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10 Reasons Broadway Beginners Should Watch the Tony Awards

Neil Patrick Harris and the cast of 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' perform onstage during the 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 8
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Neil Patrick Harris and the cast of 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' perform at the Tony Awards.

The Tony Awards are an annual must-watch for theater geeks of all ages -- a one-night-only chance to see the hoofers and belters of Broadway do what they do best without having to fly to New York or buy a $100-plus ticket.

But for casual observers, the 68-year-old awards show -- beyond its occasionally recognizable hosts (Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman in recent years) -- can be obscure; its nominees unknown. Best musical nods are the equivalent of the Academy Awards' best picture for theater folk; but have you heard of Fun Home or The Visit, two of this year's top contenders? I didn't think so.

Tony Awards: Bradley Cooper, Helen Mirren, Carey Mulligan & Elisabeth Moss Nominated

The 2015 nominations were announced Tuesday by Mary Louise Parker and Bruce Willis, who will make his Broadway debut next season in an adaptation of the Stephen King horror classic Misery (which sounds way more epic than another Die Hard sequel). Based on the nomination field, here's what we're most looking forward to June 7 on CBS:

1. Divas & Eunuchs
American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy would be all about best musical nominee The Visit. It's got depravity, deformity and a grande dame in the form of Broadway legend Chita Rivera (the original Anita in West Side Story) doling out twisted justice while decked in white and rubies. Despite a nominated score by titans John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret), The Visit doesn't have an obvious song choice for its best musical montage performance (all the nominees do one). But hopefully the producers will feature Rivera's two toe-tapping eunuch sidekicks, who wear mime masks, yellow shoes (it's a metaphor, you'll see) and sing in spine-tingling falsetto. Keep your Ma Petite, Jessica Lange; you ain't got nothing on Chita.

A Close Look at the 2015 Tony Award Nominations

2. Dead Presidents
The Tonys will have to account for the absence of the buzziest show of the season, writer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. Billed as a "rap musical" about the founding father on the $10 bill, the show is the follow-up to Miranda's breakthrough In the Heights and moved swiftly to Broadway after swooning reviews and a sold-out run at the Public Theater. But it will open at the Richard Rodgers in July, and therefore missed the cutoff for Tony eligibility; it will inevitably dominate the major categories in 2016. How will the TV producers integrate this phenomenon-in-the-making this year: A presenter stint for Miranda (lame)? A "special performance" (annoying to current nominees)? I, for one, don't want to wait a year to see rapping Federalists on my TV screen. In the meantime, follow Miranda on Twitter: He's part of a new crop of theater whiz kids who actually get digital.

3. Gene Kelly Reincarnated (Twice)
Broadway has two productions this season that stage the film work of the inimitable Kelly -- the movie star and elegant dancer who unforgettably sang in the rain. And both their leading men snagged best actor nods and will perform on the telecast. In An American in Paris, ballet dancer Robert Fairchild soars across the stage to declare his love for gamine (and Leslie Caron doppelganger) Leanne Cope. In On the Town, theater vet Tony Yazbeck similarly leaps, lands and delivers gorgeously sung versions of classic sad ballads like "Lonely Town" -- occasionally shirtless. Athletic and dashing, yet sweet, they're both as appealing and rare as Kelly, re-creating his magic eight times a week (or is it 16?).

4. More Bruce Willis
Bruce, we loved how you fumbled reading the title of best play nominee The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and looked like you wanted to rappel up the wall John McClane-style during the Tony nomination special. Unlike Wolverine (the all-singing, all-dancing Jackman), you're an action star who can't fake this funk. You are so not Broadway -- yet you are coming to Broadway. As theater people, we love duality. So give us more, please, on Tony night. Participate in the opening number? Do a from-the-audience bit with Tony co-host Alan Cumming? We're up for anything, Bruce. We leave it in your capable hands.

'Hedwig' Creator John Cameron Mitchell to Receive Special Tony Award

5. Five Hedwigs
Hedwig and the Angry Inch co-creator John Cameron Mitchell will get a special Tony this year, marking the 52-year-old's return to Broadway to reprise the role in the revival, 16 years after originating it off-Broadway. We envision a multi-Hedwig tribute with Neil Patrick Harris, Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall and Darren Criss, who have all donned the wig (Criss just started his 12-week run on Thursday night). Please?

6. Bradley Cooper
He's nominated (for the challenging, titular role in The Elephant Man). He'll be there. How will he wear his hair? Will his mom be his date (again)? Burning questions. Hollywood has been coming to Broadway for credibility and statuettes for years (see: Birdman) -- but it's still exciting when it happens, especially when the performance is this worthy.

7. Fosse! Fosse! Fosse!
King of jazz hands and slink Bob Fosse won the Tonys for both best choreography and best direction in 1973 for Pippin, a musical about the meaning of life that had a high-flying circus-themed revival last year. Christopher Wheeldon has a chance to repeat the feat this year for An American in Paris, which qualifies as a dance-heavy "ballet musical" but still creates audience love pangs for its ensemble cast and their quirky characters (evidenced by best featured actor nods for Max von Essen and Brandon Uranowitz, who are perfect).

8. The Split-Screen for Best Actress in a Play
A dame (Helen Mirren), Peggy Olson (Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss) and the mom from the AT&T commercials (fine stage actress Geneva Carr) will all be waiting expectantly for their name to be called in this category, along with the surging Ruth Wilson (The Affair) and the always-brilliant Carey Mulligan. What an array. Isn't theater grand?

9. No More TV Peter Pans
Allison Williams' earnest-yet-flawed take on the boy who wouldn't grow up (for NBC live!) will stand as the small-screen standard for another year. New show Finding Neverland (yes, adapted from the Johnny Depp flick), featuring Glee's Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammar as Hook, and produced by Harvey Weinstein, failed to snag a single nomination, so we won't be seeing it on the Tonys. Perhaps we'll get a preview of NBC next live production, The Wiz (but probably not, since the Tonys are on CBS).

10. The Queer Positivity
It's been an amazing year for trans people, with lightning rods like Laverne Cox and Bruce Jenner forcing the conversation into the mainstream. But the Tonys have been a safe haven for the lifestyles formerly known as "alternative" for years. Winners have tearfully thanked their partners from the podium (now their husbands and wives) well before it was pop-culturally acceptable. With television, film and pop music stars increasingly trying their hand at theater, it's even sweeter to show a broader audience that we were born this way.