NEW YORK — Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris will sing and dance, skewer the troubled "Spider-Man" musical and have a fake showdown with Hugh Jackman at Sunday night's ceremony.
The Emmy-winning star of "How I Met Your Mother" revealed those details and more as he led a rehearsal of the star-studded show at the Beacon Theatre.
He and previous Tony host Jackman will have a sing-off and Harris will at one point ride onto the stage aboard a life-size horse puppet from "War Horse," one of the plays heavily nominated.
"The Book of Mormon" goes into the show with 14 Tony nominations, one shy of the record held by "The Producers," and is heavily favored to win at the very least the best musical crown.
The show, by the creators of "South Park" and "Avenue Q," has already been declared the season's best musical by the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League and the New York Drama Critics' Circle. It has also produced the fastest selling digital release of a cast recording in history.
The musical was the biggest new hit from a Broadway season that saw 42 shows open — 14 musicals, 25 plays and three specials. Box-office grosses soared to $1.08 billion while attendance reached 12.5 million, both up from last season.
"The Book of Mormon," by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, follows the travails of two Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to try to convert locals. If it wins, it would be a considerable achievement for first-time Broadway playwrights Parker and Stone, who created the Emmy Award-winning "South Park" and feature-length films such as "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" and "Team America: World Police."
A mix of high art and low, the Mormon musical pays homage to such stalwarts as "The King and I" and "The Lion King," and references diarrhea and sex with babies. A Mormon sacred book finds its way into a leading character's rectum.
Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, which jointly produces the awards with the American Theatre Wing, saw all the shows this year but was most stunned by "The Book of Mormon" and thinks it shows Broadway's diversity.
"I'm in total shock within 10 minutes," she says. "I can't even believe the things that are coming out of their mouths and I turn around expecting to see everyone in their 20s. And I see people in their 60s just laughing and jumping out of their seats. I'm going, 'You know what? You can't call us cookie-cutter.'"
The musical faces the stiffest competition from "The Scottsboro Boys," which received 12 Tony nominations. The now-closed musical frames the 1930s-era story of nine black teenagers wrongfully put on death row as an inverted minstrel show.
This year's Tonys are on Manhattan's Upper West Side after the ceremony was forced to leave its longtime home at Radio City Music Hall because Cirque du Soleil moved in. Tony producers picked the 3,000-seat Beacon Theatre, which has only about half as many seats as Radio City. CBS will be televising the event beginning at 8 p.m. EDT.
If CBS censors will be on high alert thanks to the often foul lyrics of "The Book of Mormon," they'll be happy about one decision. Stephen Adly Guirgis' play "The Motherf---- With the Hat" will be referred to simply as "The Mother With the Hat."
Other musicals with large nominations include the revival of "Anything Goes" with Sutton Foster, "Sister Act" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" featuring Daniel Radcliffe and John Laroquette.
In the best play category, the visually stunning British import "War Horse" is up against Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem," David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People" and "The Motherf---- With the Hat."
The evening will feature appearances by Alec Baldwin, Christie Brinkley, Matthew Broderick, Harry Connick Jr., Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Kelsey Grammer, Joel Grey, Marg Helgenberger, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Jim Parsons, David Hyde Pierce, Daniel Radcliffe, Vanessa Redgrave, Chris Rock, Brooke Shields, Robin Williams, Patrick Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
There will be performances from all the Tony-nominated musicals — "Anything Goes," ''Catch Me If You Can" with Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," ''Sister Act" with Patina Miller, "The Book of Mormon" and "The Scottsboro Boys."
Bono and The Edge will introduce a song they wrote for Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano from the trouble-plagued "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," which is set to finally open Tuesday and is not eligible for these awards. The two actors sing while being suspended on a platform, but there are no other aerial tricks and Spider-Man himself is nowhere to be found.
Other appearances will come from John Leguizamo, the cast of last year's Tony-winning musical "Memphis," and the cast of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" with Nick Adams, Tony Sheldon and Will Swenson.
The Tonys will also reassemble the all-star cast of the New York Philharmonic's limited run of "Company," which starred Harris, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Katie Finneran, Christina Hendricks, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton and Anika Noni Rose, among others.