Hosting the Tonys is rough. Appearing eight times a week on Broadway is rougher. Doing both at the same time? It’s a feat that few actors can say they’ve dared to accomplish.
Kristin Chenoweth is pulling double-duty this year as she prepares to co-host the 69th annual Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday, June 7—her first time being “full-on asked” to host the telecast, though not her first time being approached—all while she continues performing in the hit revival of On the Twentieth Century, in the nominated role that’s earning her big buzz as a frontrunner for Best Actress in a Musical.
“On the Twentieth Century has been my most challenging role already, so just that in and of itself is a whole different level for me,” Chenoweth tells EW. “But here’s some advice I was given when I was at [Oklahoma Cita University]: My teacher said, ‘Do what you’re doing while you’re doing it.’ So when I’m at the theater, I’m completely Lily Garland. At the Tony meetings, I’m doing that. That’s a very good piece of advice for anyone who does many things.”
Fortunately in both endeavors, she’s got a partner in crime to assist. In Twentieth Century, in which she plays a brazen film star tempted by a return to the stage, Chenoweth can temper her character’s outrageousness with co-star Peter Gallagher. At the Tonys, she’ll rely on co-host Alan Cumming to toss the ball back and forth during the three-hour telecast. Their relationship stems back to 1999, when she played Lily opposite his Rooster in the TV adaptation of Annie.
“I saw Cabaret and it was one of those life-changing performances that you see, so when I got Annie, I closed Charlie Brown the night before and flew out the next day to Canada, and it was the first time I had actually met him, so I had to get over my awe really quickly,” Chenoweth tells EW. “We’ve just been friends ever since. We really get along, we’re of the same ilk and there’s no drama. He’s just fun, and really smart. For me personally, I can’t imagine a better partner.” (She also adds that an “Easy Street” reprise isn’t completely out of the question during the ceremony.)
Co-hosts at the Tonys are infrequent but exceptional. Past partners include George Abbott and Ginger Rogers (1966), Mary Tyler Moore and Jason Robards (1980), Ellen Burstyn and Richard Chamberlain (1981), Julie Andrews and Jeremy Irons (1991), Anthony Hopkins and Amy Irving (1994), Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (2001), and Bernadette Peters and Gregory Hines (2002). “I was in the audience when Matthew and Nathan did it, and I remember watching Greg and Bernadette when I was in Oklahoma, and those are moments that I remember that I have shoes to fill and honor,” says Chenoweth.
Despite being something of a modern Broadway legend-in-the-making, Chenoweth says she hasn’t attended more than a handful of ceremonies. The actress made her Broadway debut in 1997 in Steel Pier but rose to fame after playing Sally Brown (and winning a Tony for the role) in 1999’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. There’s the year she earned a leading actress nod for Wicked, and the year she showed support for her Promises, Promises co-star Sean Hayes when he hosted (despite their entire show not being nominated). But the return to Radio City this time around comes with some responsibility amid the revelry.
“Alan and I want to keep it entertaining and classy and, more than anything, we want those who might not normally tune in to have a good time,” she continues. “I’m sure we’re going to do some silly, fun things, but obviously we want to honor the shows and the people who’ve been nominated.” When June 7 is at hand, she’ll keep her cool conquering the “whole ball of wax” that is her Tony day trifecta: hosting, performing with her cast, and patiently waiting news of what could be her first leading actress win. But by then, the work is done and the nerves are out of her control.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s not going to be easy,” she muses. “But what I’m learning as this journey goes on is that life is short, and yes, we want to knock it out of the ballpark, but we want to have fun. How often do you get to say you’ve hosted the Tony Awards? Growing up and watching it…and now? It’s like wait a minute, this can’t be. So if I don’t have fun, then what’s it all for?”
The 69th Annual Tony Awards air on Sunday, June 7 at 8 pm on CBS.