Ralphie Report: Tony Awards bring stars to the main stage

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Ralphie Aversa

It’s big business – billion dollar business, to be exact. Perhaps that explains why so many big stars from across entertainment continue to flock to Broadway for producing and/or starring roles in productions. But as evidenced in last Sunday’s Tony Awards broadcast, there is obviously more to the boom than just dollars and cents.

“I think people love live theater,” James Monroe Iglehart told me outside of Radio City Music Hall in New York City on the red carpet. Iglehart took home a Tony last year for his current role as the Genie in “Aladdin: The Musical.” “There’s something about watching people doing it right in front of you… they are not lip-syncing, there are no special effects, they are just singing and acting and dancing in front of you. There’s an energy to it that cannot be matched.”

That was Iglehart’s way of not only explaining Broadway’s identity, but also its success. Box office revenues climbed to more than $1.3 billion this past season.

The earnest seen on stage is clearly admired by all entertainers, including multi-platinum recording artist Josh Groban.

“To me this is such a pinnacle, to be in this theater world, to be up there on the Tony’s stage,” he remarked prior to the show. The American Theater Wing and The Broadway League tapped Groban to perform during the “In Memoriam” portion of the broadcast. “Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be in the theatrical world.”

Others, like TV producer and “So You Think You Can Dance” creator/judge Nigel Lythgoe actually began their careers on the stage.

“I started off as a West End Dancer,” Lythgoe responded when I asked him why he became involved in the revival of “On The Town.” The production earned four nominations, including “Best Revival Of A Musical,” but lost to “The King and I.” “So just being a part of Broadway feels like I’ve sort of come full circle.”

Speaking of full circle, when the topic of “American Idol” was mentioned, Lythgoe reiterated that he would like to take part in the show’s final season next year. The producer, who brought the competition to the States from across the pond, added that he doesn’t know, “what egos are involved.”

And that is another interesting thing about the red carpet of the Tony Awards: egos seem to be checked at the door. Kelsey Grammer, who performed on Broadway long before he became known as “Frasier,” told me he was lured back to the stage because “Finding Neverland” is “the best show I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“It’s just one of my favorite stories,” said Grammer, who performed on the telecast as his character, Captain Hook. “I was invited to come and see the out-of-town tryout basically, and I just thought it was breathtaking.”

“Neverland” did not receive a Tony nomination, but at least the snub isn’t reflected in the box office numbers; in the week leading up to the award show, the musical tallied over a million dollars in ticket sales. With an influx of theatergoers on the horizon thanks to warmer weather and tourist season, The Tonys may have come and gone, but for the foreseeable future the business is here to stay.