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'Multi-talented' Neil Patrick Harris rocks Tonys

Tuesday - 6/11/2013, 8:56am  ET

Sunny the Dog licks Neil Patrick Harris on stage at the 67th Annual Tony Awards, on Sunday, June 9, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

MARK KENNEDY
AP Drama Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- 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.

"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 Harris is also a master at ad-libs, too. After all, he has won more Emmy Awards as host -- two -- than 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 it 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.

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 snare viewers is mixed at the Tonys, but much of that depends on the strength of the season's stage shows and what other programing the telecast is up against. He has hosted in 2009, 2011, 2012 and this year.

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 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 though 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.

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