ShowCall (BBS)

Usenet and BBS: ShowCall (and web)

The birth of theatre (and Broadway) on the internet.

Before the world wide web was even imagined, the first Broadway (or even theatrical) internet based service evolved from it’s birth as a series of usenet newsgroups in 1987 to formally launch on the eve of the Tony Awards in 1989 on June 4 at 12:01am as a consolidated dial-up bulletin board system (BBS) called ShowCall.

Compaq Portable II luggableSeparate from my theatrical producing, company, stage and production management… I was convinced emerging technology could play a significant role in supporting the arts.  My peers laughed at my preposterous idea.

Since about 1987, I was one of the first in the industry to use a computer in rehearsal and pre-production, with the script typed into Wordperfect 4, I would make revisions, prompt script notations, rehearsal schedules, contact lists, memos, notices, wardrobe fitting details, signage etc on my “Compaq Portable II” (the size of a luggable suitcase, about 30lbs with 9″ screen and 5.25-inch disk drive running MSDOS 3) and print out on a dot matrix printer directly in the rehearsal room. I carried this on the plane and also used it on the West End.  This gave company members massive benefits, and sped the distribution of changes dramatically.

But that was not enough for me…

rec arts theatreAround the same time, Usenet was developing as a text based newsgroup system, and undergoing a hierarchical renaming of its structure, which I lobbied for, and was approved for the creation a series of groups.  Shortly after, the less managed top level alt.* was established, and within a week I created about a dozen theatre, musical, drama, people, Broadway and West End groups.

Emoticons {:-)-:} trolls, and even acronyms (BRB, LOL etc) established the now common usage on Usenet.

But that was still not enough for me…

I established ShowCall – conceived, programmed and managed by Toby Simkin, working closely with the League of American Theatres & Producers (now the Broadway League), thanks to the support of visionaries Susan Lee (at the time Director of Marketing of the League) introduced to me via Janine Fawcett (at the time head of PR at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre) and with Price Berkley, the owner/creator of the Theatrical Index newsletter (at the time the best source for Broadway information) in conjunction with Canadian technology provider FutureTron who donated a bank of modems with access to North American 1-800 numbers (in exchange for show tickets) to allow no cost dial-up to theatre industry members.

What was Showcall?

Showcall BBS - the first Broadway internet initiativeIt essentially allowed producers, stage, company and general managers to access daily information on road tour schedules, facility information (including Stage Specs), downloads of Broadway show art, listings of Broadway personnel/contacts, Broadway tourist information including a map, and listing of recommended hotels, restaurants and bars, plus a tiny bit of industry news — about 2 or 3 stories a week.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, one of the most common ways that we connected “online” was to use a dial-up BBS. A modem on your computer would dial over an old-style analogue phone line (aka “a land line”), to connect to another computer, often through an acoustic coupler.  That I administered the usenet theatre newsgroups gave me an ability to promote and get ShowCall off the ground quickly, and with (for it’s time) pretty active usage.

The idea of having only a group of people (or even just 1 person) able to connect to my ShowCall server at the same time is somewhat preposterous nowadays. FutureTron gave us a capacity of about 75 concurrent users.  Yet that’s the way it was back then. Speeds were limited on a per-connection basis typically to a 2,400-bit/s modem (about 1 minute to download a page of text with no images) or for the wealthy, 4,800 bit/s, about double that speed.

Toby is the man pushing theatre, kicking and screaming, into cyberspace
A Marketing Powerhouse 
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Migration to the World Wide Web

ShowCall evolved  to the Worldwide Entertainment Network on October 19, 1992 to officially launch in April 1993 shortly after the release of the first public web browser, Mosaic, under “” and “” and “” (Headquarters Entertainment) URL’s. Later consolidated and rebranded as The websites showcased currently running shows in NY and major tours, photos of newspaper clipping, official press photos and had theatre information for industry touring staff an early version of what would become ‘Stage Specs‘ In late 1993, BuyBroadway started maintaining forums on Prodigy services.  BuyBroadway focussed on shows themselves, with press releases, photographs, cast lists and educational study guides.

I pioneered that evolution also, as I migrated the Broadway (and associated global theatrical industry) to the web.

BuyBroadway and

In these early days yahoo was a single page listing (my website was about the 25th listed).  Google did not exist.  Facebook, Instagram, etc.. were years away from imagination.  Mobile phones had no apps.  I built the 8th online shopping service on the internet licensing (for $85k) a Netscape e-commerce server.  Microsoft and I streamed the 1st ever video.  I developed cross-site single click logins. I created an affiliate sharing program for ticket and souvenir sales. I built a large (180k) community of theatre lovers. I developed marketing campaigns and cross promotions for all Broadway. I was giving speeches about Broadway and technology convergence at major events such as COMDEX, World Trade Center, Digital Hollywood and WindowWorld.

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Described by Variety Magazine as a “marketing powerhouse“, was the single largest theatre community in the world.

From buying official Broadway tickets integrated with Telecharge and Ticketmaster along with purchasing souvenirs through all 100+ member sites, providing detailed global show listings, interactive show study & educational guides, live streaming shows and events, including many Broadway & West End Opening Nights, general public and exclusive industry news from major theatre journalists along with features from InTheater Magazine, official photographers photos and videos, many from backstage, games and quizzes and contests, providing a messaging system directly to Broadway show cast’s backstage or even licensing a musical, offered it all in a single, easy-to-use interface to theatregoers across North America and globally.

Major components of my marketing company were:

TheatreCom Websites (Broadway) [Poster]

I personally designed and executed online websites and associated marketing campaigns for the vast majority (over 95%) of Broadway shows, theatrical events, individuals & theatre companies…

Victor Victoria website screenshot 1997VICTOR/VICTORIA was the FIRST show, 1st musical and 1st Broadway show to come onto the internet in early 1995.  I was one of the producers. I was initially CEO of HQE, but later worked directly for lead producer Tony Adams at the Victor/Victoria company.

My website initially came from a desire to sell tickets to overseas tourists (particular the Japanese who loved Julie, traveled extensively, and adored Broadway), at a time when Ticketmaster did not have any online presence, and no ability to handle foreign credit card transactions.

The site additionally included the first ever theatre-related video clip streaming over the internet with Julie Andrews performing the film version of “Le Jazz Hot“, produced in conjunction with Microsoft Netshow (precursor to Windows Media Player) thanks to my contacts at Microsoft (one of whom was one of my investors in the show) — albeit the size of a postage stamp, but at the time, shockingly exciting on the internet.

The website was so successful within the Broadway industry, that my vision for online marketing became the catalyst for the majority of the Broadway industry to join me in establishing BuyBroadway in New York in January 1997 (I had previously operated ShowCall and BuyBroadway out of Canada)

SM WeChatSM WeChat Channel
🇨🇳 in China, all foreign sites are blocked, scan my WeChat Channel QR to watch:
QR WeChat Channel

ANNIE Coffee Mugwww Co. BuyBroadway Shopping (Broadway)Affectionately dubbed the “Macy’s of Theatre Souvenirs” by The Mining Co — with over 4,000 theatrical products (souvenirs, books, props and VIP experiences) for sale, it was the “Super Site of Broadway“.  The very first Broadway souvenir sold was an ANNIE Coffee Mug to a buyer in Brazil within days of turning on the expensive Netscape Commerce Server.  Expanded to feature the sale of music CD’s of the entire musical catalogs of Varese Sarabande & RCA Victor and others. BroadwayNow News Network Theatrecom

Broadway Theatrecom NewsThe culmination of a year of planning and the centralization of a number of key BuyBroadway consumer resources, BroadwayNow, my integrated consumer news service headed by Managing Editor, Robert Viagas, launched on February 1, 1999 and included daily reader opinion polls, quizzes and columns from renowned theatre writers, including Ken Mandelbaum, Peter Filichia and Mark Shenton.

Along with features from InTheater Magazine; kids’ news, written by kids for kids in conjunction with Camp Broadway; Ask Jessica, the very popular and unique Broadway spin off Dear Abby style questions and answers led by the 1997 Drama Desk Awards Challenge winner Jessica Browner; schedules of upcoming Opening Nights; weekly box office tally’s of all Broadway shows; listings of forthcoming CDs; official photographers photos and videos, many from backstage. Dedicated regional staff based in dozens of regions, from London to LaJolla, Munich to Miami, Sydney to Sacramento and everywhere in between supplied local news and theatre listings to over 137 global cities.

At time of sale in 2000, BroadwayNow had filed 4,832 news stories, plus 162 InTheater Magazine features, along with a photo archive of just over 7,000 images.

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Broadway Circle Club TheatrecomMy companies 182,530 “Broadway Circle Club” members received late-breaking news, special deep discount secret ticket offers, discounted merchandise, contests to win trips to NY or London, receive special event invitations directly from shows producers to visit backstage, attend cast events, obtain tickets for TV show tapings, or obtain VIP section standing room at various Times Square events.

Toby Opening NightsI produced the first ever live streaming video webcast from a Broadway opening night (PLAY ON in 1997), and followed up with a series of additional online broadcast’s sponsored by Microsoft, including, ANNIE Opening Night, The Tony Awards red carpet and winners room, DAMN YANKEES opening night and backstage with Jerry Lewis in London, The Drama Desk Awards (multiple years full show), KISS ME, KATE opening night, THE SOUND OF MUSIC cast recording, RENT (Broadway anniversary & London opening night), THE CIVIL WAR opening night, THE MUSIC MAN opening night, the 10th anniversary of LES MISERABLES and TITANIC opening night.

A personal thrill for me occurred on the opening night of ANNIE at the Martin Beck Theatre (now renamed Al Hirschfeld Theatre) on March 26, 1997, where I was interviewing invited stars and dignitaries on the red carpet under the theatre marquee for live video streaming. Legendary CBS anchor Walter Cronkite arrived, and I took the opportunity to interview him live, to which he responded on camera “Son, it is not you that should be interviewing me, it is I that should be interviewing you, since you and this new medium are the future”. At that very moment, I was finally aware I was part of history in the making.

Death of a Salesman Broadway Brian Dennehy Arthur MillerI also produced many live chats on AOL, Compuserve, MSN and, beginning with Chita Rivera on December 10, 1997, and then later with icons such as Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Carol Channing and Jerry Lewis. My favorite being with Arthur Miller and Brian Dennehy during the opening week of the Tony Award winning DEATH OF A SALESMAN, in conjunction with AOL which drew a record-breaking 8,000 concurrent users.

Broadway Passport TheatrecomA single consolidated login across all Broadway, West End, Off-Broadway show websites and other member sites that I created, via a ‘Broadway Passport‘ that I established (a pre-curser to the AppleID concept), greatly benefitting theatre goers with quick and easy secure access to over 200 theatre websites, with just one single login.

My companies were host of the TOBY AWARDS, initially established in 1997 to grant peoples choice awards to the best shows, performers, crew, designers, managers or any other theatrical role based on member polling (Theatre Online Best of the Year).  The first was awarded to Stephanie Lawrence in 1997 in London for her spectacular performance in USA, Canada & UK in BLOOD BROTHERS and CATS in the West End. After 2001, this evolved as a direct award from me for practitioners from any entertainment discipline recognizing excellence in their contribution to global entertainment which continues ad-hoc to this day.

Toby Awards Toby Awards Certificate

Select content along with comprehensive Broadway, Off-Broadway, national touring and regional content was also available through America Online (AOL Keyword: Broadway), Digital City network, MSN (MSN keyword: Broadway) and CompuServe’s Arts & Entertainment Channel, including include show synopsis, performance schedules & times, production photographs, seating charts and facility information.

Broadway AOL Theatrecom Screen

Together with AvantGo,’s full site offerings were also available to handheld PC and Palm Pilot users worldwide (the pre-cursor to smartphones).

www disneyonbroadway comIn addition, I developed and implemented launch campaign site for Disney on Broadway for THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and Elton John & Tim Rice’s AIDA featuring around-the-world contests and extensive guerrilla marketing.

I also created the world’s first video email, from Elton John to promote Elton John & Tim Rice’s AIDA with a prize of a trip to the Tony Awards courtesy of American Express…

SM WeChatSM WeChat Channel
🇨🇳 in China, all foreign sites are blocked, scan my WeChat Channel QR to watch:
QR WeChat Channel

Operated by Toby Simkin, later creating New York-based BuyBroadway Online, Inc, and later again re-branded to Inc at the Minskoff Theatre on October 19, 1999, the 7th anniversary of my first theatrical website, the Worldwide Entertainment Network. Staff Group in 1999As I grew the business, over the years, it took a team to enhance. These were the pioneers that embraced my vision:

  • Toby Simkin, Founder, President & CEO
  • Robert Viagas, Managing Editor
  • Jill Pattton, Director, Client Services
  • Mary Jane Brennan, Marketing Manager
  • David Balsom, Senior Press Representative
  • Peter Cromarty, Press Representative
  • Andrew McGibbon, Director, Special Projects
  • Karl Fritz, Senior Designer
  • Jeffrey Bowen, Designer
  • Jeff Prout, Designer
  • Paul Urfi, Design Specialist
  • Joe Giegel, Advanced Development Programming
  • DJ Wizniak, Creative Services
  • Stuart Levy, Client Services
  • Mark Harman, Client Services
  • Paula Mallino, Retail Manager
  • Bernd Schueren, Product Fulfilment
  • Norma Grossman, Listing Manager
  • Ken Mandelbaum, Features Reporter & “Minute by Minute
  • Peter Filichia, Senior Reporter & “Theatregoers Diary
  • Jessica Browner, Reporter – New England & “Ask Jessica
  • Randy Gener, Senior Reporter
  • Michael Farkash, Reporter – Southern California
  • Sean McGrath, Reporter – Chicago
  • Dave Brand, Reporter – Denver
  • Mark Shenton, Reporter – London
  • Erin Hart, Reporter – Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Elizabeth Ahlfors, Reporter – Philadelphia
  • Richard Dodds, Reporter – San Francisco
  • Mitchell Uscher, Reporter – Southern Florida
  • Peter Szatmary, Reporter – Texas
  • Brad Hathaway, Reporter – Washington DC
  • Benjamin Mogil, Administrator
  • Susan Lee, Strategic Partnership Advisor
  • Jose Campos, South American Liasion
  • Jerome Watts, Webmaster
  • Terry Willey, Systems Engineer
  • Kevin Kwan, Technical Coordination
  • Gerry Liu, Programmer
  • Xinyang Shen, Programmer
  • Rajshree Ojha, Technical Support
  • Norman Mogil, Board Advisor
  • Ed Shapero, Chief Financial Officer
  • Tim Gamble, Investor Relations
  • John Angelo, Investor Communications
  • Sharon Hawa, Investor Communications
  • Robert Henry, Assistant to the President

A member of the League of American Theatres and Producers, Toby had been leading the industry into cyberspace since its establishment in 1989 by designing, hosting and promoting the official web sites for the vast majority of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, national tours and regional shows and theatrical industry organizations.

I was embracing technology.  I saw the future.

Others didn’t.  Eventually turned into a publicly traded company in 1999 (VSX: EmNet) and thanks to an idiotic short-sighted public company board decision who chose to ignore my belief in the internet / tech future for Broadway and global theatre, forced a sale to the Broadway Television Network in 2000 for a little over $10m — a pittance in those days.  And so began my distrust of money people. (Crowd-funding, Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank did not exist back then).

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Toby is a star in his field because he is not only brilliant; he also cares about the job he does and the people for whom he does it. He is an extraordinary asset to the theatrical community.

Bobbie Horowitz, Broadway Producer
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Toby worked on various League projects, including the 2000 Tony Awards (content and design) and our overall development of an internet strategy for the theatrical industry. He has always been an enthusiastic, reliable and positive force within our community.

Jed W. Bernstein, President, The League of American Theatres and Producers
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Toby is a tremendous asset to the industry, and a wonderful man.  His vision and years of leadership in shaping how Broadway can fit into the internet has been extraordinary. Toby guided us at many League conferences over the years with road maps, and his creativity on a live video webcast from the tour of LES MISERABLES, stepping into FOSSE and PUTTING IT TOGETHER, all shows I managed, was exceptional.

Alan C. Wasser, Alan Wasser Associates
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Toby has kept my business at the forefront of the entertainment industry by providing extraordinary, unique, guidance in helping the theatre in general effectively understand the potential of the Internet. He has made the entire Broadway industry more effective with pioneering on-line coverage of individual shows, as well as instituting pro-active outreach programs using the Word Wide Web to encourage and develop new audiences for the theatre. He has created cutting-edge resources for numerous Broadway productions and his work in the Broadway arena has had a profound influence on the business of theatre and has been instrumental in bringing a classic art-form into the new millennium.

Adrian Bryan-Brown, Boneau/Bryan-Brown
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Toby’s knowledge, talent, dedication and commitment to the community of American Theatre have been instrumental in our dramatic and constant growth. Through his ingenuity, he streamlined our business procedures and positively impacted our financial goals. Toby’s creativity, guidance and team approach have reinforced MTI’s lead role in this industry.

Steve Spiegel, President, Music Theatre International
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Toby is the leader and driving force in the use of the internet pertaining to theatrical productions. Toby is highly regarded in the theatre community in New York as a person of impeccable integrity in his business life and in his personal life.

David Richenthal, Broadway Producer
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Toby’s knowledge of the industry and dedication to enhancing the presence of our CHICAGO, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and SEUSSICAL shows has proven extremely valuable to their continued success. Toby displayed an acute appreciation for the impact of the internet developing and evolving our sites with complete understanding of the Broadway consumer and their needs, while remaining true to the artistic constructs of each show. He has shown a passion that is intricately involved in the close-knit world of Broadway with proven desire to use his skills to see it thrive.

Barry Weissler, President, National Artists Management Co.
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There is absolutely nothing in this world that Toby can’t handle.  His ability to coordinate and execute is exemplary, and his unique sense of logistics is a rare quality. He is a splendid example of grace under pressure. Regardless of any difficult or stressful situation, his manner of dealing with his colleagues, staff and the general public is a joy to behold.

Stan Jacobson, Producer, Winter Olympics and SkyDome Opening Ceremony
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Toby is a very talented theatre professional, pioneer and leader in bringing the world of theatre and the internet together. His extraordinary work in establishing the theatre industry’s visibility was ground breaking. He has been a valuable contributor both as a theatre producer as well as marketing consultant. Toby’s rare combination of intelligence, organizational skills, expertise and aesthetic sensibility make him a leading member of the professional theatre community.

Frank P. Scardino, Executive Producer, Roundabout Theatre Company
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I engaged Toby to catalog and digitize my husband Jule’s documents, awards, compositions and personal diaries to ensure his legacy was not lost, and to create an enduring web presence.  Managing the volumes and boxes of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, PETER PAN, BELLS ARE RINGING, GYPSY and FUNNY GIRL memorabilia was an arduous task which he undertook with care, passion and attention to detail.  He honored me with a TOBY AWARD last year, but it should be me honoring him with an award for his utter brilliance.

Margaret Styne, Widow, Jule Styne (composer)
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Toby is an exceptional individual and one that has made an extraordinary contribution in bringing the convergence of Broadway, entertainment, and the internet together.

Fred B. Tarter, Chairman, Stagebill
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My employees and I have had the opportunity to work very closely with Toby on many Broadway and Off-Broadway productions over many years ranging from THE SOUND OF MUSIC to STOMP and feel he has proven to be a great asset to the theatrical community.

Richard Frankel, Richard Frankel Productions
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Toby exceeded producers expectations and confirmed that new innovative ideas could break through in the marketplace. Toby’s keen understanding of how best to market shows was recognized by producers across the board and his commitment, passion and energy in this business have been an inspiration.

Keith Hurd, Broadway Marketing Director
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Toby reenforces my ideal of a responsible, dependable and innovative worker in the business world. His dedication to online theatrical marketing is intense as he continually strives to prove himself as a trustworthy and forthcoming visionary in the Theatrical and Internet industry. His work has been groundbreaking for the entire industry.

Carrie Ellen Heikkila, Senior Director, SFX Entertainment
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Toby is creative and collaborative and working with him was an excellent experience. Beyond the individual work he did for my specific shows, Toby showed leadership within the community in terms of his vision for the industry and the world-wide web. He changed and influenced the way we all interact with the web and was instrumental in showing us our to use our websites as marketing tools. Without Toby, we’d still be in the dark ages.

Carol Chiavetta, Executive Director, Buena Vista Theatrical Group
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Toby roared into the rather anarchic and insular industry and dazzled colleagues and competitors alike with a vision that was both global and futuristic. I came to respect his tenacity, his professionalism and his talents.

Bert Fink, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization
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Toby’s passion and commitment were essential elements in the success of VICTOR/VICTORIA on Broadway. As one of the producers, the website he created for our show was the very first website for a Broadway production, the first to sell tickets online, the first to publicize video to consumers, one begins to understand it’s import. Toby went on to make an enormous contribution to Broadway as a whole.

Tony Adams, Lead Producer, Victor/Victoria
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Toby is an outstanding individual and professional who possesses particular abilities regarding the world of technology and, in particular, the development, design and implementation of websites, He is indeed a “team player” and understands the intricacies of the business better than anyone I have ever met.

Michael A. Jenkins, President, Dallas Sumer Musicals
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Toby Simkin has proven to be a reliable, dedicated and focused individual, who has not only pioneered bringing Broadway to the internet, but introduced it to us in such a way that today we actually profit from it. Certainly the shows that I have managed have had terrific results on the net, entirely due to Mr. Simkin’s vision and perseverance.

Tanya Grubich, The Marketing Group
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Toby has been one of my greatest teachers, mentors, colleagues and friends. Consistently, he was bringing a sharp focus and insight into a burgeoning new piece of our business – the internet. In a short time, our entire theatre industry become a part of “e-fever” and Toby was the expert that we all needed to explain to us this great new venture and give us the capacity in which to explore. Offering creative and artistic insights, combined with a savvy business acumen, Toby built from his bare hands and turned it into a Broadway powerhouse that no producer could do without.

Scott Walton, Walton Group
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Toby is one of us. He loves theatre. Toby had this idea about the internet and the theatre a long time ago. Really long ago. If Toby had taken this visionary thinking and applied this to another market, Toby would have been a multi-jillionaire. (Yes, I made up the word “Jillionaire”). Toby had the idea about commerce and Broadway to create BuyBroadway.…. before existed. Can you imagine?

James Marino, BroadwayStars
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As an active voting member of The Grammy Awards I am in an excellent position to comment upon the extraordinary talents of Toby who could perform, represent and negotiate at a level to perpetuate the exceptional reputation of my recording project and live performance with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. I have always been pleased with his productivity and efficiency. I can unequivocally attest to his enthusiasm, integrity and abilities. Toby always the first person to tackle a difficult issue and have a complete resolve to that issue.

Richard J. Bernstein, CEO, Bernstein Corporation
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Toby is an extremely competent and organized Stage Manager as well as a very thoughtful and sensitive human being. Toby performs his job with tremendous dedication and boundless energy, always going above and beyond the call of duty to see that the whole operation runs smoothly.

Davis Gaines, Broadway Actor
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Toby’s years working on the Broadway and touring companies of RENT and DE LA GUARDA in New York have made him an invaluable member of our marketing team as well as the theatrical community. It is safe to say that without his input, guidance and creative vision, our online presence would be virtually non-existent.

Laura Matalon, Principal, The Marketing Group
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Toby is an honorable man who takes pride in his work and in keeping his word – not entirely common traits for many as entrepreneurial as he. The level of work, the responsiveness to our needs, and the turn-around on the project exceeded my expectations.

Christopher McSwain, California Musical Theatre

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