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Neil Patrick Harris: The Host With the Most

The theater veteran and star of CBS' How I Met Your Mother discusses hosting the 2009 Tony Awards

Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris has two choice words about being named host of the 2009 Tony Awards, which will be presented at Radio City Music Hall at 8pm on Sunday, June 7 and aired live on CBS-TV: "Outrageously awesome," says Harris. "Growing up, the Tony Awards were appointment television, but I never imagined that hosting it was something I would ever do." And once he found out, he was able to only tell his longtime partner, actor David Burtka, and a few close friends and family members until a public announcement was made. "I really had to wait a week or so to have that big celebratory meal," he says.

The blend of television, theater, and an awards show is actually a perfect mix for the talented actor, who has starred in the Broadway revival of Assassins and the national tour of Rent, among other shows. "I think hosting the TV Land Awards recently helped me get this job, and I've worked with the Tony producers on the CBS Thanksgiving Day Parade as their man on the street -- and I star on this CBS show called How I Met Your Mother, so I imagine all of that put together didn't hurt," he says with a laugh.

As Harris freely admits, the big question on everyone's mind -- including his -- is what exactly he's going to do on June 7. "I wanted to sing a big opening number, but they already had planned a big opening number that doesn't involve me, so maybe I'll just sing some of my introductions," he says. "I've been watching Mr. Jackman's hosting gigs a lot, and what I've observed is that he is able to be classy but accessible. And that's the job of the host -- to respect the theater and guide the theater novice through the night. You want to make sure the audience isn't bored, so you do not want to do too many in jokes. But if it's too mainstream, then it's not the Tony Awards."

Indeed, there are many, many factors that enter into the hosting equation, Harris notes. "If the host spends too much time trying to make a good impression on the audience, then you lose valuable time to have all those shows performing -- and this really is an amazing opportunity for people in America to see what's playing on Broadway -- or for people getting to make their acceptance speeches. So I imagine I'll do more torch-passing than stand-up comedy or performing. But you never know, I might come out in a Billy Elliot costume or come out on my knees like Lord Farquaad in Shrek. And I will say to those people who are going to be watching or putting it on their DVR: Stick it out to the very end."

Having been a presenter on previous Tony Awards is helping alleviate some of his nerves, he says. "It can be daunting to look out at the audience at Radio City Music Hall, but it won't be all that horrifying unless Hugh Jackman is in the front row," he laughs. "And if all else fails, I can always do some Constantine Maroulis jokes. Everyone always loves them."

A frequent visitor to New York even while keeping up with his TV filming schedule, Harris has already seen many of the nominated shows, and will see a few more before June 7. "I am such a huge proponent of seeing things live. To me, one of the most exciting things about theater is how the experience lives on in your memory," he says. "Right now, I'm a little obsessed with Next to Normal. If I could sing like Aaron Tveit, I'd be super-happy. I knew nothing about the show going in, and in the past week, I have practically memorized the CD. That whole cast is just amazing."

Harris hopes to return to the stage in the near future, although he plans to spend his upcoming two-month hiatus from his sitcom doing some movies. "I so look forward to coming back to theater, even though I have to remind myself that what seems so exciting when you're in the audience is a little bit less exciting when it's the eighth month of doing eight-show weeks," he says. "No one works harder than a Broadway actor."