Mormons, Superheroes and Stephen Colbert: Why This Year’s Tony Awards Will Be Different

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With the curtain about to go up on the 65th Annual Antoinette Perry Awards, NewsFeed takes a break from singing in the shower to reflect on Broadway’s big night (with an admitted musical bias).

(MORE: “TIME’s Not-the-Tony Awards”)

The stage loves tradition, but the 2011 Tonys will be unique for several reasons. Among them:

1. Location
The show, broadcast on CBS, will take place at Broadway’s Beacon Theatre, after about 15 years at Radio City Music Hall. Back in the old days, though — when award recipients included, as TIME reported, “Restaurateur Vincent Sardi Sr., ‘for providing a . . . comfort station for theater folk’ ” — the honors were announced in hotel ballrooms, where attendees dined, danced and probably got a lot more drunk than TV allows them to today.

2. Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Singing Mormons
Broadway’s eclectic: in one theatre, a play from The Bard of Avon; in another, a musical from the guys of South Park and Robert Lopez of Avenue Q. The Book of Mormon, which received 14 nominations, is expected to dominate the evening. You might have thought creating a profanity-laden musical about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be riskier than creating one about a beloved superhero, but this season also saw…

3. Spider-Man
Though the drama-filled (at least behind the scenes) Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark wasn’t eligible for a nomination this year — it hasn’t officially opened yet — the musical will drop in (couldn’t help it) for a Tony performance. Bono and The Edge are also expected. There will be jokes.

(MORE: Julie Taymor’s Spider-Man Punished for Ambition)

4. Colbert and Co.
The cast of a special production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company is scheduled to perform, and the ensemble includes none other than Stephen Colbert. Along with him, Neil Patrick Harris, Jon Cryer, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton, and Christina Hendricks make this a must-see. Though if you do miss it, the film version of the musical (in its entirety), will be in movie theatres for a limited run starting Wednesday.

As for those aspects of the Awards we’re already familiar with:

1. The Host
Neil Patrick Harris, praised for his 2009 performance, returns.

2. The Award
It’s still the classiest of them all. Real actors don’t get figurines, they get medallions. (It wasn’t always this way. In 1947, as TIME reported, “The men got gold money clips, the women Tiffany compacts with ‘little automatic windshield wipers on the mirrors.’”)

3. Talent
For all the hubbub surrounding the Oscars and the Emmys, they don’t feature live performances like the Tonys do — performances that more often than not demonstrate the astonishing range of skills that stage actors, singers, and dancers possess. We’ll see that tonight.

4. Angela Lansbury
Tony stalwart (she’s won five times and also hosted/co-hosted five times) … still stalwart.