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Will Bette Midler Perform on the Tony Awards? Maybe Not

Variety logo Variety 5/30/2017 Gordon Cox
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Among the many subjects of speculation about the Tony Awards this year: Bette Midler, and when she’ll perform during the awards telecast. At the start, kicking off the show with a bang in a familiar number excerpted from “Hello, Dolly!,” the box-office busting revival in which she stars? Or toward the end, keeping viewers glued (and ratings up) until the final hour?

The answer looks like it’ll be the one nobody initially expected: Midler might not perform at all.

In rumors that began to circulate last week (and first reported in the New York Times), industry insiders began to hear that Midler wouldn’t perform in the telecast during the sequence dedicated to the nominated revival of “Dolly!” Instead, Midler’s co-star, David Hyde Pierce, would perform a simple number staged in front of a red curtain, “Penny In My Pocket” (a song cut from the original staging of “Dolly!” but restored in the latest revival).

Neither the Tony Awards nor the “Hello, Dolly!” team would confirm what number “Dolly!” would be doing during the telecast, citing official policy to keep awards performances under wraps until the show airs. “We don’t discuss specifics about the musical performances in advance of the telecast,” a rep for the Tonys said. “The show is still in the planning stage and subject to change.”

But according to insiders, a performance by Midler, during an awards ceremony in which she’s generally considered the frontrunner to win the trophy for leading actress in a musical, is looking unlikely. It’s a surprising development in a year in which “Hello, Dolly!” has become one of the tentpoles of the 2016-17 season, with Midler’s performance earning raves and jacking up demand so high that ticket prices have entered the stratosphere.

The behind-the-scenes buzz is that producers of the Tony telecast, which airs live next month from Radio City Music Hall, wouldn’t agree to broadcast the “Dolly!” performance segment from the stage of the revival’s home base, the Shubert Theater — which “Dolly!” producers had made a prerequisite for doing one of the production’s more lavish numbers, with Mider at the fore.

Promoting Midler’s performance on the Tonys as the only televised excerpt of one of the season’s hottest productions seems a key get for Tony producers hoping to attract buzz and ratings to a ceremony hosted by Kevin Spacey. But from the perspective of the show’s producers (led by Scott Rudin), there’s little reason to bend over backwards to get Midler on TV.

For one thing, a Tony segment is an expensive (for producers) and labor-intensive (for cast members) addition to a to-do list that’s already packed with the demands of the awards-season campaign trail. “Dolly!,” which tends to come second only to “Hamilton” in the weekly Broadway grosses, hardly needs the help at the box office.

Besides, keeping Midler’s performance off the telecast also serves to underscore the exclusivity of the event. Want to see Midler as Dolly? You gotta be in the room — and pay for a ticket to get there.

So for the moment, it’s looking like TV viewers won’t get a chance to catch Midler doing a number from the show. If that decision is to change, it’ll have to happen soon: The Tonys, set for June 11, are less than two weeks away.

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