Without ‘Hamilton’ buzz, Tonys to put on brave face Sunday

Posted at 10:54 AM, Jun 10, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) — Last year at the Tony Awards, a rabid interest in “Hamilton” stemmed a three-year slide in viewership. This year, there’s a new host, an old home and hope that a starry list of celebrities can cure the post-“Hamilton” hangover. None other than “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda will be on hand to help the transition.

Kevin Spacey, the Oscar-winning “House of Cards” star who has a Tony of his own, will be host of the telecast Sunday from the massive 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall. With a foot in both Broadway and Hollywood, Spacey brings glamour and acting chops to the job.

He declined earlier this week to reveal what he plans to do, other than saying, “Everything’s on the table.” When pressed, Spacey didn’t buckle. “You’ll just have to tune in and see,” he said.

Those watching will see musical numbers from nine new and revival musicals, including “Bandstand,” ”Come From Away,” ”Dear Evan Hansen,” ”Falsettos,” ”Groundhog Day The Musical,” ”Miss Saigon,” Josh Groban and the cast of “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” ”Hello, Dolly!” and “War Paint.” There will also be a performance by two Tony Award winners from last year — Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr.

But one thing they won’t get to hear is Bette Midler sing after talks failed to land the diva, who’s starring in a hit revival of “Hello, Dolly.” In other sour notes, the thriving and popular “Anastasia” didn’t get a slot, despite its draw with young people, particularly women. Nor will the musicals “A Bronx Tale” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” despite their box-office popularity and the inclusion of some other shows that are struggling.

Each of the musicals picked for the show has been busy fitting in Tony rehearsals between matinees and evening performances. The performers from “Come From Away,” a feel-good Canadian musical set against the horror of 9/11, played their regular Thursday-night show and then got into buses to go to Radio City for a run-though for what they’ll do at the Tonys.

It marked actress Astrid Van Wieren’s first time inside Radio City and she and her castmates took time to soak it all in, including watching Spacey rehearsing. “We kept looking at each other, kind of slack-jawed and sparkly eyed, like it was Christmas,” she said Friday. “We do not just sit there and think, ‘Yes, this is just another day at the office.’ It is not another day at the office. It is amazing.”

The wild popularity of “Hamilton” last year translated into a huge bump in ratings for the Tonys, with the telecast beating the previous year’s audience by more than 2 million viewers. It was hosted by James Corden with an endearing, fan-boy vibe.

Those tuning in to CBS this year will get plenty of “Hamilton” alumni. In addition to Miranda, Odom (who won a Tony as Aaron Burr) will perform and Christopher Jackson (who played George Washington) will help present awards. “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler will get to show off his new show, “Bandstand.”

Getting buzz from appearing on the telecast can dictate a show’s future, both on Broadway and on tour. Broadway producers will be thankful this year that the telecast won’t have to compete with any NBA Finals games, but there will be a Stanley Cup playoff game.

Producers are sure to be keeping their fingers crossed that they avoid any technical or human snafus that have marred previous awards shows this year, including the wrong winner announced at the Oscars and sound issues at the Grammys.

The presenters are the regular mix of Broadway and Hollywood, including Orlando Bloom, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Josh Gad, Taraji P. Henson, Scarlett Johansson, Anna Kendrick, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Wilde, Scott Bakula, Sara Bareilles, Rachel Bloom, Glenn Close, Brian d’Arcy James, Sally Field, Sutton Foster, Whoopi Goldberg, Jonathan Groff, Mark Hamill, Allison Janney, Nick Kroll, John Legend, John Lithgow, Patina Miller, John Mulaney, David Oyelowo, Chazz Palminteri, Sarah Paulson, Lea Salonga, Tom Sturridge and Tommy Tune.

Justin Paul, who co-wrote the songs for “Dear Evan Hansen” with his writing partner Benj Pasek, is looking forward to Sunday. Although the duo won an Oscar for the song “City of Stars” from “La La Land,” they have long toiled in musical theater and consider it home.

“It’s a very meaningful night to us because obviously this is our world and we’ve practically waited our whole life to be able to do it,” said Paul. “It is very thrilling to just be there, especially to share it with so many of our colleagues.”