By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK, (Reuters) - The 2016 Tony Awards are generating more buzz than usual ahead of Sunday's ceremony, with all eyes on musical juggernaut "Hamilton," a pop culture phenomenon that is expected to take the lion's share of honors at Broadway's annual salute to itself.
"Hamilton," with its record-setting 16 nominations, tells the story of ill-fated U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton with a deft melding of hip-hop and rap, R&B, ballads and traditional Broadway showstoppers. The show is considered shoo-in for Best Musical, the top award.
The show's success has played a big part in what has become a record-breaking Broadway season, including attendance of 13.3 million and $1.37 billion in sales.
"'Hamilton' has had an amazing effect on this season," said Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing, which runs the annual show along with The Broadway League.
Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, expects Hamilton's impact to persist, even though its star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda will leave the show on July 9.
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"A rising tide lifts all ships," she said. "I don't think there's any doubt that 'Hamilton' will be doing that."
But the musical, the most talked-about since "The Producers" in 2001, has legions of fans who have never seen a moment of it beyond televised snippets. Tickets sell out months in advance as they become available. Prime seats on the secondary market command thousands of dollars.
And so the 70th annual Tony Awards, airing on CBS at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), should help reverse a recent slide in TV ratings, as both "Hamilton" devotees as well as people who have simply heard the fanfare boost interest.
In a year when the Oscars drew criticism for lacking non-white nominees, the Tonys, led by "Hamilton"'s multi-cultural cast, stand rich with diversity, which could also spike viewership.
Late-night TV host and Tony winner James Corden will head up the three-hour telecast.
Despite the excitement, "Hamilton" appears unlikely to equal "The Producers" with its record 12 wins.
Beyond Best Musical, "Hamilton" is favored for Best Book and Score, both for Miranda, as well as the Tonys for featured actor and actress and best director. It's also likely to win costumes, lighting and orchestrations, Broadway watchers say.
Miranda, as Hamilton, is vying for Best Actor in a Musical but faces stiff competition from co-star Leslie Odom Jr. as nemesis Aaron Burr. Both are in a horse race with Broadway veteran Danny Burstein in the well-received "Fiddler on the Roof" revival.
Other likely winners on Sunday include Jessica Lange, poised to win her first Tony as morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone in "Long Day's Journey into Night," Frank Langella, playing an Alzheimer's-afflicted patriarch in "The Father," and Cynthia Erivo, star of "The Color Purple," also favored to win Best Musical Revival.
The family drama "The Humans" is the clear Best Play frontrunner.
For its 70th birthday, the Tonys will boast appearances by powerhouse stars including Barbra Streisand, Cate Blanchett and Oprah Winfrey, who may collect an award as a "Color Purple" producer.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Alan Crosby)