The Tonys — the most earnest and warm-hearted of all the major award shows, even if they only barely count as major — are back! Kevin Spacey will be hosting the 71st annual Tony Awards ceremony, recognizing excellence in Broadway theater, on Sunday, June 11, at 8 pm Eastern on CBS.
The Tonys ceremony is nominally there to grant awards to this season’s Broadway shows, both musicals and plays, but in practice, its true job is to be an ambassador for live theater itself. Most of the country doesn’t have access to the theater performed every day in New York City, and even if you live in New York, tickets can be prohibitively expensive. For theater kids across the country, the Tonys telecast is the closest that they’ll come to actually seeing the alchemy of live actors doing their thing onstage, in front of a live audience.
To that end, the Tonys traditionally feature a lot of song and dance numbers. All of the nominees for Best New Musical and Best Revival of a Musical get a chance to show off their stuff. Other, non-nominated shows can purchase a performance slot if they wish, although the result is often just a little embarrassing. (Here’s looking at you, Royal Caribbean production of Hairspray.) And usually the host — often a songman like Neil Patrick Harris or James Corden — will launch into a prepared number or two, about how important theater is to children and how Broadway is not just for gays anymore. Sometimes there’s even a composer backstage who writes a song about the ceremony as it goes, and then the host frantically learns it and performs it at the end of the night (Hamilton’s Lin Manuel-Miranda wrote it in 2011).
But this year, in the absence of a deafeningly buzzy musical like Hamilton, the Tonys appear to be going in a different direction. Host Kevin Spacey isn’t an outsider to the community — he’s a theater vet who won a Tony in 1991 for the play Lost in Yonkers, and he’s been known to sing on occasion — but he doesn’t have the “theater kid” vibe of a James Corden or a Sean Hayes. In April, Michael Riedel reported in the New York Post that Tonys producers believed the show-stopping musical performances of the past few Tonys ceremonies to be “impossible to top,” and that they were searching for a host who wouldn’t sing or dance.
So when you tune into the Tonys on Sunday night, it’s safe to expect a lot of discussion of how vital and important live theater is, and how necessary it is to America’s cultural heart — but it’s an open question as to whether that moral will come in the form of a catchy song-and-dance number.
How to watch the 2017 Tonys
Where: Live on CBS. Or, if you subscribe to CBS All Access, you can live-stream coverage.
When: June 11 at 8:00 pm Eastern.
Why: Why not!