ripley, later a winner for Next to Normal, looks gorgeous in a royal-blue gown. The only problem is, her agent keeps stepping on her train. She looks out at the crowd of onlookers gathered across from Radio City and beams. “I love seeing all the people gathered on the other side of the street to see the glamorous side of theater. This is it. This one day. Enjoy it, guys.”

6:58 p.m.: West Side Story’s Josefina Scaglione shows up in an emerald-green Jason Wu. “Just like Michelle Obama.”

7:02 p.m.: Grey’s Anatomy star Chandra Wilson shows up, even though she’s starting her five-week run as Big Momma in Chicago the next day. She says she’s adjusting to New York well so far, but is perplexed by the closed-off Times Square: “I don’t understand anything about that,” she says. “It just makes no sense to me that people are sitting on chairs, looking up at the different TV screens. And I haven’t seen anyone shirtless, but I know it’s coming. The hotter it gets, the more naked people feel like they need to be, and I’m not really ready for that.”

7:05 p.m.: Martha Plimpton, a nominee for Pal Joey, looks incredibly relaxed. She didn’t prepare a speech (“I don’t think I’m going to need it”) and she had friends over for an afternoon brunch of bagels, lox, and Champagne. The only thing that riles her up, too, is the newfangled Times Square. “Of all the things that Bloomberg’s done, I would say that this is the most conceptual-arty decision he’s ever made. I’m not a huge fan of it, and if I was a cab driver, I’d be losing my mind. I like the idea of Times Square as a congested, busy, horrible place to walk through. You know what I mean? It’s always been that way, and as far as I’m concerned, it always should be. If people want to sunbathe, they can go on a roof.”

7:09 p.m.: Plimpton insists she will not do a Pal Joey–like striptease tonight: “William Ivey Long makes it possible to strip, know what I’m saying? There’s some architecture involved, okay? As long as I’m wearing this dress, it’s not happening.” And if any Hair cast members mess with her hair, “I might bite them.”

7:34 p.m.: Word ripples through the red carpet that Nicole Kidman isn’t coming, even though it’s been widely touted that she would. There’s a vague cloud of disappointment, then relief as most reporters realize they can go home.

8:00 p.m.: Awards start rolling in. Lee Hall tells the press room (on the 64th floor of Rockefeller Center) he thought of the idea for Billy Elliot in the bathtub while “dreaming about New York” and “thinking about how weird my childhood was.”

8:29 p.m.: Roger Robinson tells the press corps the same story, verbatim, he told us weeks ago about Obama coming to see Joe Turner Come and Gone. He’s interrupted by wild applause when Angela Lansbury wins Best Lead Actress in a Play, and then again by a publicist after about eight more minutes of rambling. He doesn’t seem to mind. “On to eating!” he says, before telling us that his show has sold out after the Obama visit. “Now you can’t get a ticket,” he says. “It’s the Obama effect. I wish the Obamas had come the first week.”

8:44 p.m.: Angela Lansbury enters the press room to rapturous applause. She tells us she’s picked out a spot for her fifth Tony: “It’s going to go on this little shelf I have in my living room, because I needed to fill out … I never believed in my wildest dreams that I’d have an opportunity to get another Tony. This is how life is sometimes, and you don’t always know where the good stuff is coming from.”

9:20 p.m.: A publicist is overheard saying, “We don’t know if the nose is broken,” referring to Bret Michaels. It is later confirmed not to be broken.

9:30 p.m.: Liza Minnelli enters the room, trailed by eleven panicked staffers. Someone jokes about her beef with Will Ferrell (he accused her of being a communist on the Tonight Show). She disappoints by saying that she and Ferrell spent most of the night “telling each other how much we like each other.”

9:36 p.m.: Rambling Roger Robinson finally leaves the press room after Liza Minelli. He says they didn’t talk tonight, but he met her at the nominees luncheon, “and I got a picture of her, with my camera. I wanna meet Dolly Parton. That’s who I wanna meet.” A publicist informs him that Ms. Parton appeared to have left the building after she didn’t win for Best Original Score.

10:18 p.m.: Geoffrey Rush, Tony in hand, readies a cigarette, even though he’s got a 64-floor elevator ride ahead of him. We talk after-party plans. He’s hitting three. Including the Hair party? “If I can get in!” Will he strip? “Oh, probably.”

10:35 p.m.: Karen Olivo walks through the press halls, softly singing, “I got a Tony!” She says it’s actually not the first time she’s held a Tony. “My friend Priscilla Lopez has one and she brought it to the theater, so I’ve held it before,” says Olivo. “But I never got my picture taken with it. That’s probably the secret to my success. Don’t do that! Don’t jinx it!” She says she doesn’t know where to put it, because “we have horrible cats and we’ll need to build a fortress.” She says she just wants to sit down and let it sink in. “I keep opening this envelope and thinking it’s going to say someone else’s name. But it actually says mine. It’s kinda cool.”

11:12 p.m.: Alice Ripley, fresh off her win for Best Lead Actress in a Play, runs into the director and producers of Hair and tells them she used to choreograph dances with her friends to Hair songs in her basement when she was 3.

11:22 p.m.: Elton John is telling the press room how he’s never been to the Tonys before, but he likes them way better than the Oscars. Then he almost slips off the stage. The entire press room gasps as Elton totters, then manages to sit down on the stage and finish his press conference. Publicists lose all color in their faces.

11:26 p.m.: The three Billy Elliot kids enter the press room, followed by a huge noisy posse of friends and family. Publicists go ballistic: “You can party with them the whole night, but if you keep making noise, you won’t be able to stay here.” The moms ignore them and start dancing.

11:29 p.m.: Entire press room freezes in confusion as Elton John seizes the three Billys for a photo op in some unknown part of the building.

11:30 p.m. Down at the gala in the skating rink, Anne Hathaway and Tamara Tunie are laughing about how many times the producers showed Hathaway’s beaming face during the broadcast. “They must have put me onscreen like fifteen times,” says Hathaway. “After a while, I was like, enough already! You know, Susan Sarandon is sitting right next to me.” She also reveals how she ended up doing that song-and-dance routine with Hugh Jackman at the Oscars. “I’m a trained musical theater actor and Hugh Jackman had heard that I was a hoofer, so he asked me to perform with him. There’s been a lot of interest after that, so apparently it was just an audition for several million people.”

11:42 p.m.: Gavin Creel makes the second joke we’ve heard tonight about how there’s going to be a lot of grass at the Hair party, since it’s in Central Park. He claims this will be the night he finally makes up for his character, Claude, being the only one in the cast who doesn’t go Full Monty. “Finally! This is my chance!” he says. “I’m gonna clink a glass, stand on a table, and strip it all down. I’m gonna ask for complete silence. I’ll do it right before you come. Or right after you leave.”

11:44 p.m.: Creel and Co. rehash the Bret Michaels spill. “I hope he’s okay. Neil had a great comeback, though. He said he took headbanging to a whole new level.”

11:57 p.m.: Inseparable Oliver Platt and Lauren Graham joke about their meticulous preparation to be Tonys presenters. Says Platt: “We had a secret meeting place in the Hamptons where we prepared, tried to come up with ideas to stand out. Sometimes I’d try on the dress and she’d wear the tux, but we showed up with this combination and it was great this way.” Graham then interjects that she’ll do anything, brave any traffic jam for Broadway. “Yeah, what she said,” says Platt.

12:00 a.m.: Will Swenson explains why his tuxedo has bits of Chinese silk and a British flag. “I wanted to do something a little bit subversive because last time Hair was nominated, they wouldn’t let Jim [Rado] and Gerry [Ragni] go unless they wore tuxedos. And they didn’t go. So we wanted to represent the hippie energy.”

12:05 a.m.: Audra McDonald shows up, sans daughter. “At about 10:15 they just zonked out,” she says. “Before that, though, they were pretty well behaved. Amazing what Nilla Wafers can do.”

12:19 a.m.: Christopher Sieber, Lord Farquaad in Shrek, tells us what it’s like to be a nominee: “There’s a moment when your category comes up, when you kind of shuffle yourself to make sure you look okay. Make sure you’re buttoned up and your tie is straight and stuff like that,” he says. “And then they open the envelope and there’s a split second of hope and despair where you think you heard your name and then you realize it’s someone else’s name. I think everyone should experience that once in their life. That feeling of, ‘Oh my God, it might be me! It’s me! It’s not.’” On the bright side, though, he points out, he lost to his good friend Gregory Jbara instead of a 12-year-old.

12:28 a.m.: We meet John Stamos, who tells us that he used to be neighbors with Bret Michaels (see Daily Intel).

12:33 a.m.: Samantha Mathis, leaving the gala, gives Neil Patrick Harris a big hug and marvels at the Billy Elliot boys. “When I was 12 or 13, I was still in school, begging my mother to let me out and her not letting me. She made me wait till I was 16 so I could have a little bit of a childhood.”

12:42 a.m.: At the Billy Elliot after-party at Bar Americain, Elton John has left the building, but stars Kiril Kulish and Trent Kowalik stand against a wall catching their breath. “It’s so overwhelming right now,” says Kowalik. “I still can’t believe it.” “It feels like a dream,” says Kulish. David Alvarez is actually mute. Completely mute. All three keep running back to their moms for hugs and kisses, while their seven sisters exchange horror stories of getting kissed on the cheek by distant members of the cast/Broadway family.

12:47 a.m.: Amid plates of half-eaten comfort food at the Billy Elliot party (corn bread, fried chicken, mac and cheese), a Tony award sits on a table, unguarded and forgotten.

1:00 a.m.: Roger Friedman tells Haydn Gwynn she was robbed. She replies: “Did you go, ‘Oh fuck!’ like my partner? See, that’s why I like the Tonys. Unlike other award shows, when someone loses, they go, ‘Oh shit,’ instead of applauding the winner.”

1:23 a.m.: At the Rock of Ages party at Area, Poison (minus the briefly hospitalized Bret Michaels) shows up. Neil Patrick Harris and Jill Zarin party on a smoke-filled dance floor to really loud eighties rock, while industrial fans whip everyone’s hair around like in a White Snake video.

1:42 a.m.: Jane Fonda (with cane) and Samantha Mathis arrive at the joint West Side StoryGod of CarnageShrek[title of show]The Norman Conquests party at Hudson Terrace. A bouncer calls upstairs to make sure the second floor is cleared for Fonda to enter. Two of her six-person party must ride a different elevator due to weight capacity, and they look so sad the security guard asks them if they’re suffering from separation anxiety.

1:49 a.m.: Sonia Friedman, producer of The Norman Conquests, has haphazardly stuck her Tony award in a bed of flowers at the party. “I think it’s plastic. It’s a phony Tony,” she says. “Here, you keep it. I think they give us a real one later.” Friedman says she’s heard that they don’t give out real Tony awards anymore on the night of the ceremony because so many go missing in cabs. She jokes that it might help the homeless: “He could put it up next to his shopping cart and bagpipe and people would think they’re giving money to a Tony-award–winning singer!”

1:52 a.m.: Word comes in from the Hair party at Tavern on the Green that tons of people who aren’t on the list are sneaking in, Neil Patrick Harris, John Stamos, Poison, Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald, Raúl Esparza, Geoffrey Rush, Thomas Sadoski, Marin Ireland, and Tovah Feldshuh among them.

1:57 a.m.: Geoffrey Rush tells us this is “definitely the best” of the many parties he’s been to tonight. He can barely see straight, but assures us that his Tony is sitting safely in his car and his driver is guarding it.

2:00 a.m.: Staffers push through the crowded outdoor patio to bring a second couch for Jane Fonda and James Gandolfini. Gandolfini appears not to notice. Dances with his hands in the air to “Last Dance.”

2:05 a.m.: We hear that Prince was in the house and we missed him. See full story here.

2:13 a.m.: Matt Cavenaugh, Tony in West Side Story, realizes his lifelong dream of walking up to James Gandolfini and saying, “From one Tony to another.”

2:16 a.m.: James Gandolfini is taking tons of pictures of himself, sticking his tongue out and posing with whomever is close enough to grab. Jane Fonda, who’d tweeted from her second-row seat all night, is still tweeting.

2:21 a.m.: Gandolfini grabs Fonda’s cane and twirls it in the air, then yells at someone trying to take his picture. “It’s 2:30 in the morning, come on!” Out of the corner of our eye, we spy Geoffrey Rush stumbling and sculpting his hair with his hands. He leaves shortly thereafter.

2:27 a.m.: It begins to pour, forcing all but the most hard-core partiers indoors. The remaining outdoor stalwarts: Fonda and Gandolfini.

The Tony Awards: A Behind-the-Scenes Timeline