Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment.
The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in Once on This Island rewarded.
They arrived through a VIP entrance, posing on a red carpet in color-coordinated outfits, Grove in a richly patterned silk brocade suit, his partner Gerald Sosa with a matching sash. His son, Garrett Grove, wore a matching pin.
Voters from the most prominent theater organizations had long since cast their ballots, so it’s doubtful the color combinations changed anyone’s luck. But it felt lucky.
Once inside, he posed for photos by a huge statue of the Tony award, a medallion.
"It was a dream being there," Grove said Monday.
A dream, but not easy. He said he was "anxious, nervous, excited."
That anticipation only built as the musical, nominated in eight categories, got shut out. Toward the end of a long night, there was only one left — the big one, for best revival of a musical. Grove had fallen in love with the show, a sort of Romeo and Juliet set in the French Antilles. He’d shed buckets of tears watching it and more than $100,000 cash, making him one of the show’s prominent producers. He believed in it.
Once on This Island was up against just two other shows, a talked-about Carousel with Renee Fleming, and a revamped My Fair Lady.
Actor Christine Baranski tore open the envelope.
The winner: Once on This Island.
Grove and dozens of others swarmed the stage. Back home, friends were snapping photos of their television screens to text to him. After the ceremony, when locals were turning in, the awards gala was just getting started. Grove and his entourage went to the Plaza Hotel ballroom, where a singer supplied by Feinstein’s/54 Below supper club performed. They then retired to the Vida Verde restaurant for the Once on This Island party.
Grove is not the only local connection to the Tonys. Quentin Earl Darrington, who played Agwe the god of water in Once on This Island, hails from Lakeland and graduated from the University of South Florida.
In the 1990s, Darrington won a talent scholarship through Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Robert Freedman, a former chief executive officer at Ruth Eckerd, later saw Darrington perform.
"He had a booming and very controlled voice with acting chops to go with the vocal abilities," Freedman said. Freedman told a producer friend, who invited Darrington to audition for the lead in the national tour of Ragtime.
Darrington won the role, helping to launch his career. Besides Once on This Island, his Broadway credits include revivals of Ragtime and Cats.
And St. Petersburg native Rachel Prather, who honed her performing chops at St. Petersburg Catholic High, Largo’s Eight O’Clock Theatre and the Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater, plays Julia in The Band’s Visit, which swept the Tonys with 10 awards, including best musical.
“I am elated, and just so proud of everyone involved in creating this show together," she said. "I received many wonderful texts from friends back home in St. Pete, and am so happy to do my family and hometown proud. Winning 10 Tony Awards was shocking and humbling personally, but it also means that our show's message is touching more people than we realize.”
Grove was delighted but not altogether surprised at Once on This Island’s win.
"I think our show had heart," he said. "There’s just so much emotion and love in that show. I think in the end, that’s what pulled us through.
"They’re all kind of similar in the sense of great, traditional revivals. Maybe it was because we were a little bit different. I’m certainly glad it worked out the way it did, though."
He planned to rest up Monday, then return on Tuesday and go back to work in Largo.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.