It’s not as if the Tonys would ever be confused with the Super Bowl, but this year expect just a bit more cross-dressing.
CBS’ presentation of the 68th Annual Tony Awards, live from Radio City Music Hall Sunday, June 8, celebrates Broadway’s best, and this season features a lot of men in dresses.
“It is a very draggy season,” Neil Patrick Harris says. “I can’t wait to see which color lipstick Hugh is going to don.”
Harris refers to Hugh Jackman, hosting for the fourth time. Harris, who also hosted the Tonys four times, is up for his first award for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical for his amazing turn in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Though Harris has three Emmys and has been nominated for many other awards, this honor is special, he tells Zap2it.
“It is exciting,” Harris says. “I have been accustomed to putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform once — usually for an awards show, where we have censors and have to be choreographed and precise and big. And as soon as it is done, you move on to giving an award to someone else.
“I am enjoying the repetition actually, the hour-to-hour of it all,” he continues. “Getting to the theater early, the physical warm-up, the vocal warm-up, the makeup and wigs — it becomes ritual. In past shows I have done, it was a finely tuned machine, and when everything was clicking it was great.
“With ‘Hedwig’ every show will be different,” Harris continues. “And sometimes I am feeling sexier and sometimes angrier, and all of this is allowed in that show.”
He plays a transgender man whose reassignment surgery was not a complete success, and Hedwig, a performer who never made it to the big time, puts on a show and tells the story of her life, which began in East Germany.
In Harris’ category are Ramin Karimloo for “Les Miserables,” Andy Karl for “Rocky,” and Bryce Pinkham and Jefferson Mays, both for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”
The latter, this season’s most favored show with 10 nominations, is an old-fashioned musical where a young man kills the eight heirs who stand between him and becoming an earl.
“Rocky” brings Sly Stallone’s movie to the stage, and Christopher Barreca’s scenic design is rightly up for a Tony. He re-creates the iconic moment where Rocky climbs the stairs, as well as a boxing ring, which requires moving the audience out of orchestra seats and onto the stage, where the boxers pummel each other.
Though there are fun musicals and gripping dramas, as American Theatre Wing chair and 14-time Tony nominee William Ivey Long notes, there are no obvious sweeps. Long is nominated this season for “Bullets Over Broadway,” in which Helene Yorke plays a terminally untalented chorus girl, and Vincent Pastore plays her gangster boyfriend.
Long looks for ways to make the Tonys more popular. This year, the show features its first red carpet.
A month before the big night, women who will be walking that red carpet were wondering what they would wear. Sutton Foster of “Bunheads,” who has two Tonys and her sixth nomination for “Violet,” was banking on Michael Kors dressing her.
Foster’s heart-rending performance as a white woman with a terrible facial scar who in 1964 falls in love with a black man (played by Joshua Henry, also nominated), has garnered attention because she plays the role without makeup.
“When it was done in ’87, people’s imaginations are stronger than anything we could show,” she says. “I am a no-makeup kind of gal anyway, and we got to this one point of, ‘What am I doing?
Why am I putting on mascara or base or anything?’ It didn’t make sense for her to wear makeup. And for me as an actor, it didn’t make sense. It was a gift. Woo-hoo!”
The day after the nominations were announced, some of those honored were still reeling. The two most likely shoo-ins are Harris’ Hedwig and James Monroe Iglehart’s genie in “Aladdin.”
A big man who’s light on his feet and knows how to rock purple and lame, Iglehart says, “I am a stocky brother. I am the big guy who moves well.”
Another category with incredibly strong contenders is best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play. Sarah Greene of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” Celia Keenan-Bolger of
“The Glass Menagerie,” Mare Winningham of “Casa Valentina,” and Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose, both of “A Raisin in the Sun,” give stunning performances.
Keenan-Bolger says she’s grateful her show was remembered after it closed. “I thought there was a pretty good chance it would be overlooked because it was an amazing season of shows,” she says.
As Rose shares the stage with Denzel Washington and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, she says she does not think about giving a Tony-caliber performance. “I am thinking, ‘Anika, I can’t believe you just ran into this couch.’ I am harping on whether the audience sees it or not. I am never thinking [about awards]. That’s the step just before you trip.”
Harris also says he does not focus on awards while onstage. This Tonys show will be very special for him. He’ll “sit in a chair that is not backstage,” Harris says. “As a host, you only get to sit in a cordoned-off booth backstage, quickly rewriting jokes. It will be lovely to sit. I am so proud that ‘Hedwig’ got eight nominations.”