The USC Alumni Club of New York presented the first NYC Tommy Awards to John Blair, left, Andy Tennant, Steve Smith, Sheryl Staples, Kevin McCollum and the NYC Spirit Award to Sean Kearns.
Nearly 400 people gathered at New World Stages theatre in New York City on June 29 for the inaugural Tommy Awards honoring five USC alumni for their contributions to the business, arts and sports communities in New York.
A variation on the Tony Awards, the evening was a combination of musical performances and awards highlighting the work of past, present and future Trojans.
The honorees included Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Kevin McCollum MFA ’89 (In the Heights, Avenue Q); film director Andy Tennant ’77 (Hitch, Sweet Home Alabama); Sheryl Staples ’91, principal associate concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic; Steve Smith ’06, wide receiver for the New York Giants; and John Blair ’77, a director of Credit Suisse.
In addition to acknowledging these alumni, more than $30,000 in scholarships was awarded to eight incoming and current USC students from the New York area, five of whom were present to accept their awards.
James Snyder, the former star of Broadway’s Cry-Baby, hosted the event, which included the music of Laurence O’Keefe of Legally Blonde and performances by Bryce Ryness of Hair and Kyle Barisich of The Phantom of the Opera.
The award recipients said they were humbled by the recognition.
Blair, who was acknowledged in part for his role in helping East Coast Trojans find jobs in the securities industry, said, “The rewards of involvement and of giving back are so much greater than I expected.”
Having left Los Angeles in 1996, Staples said the award came as “a complete surprise.”
“It feels a little bit like a homecoming,” she added.
The event was sponsored by the USC Alumni Club of New York, which has more than 8,600 members, and produced in partnership with the USC Alumni Association.
Amir Akhavan, president of the USC Alumni Club of New York, said the club had high hopes for the event all along.
“We wanted to create an annual signature event that celebrated our community’s diverse talents, highlighted our alumni scholarships and brought the various schools and associations on campus to New York.”
Kate Russo, the program’s executive producer, said once word spread about the magnitude of the Tommy Awards, she started to receive calls and e-mails from Trojans all over the greater New York area.
Although planning began in January, the event seemed to “snowball,” said director/producer Michael Schwartz.
According to Russo, the event was unprecedented among USC alumni clubs.
During the program, Scott Mory, associate senior vice president for alumni relations, commented on the importance of the evening.
“Tonight’s tribute to five distinguished USC alumni reminds us of the limitless potential of the Trojan Family and how we’re all working together to realize a common goal: a stronger and more engaged alumni community that’s truly lifelong and worldwide.”
According to Akhavan, it ended up as a night during which more than $30,000 dollars was raised for future New York scholarships – a combination of ticket pre-sales, sponsorships, a donation from the USC Alumni Association and the university’s matching funds.
Schwartz said he hoped the evening would establish a greater USC presence in New York. “Given everything that’s going on in the world today, the most important thing we can do is connect our communities.”
There were several guests in attendance, including the deans of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the School of Theatre and the Thornton School of Music, who flew out from Los Angeles for the event.
School of Theatre Dean Madeline Puzo was thrilled with the proceedings. “It’s terrific that the theatre alums are creating a community in New York for USC alums. They want to create a community of artists supporting each other.”
Par for the course for USC events, even Pete Carroll and the USC Song Girls managed to make a cameo appearance in the opening video montage in which Snyder sets out to find an outfit for the evening and stage the opening number.
That number featured “Spirit of Troy,” an original song written by two alumni and including lyrics on “Trojan mojo,” the 9-0-1 Bar Grill and how New York’s Shake Shack is “wack” compared to Carl’s Jr.
Many of the evening’s jokes compared New York to L.A.
“It’s been hard to head out to Long Island and hang 10,” Ryness said.
“There are things I don’t miss,” said Meredith Anderson, one of the evening’s performers and Ryness’ wife. “Mostly numbers – 5, 405, 605.”
Throughout the evening, the theme was loud and clear – alumni on the East Coast want to foster a Trojan network to rival that of the West Coast.
Blair said the event was “a great recognition of how truly national our school has become.”
All of the alumni recipients said they have found ways to connect their work to their time at USC.
“My body of work is all about new voices, and USC is a place of cinema and theatre that celebrates new voices,” McCollum said, adding that he learned the importance of following your passion during his time at the university.
Tennant echoed these sentiments. “My time at USC grows more and more special as I get older.”
Smith acknowledged USC as a jumping-off point. “This is only the beginning.”
With attendees from L.A., D.C., and all over New York, and marketing efforts from the alumni clubs of Taiwan and London, Russo said the event reminded her of “Trojan Nation,” a phrase commonly used to describe the strength of USC’s bonds during her years there.
“The response and support that we got from the other club leaders and the university is really reflective of this whole idea of the ‘Trojan Nation’ and what it really means to be a part of this larger community,” she said.
As for the future, Russo said the producers and volunteers have already begun discussing next year’s awards.