EW The musical number is a tried-and-true awards show opener. But last June, it got taken to new heights when viewers were treated to one of the most elaborate, thrilling, and catchy performances of all when Neil Patrick Harris hosted the Tony Awards for the fourth time.
The “Bigger” number celebrated the best of Broadway and had audiences both at home and in the theater on their feet by the end of the seven-and-a-half-minute performance. (Just check out Debra Messing’s reaction shot to sum up most people’s feelings about the song). With all the songs, magic tricks and cameos the song would have been impressive regardless, but the fact that the number went live after only getting to run it fully through a few times makes it worthy of a standing ovation.
“That’s what makes the Tonys so invigorating,” Harris tells EW. “With almost no rehearsal you’re counting on people to execute well. But these are people who execute well every single night. So they’re used to that kind of pressure and they thrive on it.”
In separate conversations, Harris, as well as Tonys telecast executive producer Ricky Kirshner and Tonys telecast director/executive producer Glenn Weiss, walked EW through what happens when you sketch out a number via Facetime, put each part together separately, and only get a few precious moments to run it all together before curtain.
As told by: Neil Patrick Harris, Ricky Kirshner, and Glenn Weiss
RICKY KIRSHNER: It’s about [November] that people ask us what the opening number will be, and we think we have an idea about what the big shows will be, and then the shows come out and we realize we have no idea what the nominated shows will be. But I think we started planning that number in February or March.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I knew we were going to Radio City from the Beacon [Theater] after having been there for two years. I was in my car driving, and I remember thinking, “Well, if it’s moving to Radio City, there’s your opening number.” You can embrace the largeness of it all. So I was driving and thought, “Why not do an Irish quick ditty, [sings] ‘It’s bigger, it’s bigger, This show is so much bigger!’”And then I do a lot of quick verbal acrobatics to instill faith that I know what I’m doing, because I can rattle off a prompter pretty fast. And then go back to the chorus: “It’s bigger! It’s bigger!” So that was sort of the impetus of it.
GLENN WEISS: Look, when you’re putting together a number for the Tonys, it can be host driven or it can not be host driven. When you have a guy like Neil, it’s great because he comes in with all this talent and ability and a magic act, and all that stuff, so he’s quite an asset. And you want to use that asset as much as you can. That said, we put together this team of people. Neil was shooting a movie in New Mexico for a lot of this time, so we were doing a lot of Facetime and all that stuff. As a group there was writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt who did the music and Rob Ashford who was putting together the choreography of all the Broadway stuff. There really was a terrific team collaboration going on with terrific back and forth.
Read the entire interview here.