By Patrick Christiano
The little musical that could ONCE, a bitter-sweet tale of unrequited love, upset Disney’s big hit NEWSIES winning the top prize of Best Musical at the annual 66th Tony Awards, a three hour extravaganza hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
ONCE surprisingly dominated the evening by winning a total of 8 Awards giving the Tony Winner additional strength and publicity clout for negotiating the prospective road tour, however, the musical’s orchestrator said “The show is about the healing power of music.” Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elice’s imaginative prequel to Peter Pan, was next with five awards mostly for design (set, costume, lighting, and sound), but Christian Borle from the hit TV show ‘”SMASH,” won Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for his deliciously evil captain in STARCATCHER.
CLYBOURNE PARK, Audra McDonald, Nina Arianda, James Corden, Mike Nichols, The Greshwins’ Porgy and Bess, Alan Menken and Judith Light were some of the winners on Broadway’s big night in a record breaking box office season of over one billion dollars in gross sales and over 12 million people in attendance.
Best Play was The Pulitzer Prize winning CLYBOURNE PARK by Bruce Norris, a tantalizing piece of theater beautifully crafted and performed by the original cast. Jordon Roth and his Jujamcyn Organization wisely kept all the previous Playwrights Horizons’ elements in place giving Broadway patrons a rare and exciting evening of theater. Norris’s play is an acutely hilarious tale about war, race and real estate.
Best Actress in a Musical went to Audra McDonald for her bravado performance of Bess in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which was also named Best Revival of a Musical over the sentimental favorite Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. McDonald won her fifth Tony award putting her in an elite category with two other actresses, Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris. Mike Nichols, who has been nominated 18 times, scored a record breaking sixth Tony for Directing Death of a Salesman.
In accepting her award McDonald said “I was a little girl with a potbelly and afro puffs, hyperactive and overdramatic. And I found the theater, and I found my home.” McDonald then looked at her daughter in the audience and she said this was a big night for mommy, but not as big as the night you were born.
Her co-star from “110 in the Shade,” Steve Kazee, an attractive guitar player claimed a stunning victory as best actor in a musical for his quiet performance in ONCE. Speaking about his mom, who died on Easter Sunday, he broke down and cried and acknowledged the cast and crew for carrying him through a difficult time and getting him to have fun again.
A rising Broadway star nominated two years in a row, Nina Arianda, won best leading actress in a play for her tantalizing portrait of a mysterious actress, who arrives late for an audition in David Ives provocative and sexy Venus in Fur. She beat fierce competition from Tracie Bennett, whose performance as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, had taken a slew of awards. In accepting her Tony Arianda said “This means the world to me.” She only has one week left in her run, so act fast if you would like to see one of the most thrilling performances of this or any season.
A popular winner was British actor James Corden, who won a breathtaking victory as lead actor in a play for his outrageous performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors,” upsetting Philip Seymour Hoffman in the process. Speaking to his girlfriend in the audience and the mother of his child Corden said “I would not be holding this if it wasn’t for her.”
Arthur Miller’s classic Death of Salesman was the predictable winner of Best Revival of Play. Nike Nichols said the play has special meaning to people in the theater adding, “There’s not a person in this theater that doesn’t know what it is to be a salesman…,” he said. “As we know, a salesman has got to dream. It goes with the territory.”
Diane Paulus, the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, adapted and reworked The Gershwins’ Porgy and Pess for Broadway with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Obie Award-winning composer Diedre Murray. They condensed the four-hour opera into a two-and-one-half-hour musical with an attempt to deepen the characters. There were mixed reactions from the critics and especially the purists, but audiences found favor with the production and apparently so did the 851 Tony voters.
Heading into the evening with 11 nominations the musical “Once,” based on the low-budget 2006 film set in Dublin about an unrequited romance, was expected to get a strong challenge from the Alan Menken/Harvey Fierstein musical NEWSIES, but that was not to be. NEWSIES won only two awards one being Best Original Score (music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman) written for the theater, and the other for Christopher Gattelli’s dazzling choreography.
Composer Alan Menken may have more Oscars than any other living person, but this was his first Tony win, ironically for songs he wrote for a 1992 film.
Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath won best featured actress and actor in a musical for their roles in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” proving there was plenty of talent surrounding Mr. Broderick in Kathleen Marshall’s jazzy Gershwin songbook. Kaye won her second Tony for playing a temperance worker who likes to drink. She dedicated the award to her father, who died last week.
Judith Light playing an acerbic alcoholic in “Other Desert Cities,” a role that couldn’t be any further from the lady herself, was a popular winner for best featured actress in a play. The gracious star said “Oh my God! Thank you so much, I feel like the luckiest girl in New York City .