The Tony Awards will be a real drag this year: The two top musicals battling it out have leading men dressed as women and the night’s biggest celebrity will be Tom Hanks, who reminded everyone of his cross-dressing roots by teaming up in “Lucky Guy” with Peter Scolari, his “Bosom Buddies” co-star.
The Tonys will be broadcast live Sunday by CBS from the cavernous Radio City Music Hall, a homecoming of sorts after two years in a much smaller theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Neil Patrick Harris will be back for his fourth turn as host, overseeing a telecast without a clear favorite show, not a lot of high-wattage stars as nominees and lots of onstage diversity this season.
“Kinky Boots” and “Matilda the Musical” are the front-runners for the most coveted award — top musical. Both are inspired by British works and both have actors speaking in English actors, but one’s DNA is clearly American.
Pop singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein have given “Kinky Boots” — originally a 2005 film about a failing shoe factory that turns to making drag queen boots — a fun score and a touching book that celebrates diversity. It has generated two leading men nods in Billy Porter and Stark Sands.
“Matilda the Musical” is all British, a witty, dark musical adaptation of the novel by Roald Dahl that is still running in London. It’s leading woman is actually a man — Bertie Carver, who plays the evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull.
Others musicals hoping for recognition include the acrobatic “Bring It On: The Musical” and “A Christmas Story, the Musical,” adapted from the beloved holiday movie. Top musical revivals include an updated “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” and a cracking revival of “Pippin” with a circus feel.
The best play award is largely a two-way race between Christopher Durang’s comical “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and Richard Greenberg’s moving “The Assembled Parties.”
The biggest star with a nomination is Broadway newcomer Hanks, who could snap up a Tony for “Lucky Guy,” Nora Ephron’s last work and a best play finalist. He faces tough competition from Nathan Lane, who plays a closeted gay burlesque performer in “The Nance.”
“I think artistically it was a good season. I really liked ‘Kinky Boots.’ I really liked ‘Matilda.’ I really liked the plays that are nominated for best play,” said Todd Haimes, the artistic director of the nonprofit Roundabout Theatre Company, which produced the revival of “The Big Knife,” earning a best supporting actor Tony nomination. “I thought some of the performances were some of the most extraordinary I’ve seen in a long time.”
The nominators ignored some big-name talent who graced Broadway stages this season, including Bette Midler, Jessica Chastain, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Paul Rudd, Alec Baldwin, Alicia Silverstone, Sigourney Weaver, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Scarlett Johansson.
Presenters will include some of the A-listers overlooked for nominations as well as Jesse Eisenberg, Jon Cryer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick, Zachary Quinto, Sally Field, Audra McDonald, Alan Cumming, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Megan Hilty, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mike Tyson, the ex-boxer who showed up with a one-man show this season.
The winners will be determined by 868 Tony voters, including members of The Broadway League, American Theatre Wing, Actors’ Equity, the Dramatists Guild, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society as well as critics from the New York Drama Critics Circle.
The awards telecast will face competition for attention on Sunday night from an episode of “Mad Men” on AMC and Game 2 of the NBA finals between San Antonio and Miami on ABC. Last year’s telecast was seen by 6 million viewers, down significantly from 2011’s 6.9 million.
The awards cap a somewhat grim financial season on Broadway in which the total box office take was flat and the number of ticket buyers slipped 6 percent. Both numbers were blamed in part on Superstorm Sandy, but high ticket prices and the lack of long term audience growth has many worried.
“We can’t see to increase the size of the pie,” said Haimes. “It’s counterintuitive to me because tourism is up and all other indicators that you would think would be positive for theater like hotel occupancy and restaurant occupancy are up, and yet we can’t see to increase the Broadway audience.”
Among the theater professionals honored Sunday, playwright and activist Larry Kramer will get a special Tony for his work battling AIDS and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be recognized with a Tony for Excellence in the Theater, a nod to his embrace of tourism and the Broadway community.
A total of 46 new shows opened during the season, which began last May and ended May 26: 15 musicals, 26 plays and five special events or concerts. The number of plays produced this season set a new record.
Shows that came and went this season quickly include “Orphans,” '‘The Testament of Mary,” '‘Hands on a Hardbody,” '‘The Anarchist,” '‘Scandalous,” '‘Jekyll & Hyde” and “The Performers.”
The season may have been rocky but newcomers “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” '‘Kinky Boots,” '‘Lucky Guy,” '‘Matilda the Musical” and “Motown: The Musical” have been big hits, regularly topping $1 million at the box office each week.