8 tonight, CBS
For some, the theater is a calling. But for a lucky few, the theater actually calls them back.
Tony Neidenbach, 25, of New York received a last-minute phone call asking him to come and dance for the opening act of the Tony Awards show tonight on CBS.
Neidenbach began dancing his sophomore year at Gainesville High School. He took his first dance lesson at Gainesville Ballet. He was the only teenage boy in the class of full of 9- and 10-year-old girls. His classmates were scared of him, says his mother, Beth Neidenbach.
"He'd be warming up on the bar and he'd have the entire bar to himself because none of the little girls would stand next to him," she said.
While he may have had a late start in dance, the theater has always been a big part of his life. He and his family have performed in several plays together, including "The Sound of Music."
With the recent death of Tony's father, Michael Neidenbach, this is a bittersweet moment for the family.
"We all did theater together," Beth Neidenbach said. "That's just something that has always been near and dear to our hearts and just something that has kept us together. This has been a hard experience for all of us."
Neidenbach has always wanted to perform. When he was just 6 years old he played a gopher in "Alice in Wonderland." On the way home he broke down, afraid he would never be in another show, his mother says.
"I don't think that will happen," Beth Neidenbach said. "He's always taken to it. He's just very easy to watch on stage. You're drawn to him."
Pam Ware, theater director at Gainesville High School, says she is thrilled to watch her former student perform in the Tony Awards.
"I just think he's a wonderful up-and-coming artist. I think he's a very handsome young man and he's a great dancer," Ware said. "He just has an impeccable work ethic and he's a very creative individual and he's excited. Of course, I'm excited."
After graduating from Gainesville High School, Tony Neidenbach went on to Penn State University to study dance. He then moved to New York and joined the Liz Gerring dance company.
With an audience of nearly 1 million viewers watching the Tony Awards, both Beth Neidenbach and Ware are excited about the opportunities this could bring.
"I'm just thrilled and I think that whatever is (performed) up there will be great and hope that it opens some doors," Beth Neidenbach said. "So much of it is luck and being in the right place at the right time and having people see you."
When Tony Neidenbach told his mother he wanted to study dance at Penn State, she had her doubts.
"You kind of panic. Can they make a living at it? While he hasn't made his big break he is certainly making a living at something he truly loves," Beth Neidenbach said. "I think as a parent, you can't ask for more from your children but to have a career that they are happy with."