NEW YORK — The one thing that fuels most awards shows won't really be present at the Tony Awards on Sunday — suspense.
The night's top award for best musical is a virtual lock for "Hamilton." Perhaps the only real nail-biter is whether the show can actually win 13 awards, which would break the 12-Tony record held by "The Producers."
The rabid interest in "Hamilton" is one thing producers of the telecast are banking on to try to stem a three-year slide in viewership. New host James Corden will likely bring his endearing, fan-boy vibe.
"We'll find out if it's a good choice on Sunday night," the host of the "The Late Late Show" said. He'll be returning to the Beacon Theatre stage where he won a best leading man Tony for "One Man, Two Guvnors" but said he will refuse to impose himself onto the show.
"The truth is that once the opening is out of the way, there's not much time. We're going to try our best to have some fun. We have an opening planned that will either work or not. I hope it will be OK," he said. "It really isn't about you. It's about the nominees and the people who are going to win. Our job is to usher that along."
Getting buzz from appearing on the telecast can really dictate a show's future, both on Broadway and on the road. And, unlike last year, the upcoming telecast won't have to compete with any NBA Finals games.
Last year's telecast — hosted by Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth — was watched by a mere 6.35 million viewers. In 2014, it reached 7.02 million and captured 7.24 million in 2013.
Those tuning in this year will see musical numbers from the nine nominated new and revival musicals, including "Hamilton," ''Fiddler on the Roof," ''Waitress," ''Bright Star," ''She Loves Me," ''School of Rock," ''The Color Purple," ''Shuffle Along" and "Spring Awakening." Gloria Estefan's "On Your Feet!" which missed the new musical cut, will also get to shine.
One highlight will be a duet between singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and Tony nominee Jessie Mueller on the achingly beautiful song "She Used to Be Mine" from "Waitress," a show about a waitress and pie-maker.
During rehearsals this week at the Beacon, the 12-member cast practiced their 4 1/2-minute medley of "Opening Up" and "She Used to Be Mine" wearing sweats and taking selfies during down times when the cameras needed to be reset.
Their segment begins with Mueller with her back to the audience, holding a pie, and ends with her alone onstage. In between, her cast-mates sing and dance and Bareilles, playing a piano, joins Mueller in a thrilling moment.
Christopher Fitzgerald, nominated for best featured actor in a musical, has a lot on his own plate. He's in the opening number with all the nominees, he's in the "Waitress" medley and he has to learn lines for a skit that leads to a commercial.
"Everything feels very bright. There's a lot of anxious love and panic all mixed into a big Tony pie," said Fitzgerald who was also Tony-nominated for "Young Frankenstein" in 2008.
The presenters are the regular mix of Broadway and Hollywood, including Oprah Winfrey, Cate Blanchett, Claire Danes, Meg Ryan, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Neil Patrick Harris, Sean Hayes, James Earl Jones, Diane Lane, Nathan Lane, Angela Lansbury, Lucy Liu, Marlee Matlin, Audra McDonald, Saoirse Ronan, Common, Josh Groban and Carole King.
One mega-star beloved by theater fans is Barbra Streisand, who will take the Tony stage for the first time in 46 years. Fitzgerald will be teasing that on camera. "I get to say Barbra Streisand's name at the Tony Awards. That's really exciting."
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits