Tonys 2013: The award goes to ... 'totally multi-talented' Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 2013 Tonys, delivering a brash opening number, a soulful closing duet with Audra McDonald, and well-directed humor throughout

By , AP Drama Writer

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    Actor Neil Patrick Harris (in the suit) performs with the cast of the musical 'Bring it On' as he hosts the American Theatre Wing's annual Tony Awards in New York June 9, 2013. His hosting performance was marked by singing, dancing, and (gentle) mockery throughout the music-filled Tonys.
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The reviews are in: It was a great Tony Awards. The dancing was inspired, the singing top-notch and the humor sly — and that's just for the host.

Neil Patrick Harris once again proved how invaluable he is to the success of one of entertainment's lesser-watched televised award shows on Sunday, and others may be paying attention.

"He's completely the real deal, totally multi-talented. When you're doing a show about Broadway with someone who understands television and also Broadway, it's a real unique opportunity," said Glenn Weiss, who co-produced the Tonys with Ricky Kirshner.

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"He can perform, he has great energy, but he cares about the theater and you can't make that up," Weiss said. Added Kirshner: "He really has fantastic instincts with what will work and what won't."

From the big, brash opening number that included the casts from nearly a dozen musicals to the closing song three hours later that featured him rapping with Audra McDonald to a reworked "Empire State of Mind," it was Harris' night.

While much of it was scripted, those who attended rehearsals learned that Mr. Harris is also a master at ad-libs, too. After all, he has won more Emmy Awards as host (two) than he has as an actor (one).

The "How I Met Your Mother" star is able to make fun of himself and Broadway pretenses while never appearing lame or nasty. On the telecast, he swiped at his own "Doogie Howser, M.D." roots, seemed to make out with the dog from "Annie" and gently mocked a trio of "Chicago" ladies who had become overly theatrical in their presentation.

Targets included former boxer Mike Tyson — "You haven't lived until you've seen Mike Tyson in a pair of kinky boots" — and film director Tom Hooper from "Les Miserables" — "On Broadway, we don't need extreme close-ups to prove we're singing live," he challenged. He has become a main reason to tune in, regardless of the nominees.

He joked about the prevalence of child actors on stage this season (comparing Broadway to a Chuck E. Cheese) and mocked actor Shia LaBeouf, who left a revival of "Orphans" before the show opened and then tweeted a storm about it.

"I wouldn't be here if someone else hadn't passed on hosting," he said at the top of the opening number. "So special thanks to Shia LaBeouf for this opportunity."

Fans of Harris who want to see more of his hosting skills need only wait until Sept. 22, when he hosts his second Emmy Awards. The first time he did so in 2009, viewership jumped 1 million people for a total audience of 13.3 million.

The 40-year-old Harris' ease onstage may be part of his success. He has starred in three Broadway productions, including "Assassins," ''Proof," and as the exuberant master of ceremonies in "Cabaret."

The company Fizziology, which uses social media to forecast real world behavior, said Monday that social chatter about the entertainer was less than 1 percent negative on Sunday despite this being his fourth time hosting. (He previously hosted in 2009, 2011, and 2012.)

With Harris hosting, you can bet there will be plenty of dancing and a few humorous bits sandwiched between a big opening number and another closing one, which becomes a reason to stick around even after the best musical is crowned.

Other awards shows end with a statuette and a fizzle, but the Tonys with Harris mean an impossibly fast wrap-up rap. (He has collaborated with theater veterans Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt, and Tommy Kail on his act over the years).

Harris' ability to generate high Tonys ratings has been mixed, largely depending on the strength of the season's stage shows and what other programming the telecast is up against. .

The first time he emceed, the show was seen by 7.45 million people, a 19 percent increase over 2008. His 2011 show was seen by 6.9 million viewers or roughly the same number as 2010, the only year of the past five when Harris wasn't hosting.

Last year, the telecast was seen by 6 million viewers, the second-lowest ratings for the Tony Awards since 1988. It was up against the season finale of AMC's "Mad Men."

According to preliminary Nielsen figures released Monday, Harris helped the latest show's viewership jump to 7.24 million people, its largest audience in four years, despite another "Mad Men" episode and an NBA finals game.

While Tony numbers might seem piddly to the mighty draw of the Academy Award, which recently attracted 40.3 million people, more and more awards shows seem to be stealing from Broadway.

This year's Oscars imported Tony Award-winning designer Derek McLane to build the sets. And the Grammys have clearly upped the staging of their songs and costumes. (Carrie Underwood even used projections on her white dress at the Grammys this year.)

Weiss and Kirshner, who have won six Emmy Awards since 2005 as producers of the Tonys, were the ones who first took a chance on Harris and said that they learn something from every show.

"Unfortunately, when you're producing these shows, you learn from your mistakes. If you knew what went on backstage last night, you'd understand," said Kirshner, with a laugh.

"We'll look at the tape and it's sort of like a football team: We'll look at the film and learn for the next one. But I felt good last night."

Some of the highlights included new Tony winner Cyndi Lauper memorializing the year's dead with a moving rendition of "True Colors," as well as quick taped segments that showed the winners' speeches in lesser-known categories, giving everyone their due without gobbling up valuable time.

"A lot of people have issues with the number of awards on awards shows," Weiss said. "But we're trying to not take a sledgehammer. We're trying to remember that we're here to honor people. Ratings are important but we're here to honor an industry and the people who create for that industry."

Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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