On Sunday night, the oldest form of entertainment intersected with the most modern type of technology. A live Webcast of the Tony Awards at www. Tonys.org brought the dazzling Radio City Music Hall event-and moreover, much of the goings-on backstage-to theater fans around the globe. 

Tonys. org, a product of IBM and the Tony Awards Productions, debuted in early May with comprehensive, yet predictable content: an area of historical archives, a ballet for the 2000 Tonys, trivia and quizzes galore. But it wasn't until Sunday night that the site really came to life, when the first well-heeled honorees trotted into the legendary Manhattan venue and onto your home computer screen. 

In a pair of rooms located seven stories above the main auditorium, about 15 techie types-all dressed in black tie-watched every detail of the awards show. They typed efficiently and quietly into laptops, every so often glancing up at TV monitors. Each new category meant new material for the site. Some of the IBM team monitored chat rooms; others captioned photos of stars in sparkling dresses; a few helped with technical difficulties. As each award was announced, the techs quietly cheered for winners and sighed for losers. 

"Theater isn't just what happens on stage; it's what happens in your heart," says Robert Viagas, Managing Editor of Theatre.com, a partner in the site. "As soon as someone sees a show, they want to talk about it. With the Internet, we can create an Algonquin roundtable where everyone can sit down at the same time." 

But the Webcast wasn't just chat about who won and why. Many of the winners and presenters, shortly after exiting the stage, made themselves available for the enterprise. Karen Ziemba, a surprise winner for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for "Contact," was one of many honorees who took the elevator up seven stories after she won. After the obligatory pressroom visit, she was escorted to the Webcasting station. There she took questions from theater fans around the world and was photographed by a "Tonycam," putting her image directly on the Internet so that the Web audience could see her answering the questions. After 10 minutes or so, Ziemba wrapped it up and went on to her interview with CNN. 

"The challenge for theater generally and the Tonys in particular is how do we effectively compete with other entertainment media in extending the brand experience," says Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers. "You want to build lifelong fans. You want to get them as much of an emotional connection with this as they do with sports and other forms of entertainment...Webcasting extends theater's impact." Now if only we could get a few of those $80 shows to do webcasts.