NEW YORK >> Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles face a daunting task at Sunday’s Tony Awards — anchor the telecast as first-time hosts, show off Broadway’s season without a clear juggernaut like “Hamilton” and articulate the theater community’s embrace of the #MeToo movement while not forgetting the nominees.
The pop stars, who have both recently fallen into Broadway’s orbit, face their biggest audience yet and a careful political balancing act when they co-host the CBS telecast from the massive 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall.
“I think we want ultimately the tone of the night to be about positivity and inclusively, and certainly we’re both people who are politically minded, but that’s not really what this particular night is about,” Bareilles said. “You can’t help but have a socially conscious approach when you’re socially conscious people.”
Groban said show will make note of the #MeToo movement that has rippled across the United States, particularly in Hollywood. He said one moment will be dedicated to the movement but details remained “top secret.”
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 or Stanley Cup playoff games.
A-list talent expected to be on hand this year includes Robert De Niro, Claire Danes, Billy Joel, Carey Mulligan, Jim Parsons and Kerry Washington, who this fall will star in the Broadway premiere of “American Son.” Bruce Springsteen will make a rare TV appearance, performing live on the show, and will receive a Special Tony Award for his one-man show “Springsteen on Broadway.”
Others expected to participate include Uzo Aduba, Christine Baranski, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Melissa Benoist, Erich Bergen, Rachel Bloom, Matt Bomer, Rachel Brosnahan, Tituss Burgess, Jeff Daniels, , Brandon Victor Dixon, James Monroe Iglehart, Christopher Jackson, Patti LuPone, Tatiana Maslany, Katharine McPhee, Matthew Morrison, Leslie Odom, Jr., Kelli O’Hara, Zachary Quinto, Bernadette Peters, Andrew Rannells and Marisa Jaret Winokur.
Interest in musicals has been on the rise in recent years, fed by the international smash “Hamilton” and last year’s “Dear Evan Hansen.” But many musical theater successes this season were recorded far from Broadway, including the film “The Greatest Showman,” which has sold over 1 million albums, and the live TV event “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which drew 10.9 million viewers.
Two new musicals lead the nominations for the top Tony Award crown, with Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants” receiving 12 nods each. A revival of “Angels in America” has 11 and the two-part play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” has 10. Many critics have tapped “The Band’s Visit” as the odds-on favorite to be crowned best new musical.
Viewers will see performances by the casts of the 2018 Tony Award-nominated shows “The Band’s Visit,” ”Carousel,” ”Frozen,” ”Mean Girls,” ”My Fair Lady,” ”Once on This Island,” ”SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” The cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” will also return for a performance.
For most of the previous awards season, shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes have acknowledged the issue of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Bareilles and Groban will try to do that while also eviscerating any memory of last year’s Tony host, Kevin Spacey, who since then has been accused by at least 24 men of sexual misconduct or assault.
They’ll also hope to end the ratings slide following the 2016 edition that was led by “Hamilton,” which drew 8.73 million viewers. Spacey’s ceremony last year drew 6 million viewers, which represented a drop of approximately 31 percent in total viewers from the previous year.
While neither star is on Broadway this season, they’ve made their mark on the Great White Way. Groban was nominated for a Tony for his role in 2017’s “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” and Bareilles got the nomination for the “Waitress” score, and has also appeared in the show.
Groban and Bareilles are also friends, and that was evident Thursday as they spoke about their upcoming hosting duties, laughing it up along the way. “We have so many dad jokes between us, and puns. Most of those will not be making it to air,” Groban quipped.
But Groban said he hopes the Tonys are more than just a three-hour advertisement for Broadway. “I think it’s a commercial for theater — period, Broadway, off-Broadway off off-Broadway. It’s a commercial for the ability to bring people together,” he said.