“He understands Broadway and television, and Broadway and television come together one time a year,” says Glenn Weiss, director and co-producer of the Tonys.
Though Harris was suspended upside down when “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” was a contender in 2012, he’s not going to pull similar stunts this time.
“I never find it a successful move when an awards show host dons different ridiculous outfits,” Harris tells Zap2it. “As a viewer, I never feel it is funny, and I just think it is difficult for the host. It is a lot of work for not a lot of accolades. You end up with silly pictures of yourself in the trades.
“The job of hosting an awards show like the Tonys is to be the ringmaster and barker,” he adds. “It is different from other shows because it is so performance-filled. You have to spend your time honoring the season and honoring the shows.”
CBS’ live, three-hour telecast returns to New York’s Radio City Music Hall to honor a season that has been incredibly diverse. It included one-person shows on a super-agent (“I’ll Eat You Later”), Macbeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus (“The Testament of Mary”) — though Bette Midler, Alan Cumming and Fiona Shaw, who played them, respectively, were not nominated.
This season has Tom Hanks nominated for best actor in his Broadway debut in “Lucky Guy.” Nora Ephron’s final play, about the late newspaperman Mike McAlary, is up for six Tonys.
“There are a lot of things on Broadway this year that don’t fit the mold of the Broadway musical,” says co-producer Ricky Kirshner. “There are a lot of interesting races. The best musical races are very close, and a lot of the acting categories are very close.”
It was a surprising season with so many musicals geared toward children, and nominated shows include “A Christmas Story, The Musical,” “Matilda The Musical” and “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”
Among the brilliant performances nominated are Nathan Lane’s as a conservative gay vaudevillian in “The Nance” and Tracy Letts‘ as the drunken professor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“I am kind of blown away by the diversity of the shows,” Harris says. “There are lots of children, lots of animals, lots of people in nothing and lots of men in dresses.”
Young actors were remarkable this season, notably in “Matilda The Musical,” in which the four girls who share the title role will be honored with a special Tony. Roald Dahl’s timeless story of a brilliant girl raised by imbeciles has music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.
It also has a hilarious performance by Bertie Carvel, a large man parading around as the nastiest headmistress in the world. He’s up for leading actor in a musical, against, among others, the terrific stars of “Kinky Boots”: Billy Porter, who plays a drag queen, and Stark Sands as the reluctant heir to a shoe factory.
“Kinky Boots” leads with 13 nominations, including one for Cyndi Lauper’s music and lyrics.
She’s in the same category as Trey Anastasio of Phish, who co-wrote the music for “Hands on a Hardbody.”
That musical, about Texans competing to win a truck by keeping their hands on it, didn’t last long, but two other plays set in Texas are going strong.
Holland Taylor, of “Two and a Half Men” fame, wrote and is spellbinding as “Ann,” the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards. Taylor’s in terrific company for leading actress in a play, which includes Cicely Tyson in “The Trip to Bountiful.” Set in Houston and a tiny, moribund town, it stars Tyson as a woman intent on seeing her childhood home one last time.
She shares the stage with Condola Rashad, nominated for the second time in a featured role. Also up for her second Tony is Patina Miller, having a ridiculous amount of fun as the ringmaster in the revival of “Pippin.”
It’s in the middle of “Pippin,” which garnered 10 nominations, that the season has its one genuine showstopper, courtesy of Andrea Martin. She proves that 66 is the perfect age to rock a bustier leotard and fishnets while swinging from a trampoline with a well-muscled young man.
Though “Pippin” has sexy costumes, those to beat are the confections in “Cinderella.” William Ivey Long, who has won five Tonys and serves as chair of the American Theatre Wing, designed the gowns that seem to magically pop up out of rags.
He’s creating one just for the Tonys, but that’s all Long would allow, for like the producers, he’s intent on not spoiling surprises.
“Keep your eyes open for very familiar characters appearing through the night,” Weiss says. “After the show, that will make a lot of sense.”
As the first working artist since Helen Hayes to serve as chair, Long explains that the Tonys started off much smaller; originally male winners were given money clips, and women were given compacts.
What separates the Tonys from other awards shows, Weiss says, are the acceptance speeches.
“The sense of the community of the people on Broadway,” he says, “that translates and helps make it a unique feature of this television show.”
“This is a year that you can’t necessarily make predictions, which makes it that much more exciting on show night,” Weiss says.