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Whoopi Goldberg is set to keep Tonys on track

Whoopi Goldberg has hosted the Academy Awards four times, and this Sunday, she'll take her hosting talents to Broadway's Tony Awards. It's a fitting job for the actress, who has a theater background.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Whoopi Goldberg is a woman who can focus.

It's a quality that will come in handy Sunday during the busy, three-hour CBS telecast (8-11 p.m. ET) of the 2008 Tony Awards from Radio City Music Hall where Goldberg will be in charge of keeping things moving as Broadway salutes the best of the past theater season.

"The Tonys are a different monster because you have live performances to deal with," she says, talking to a reporter while exercising with her trainer in a windowless dressing room in the basement of a cavernous building that houses, among other things, the studio for "The View."

"You have all kinds of live stuff going on that doesn't happen on the Oscars because (there) you have film clips," says the woman who has guided the Oscars through four different broadcasts. "But here you are moving from show to show to show. So that will be a huge difference. As you're seeing it, that's what's happening."

One thing you won't see — unlike the Oscars — is an opening monologue.

"I didn't want to do the traditional (Oscar) monologue," Goldberg says. "This show is not about me. But I am going to have as much fun as I can — without taking up too much time.

Unlike the Oscars, the Tonys show doesn't have the luxury of running over its allotted time. Yet Goldberg doesn't seem too concerned about winners overstaying their welcome at the podium. It comes with the territory.

"The moment you give somebody their moment in the sun, they are going to take it," she says. "They want to thank their mother and they want to thank their uncle. It's a huge deal to win a Tony. So people want to make those thank yous. They are not particularly thinking, `Oh, my God. I'm taking up somebody's time.'"

And time will be scarce this year. More so than usual. For the first time, new shows not nominated for the coveted prize of best musical will get a bit of prime-time exposure on the telecast — 90 seconds each, not as much as the three minutes-plus afforded numbers from the best-musical and best-musical revival nominees, but acknowledgment nonetheless. (The trio: "Young Frankenstein," "The Little Mermaid" and "A Catered Affair.")

Diverse group of plays up for honorsCompeting for the best musical prize will be the most diverse collection of nominees in years. They include "Passing Strange," a young black man's journey through sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll; "In the Heights," a celebration of Latino life in the upper reaches of Manhattan; "Cry-Baby," an adaptation of John Waters' raunchy salute to '50s teen flicks, and "Xanadu," a giddy send-up of the roller-disco flick.

Musical revivals getting to display their talent include a pair of shows from Broadway's golden age, "South Pacific" and "Gypsy"; that perennial high-school celebration, "Grease," and Stephen Sondheim's rumination on the making of art, "Sunday in the Park with George."

And the musical salutes don't end there.

Also getting Tony airtime are two former best-musicals, Disney's "The Lion King," now in its second decade on Broadway and "Rent," which will end its lengthy New York run in September.

Competing for best-play honors are Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County," which is the heavy favorite to take the prize: Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll"; "The Seafarer" by Conor McPherson and "The 39 Steps," Patrick Barlow's spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Goldberg has spent much of the last two weeks catching up on all the nominated shows she hasn't seen. Not a bad gig.

"I am a Broadway baby — Mike Nichols plucked me out of obscurity," she says, referring to the producer and director of her solo 1984 show, which introduced her to Broadway. "And this is the street that distinguishes us from any other place in the world. This is one of the things that makes New York incredibly unique."

And she's been back, not only in a second one-woman show but as Nathan Lane's replacement in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and a revival of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

"Quite honestly, the three shows I would love to do are Shaw's 'Saint Joan,' 'Peter Pan' and 'Mary Poppins.' That would be great," she says with a smile.