The Tony Awards kick off with Kevin Spacey as its first-time host hoping to shake the telecast's post-"Hamilton" hangover. If rehearsals are any judge, the show plays to the new host's strength.
Spacey danced, sang and joked his way through a three-hour rehearsal Sunday morning with grace and self-depreciating wit. He was game enough to start the show gently mocking all four musical nominees.
Those who tune in Sunday night will get to see Spacey do impersonations of former President Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon and Johnny Carson, if rehearsals prove right. His Frank Underwood from "House of Cards" makes a late appearance, and he and Patti LuPone close the show with a lovely duet of "The Curtain Falls" by Bobby Darin, a role he played onscreen.
Spacey, who emerged as Tony host after several other celebrities turned the job down, laughs at himself in the 10-minute opening song, in which he grows comfortable with hosting duties as he connects all four best new musical nominees.
Other show highlights will be the return of the Rockettes on a Tony stage after 13 years and the decision to have all four playwrights nominated for best play Tonys appear to present their works.
Those watching will see musical numbers from nine new and revival musicals, "Bandstand," ''Come From Away," ''Dear Evan Hansen," ''Falsettos," ''Groundhog Day The Musical," ''Hello, Dolly!" ''Miss Saigon," ''Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and "War Paint."
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 show "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.
The leading musical Tony nominees are "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812," with 12 nominations, "Hello, Dolly!" with 10 and "Dear Evan Hansen," with nine.
The top play nominees are "A Doll's House, Part 2," with eight, and "Oslo," with seven. Last year, all eyes were on how many statuettes "Hamilton" would capture. This year, the awards are expected to be scattered around.
"It's such a great season for musicals," said Astrid Van Wieren, who stars in "Come From Away," a show based on real events about how a Canadian town opened its arms to stranded people on Sept. 11, 2001.
"There isn't just one. 'Hamilton' — God bless, great show; it reinvigorated everything — but there isn't that feeling that the season is owned by one show," she said. "There's so much for everyone to see."
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 and a soccer game pitting the U.S. and Mexico. They'll also 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.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits