A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder won 4 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction, Best Book and Best Costumes
By: Patrick Christiano
The little engine that could from The Hartford Stage, "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder" won 4 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, defying today’s typical formula for success by mounting an old fashioned musical with inventive style and wit by a first time Broadway director Darko Tresnjak. All The Way won Best Play and Brian Cranston (Walter White in "Breaking Bad"), the star at the center of the political drama, won Best Actor for his monumental portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson in1963, the year immediately following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, until LBJ’s re-election the following year.
Also winning 4 Tony Awards was the revival of a downtown musical from 1997, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which also won Best Actor for the show’s star Neil Patrick Harris and his co-star Lena Hall for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. However, Audra McDonald made history by winning Best Actress, a record sixth Tony Award, for her mind boggling interpretation of Billy Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, while Jessie Mueller won Best Actress in a musical for Beautiful: The Carole King Story.
An evocative staging of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin in the Sun won 3 awards for Best Revival of a play, Best Supporting Actress for Sophie Okonedo and Best Director Kenny Leon, who helmed a production of the play with Sean Puffy Combs 10 years ago. The current revival of the 1959 drama still resonates today, and makes clear Mr. Leon learned a few things the first time around that has only marinated with time. When he took to the stage to accept his award for directing Mr. Leon said "WOW Denzel, Denzel, Denzel (referring to Denzel Washington) truly an inspiration and to the women of A Raisin in the Sun." For many this was one of the evening’s few surprises. In the press room afterwards Mr. Leon elaborated on growing up poor, and how his vision of the play is a look back at 1959 through the lens of 2014.
From all of the CBS televised performances of musicals weaved into the evening, Neil Patrick Harris, as Hedwig, delivered one of the evening’s most outrageous, singing "Sugar Daddy" while strutting through the audience, first licking Samuel L. Jackson’s eyeglasses, then giving a lap dance to Sting, before planting an over the top kiss on his real life boyfriend.
The win for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder was considered to be a close race with many of the Tony voters expecting Beautiful: The Carole King Story to take the award. This Tony Award traditionally gives a box office boost to the musical that wins. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, despite outstanding reviews, was not an immediate hit and hung around building word of mouth until the awards season, when it became the show with the biggest jump in box office, because of all the nominations the musical received from every organization including 10 Tony nominations, the most of any show. Now winning the Tony Award makes A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder a bona fide hit. The show’s director Darko Tresnjak insisted on having outstanding actors, who could play the style with size and truth, and he has assembled a marvelously gifted ensemble that delivers for him. The zany book is by Robert L. Freedman.
A relative newcomer, Jesse Mueller, won Best Actress in a Musical over a field of veterans that included Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel, and Kelli O’Hara. Ms. Mueller, who was nominated in 2012, said "Oh my gosh" then thanked God "without him nothing is possible" and paid homage to her parents who were actors and put four children through college. She then thanked Carole King, with whom she performed "I Feel the Earth Move" just moments earlier.
"You teach me so much every night as I try to go through what you went through and come out of it with kindness and love and forgiveness and a pure heart," Ms. Mueller said in acceptance.
A standing ovation came when Audra McDonald won her sixth Tony, and Ms. McDonald totally lost it. The always composed Audra just fell apart in tears, collected herself after a bit and acknowledged her parents for ignoring doctors’ recommendations to medicate her hyperactive behavior as a child, encouraging her to act instead. She especially played tribute to "all the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I’m standing on," naming Lena Horne, Ruby Dee and especially Billy Holiday. "You deserve so much more than you were given when you were on this planet," she said.
Other acting awards went to Mark Rylance for playing a woman, the countess Olivia in Twelfth Night, and Lena Hall for playing a man Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. A popular James Monroe Iglehart won as Best Featured actor for his hilarious performance as the Genie in the Disney musical
Aladdin. He then thanked God and said "because I have been praying for this since i was 17." In the press room Mr. Iglehart said he would not be going out to a fancy dinner to celebrate, he and his wife were going to hit McDonald’s because it keeps him humble," he also reminded us to dream big and that playing the Disney character has been a long held childhood dream of his.
Photography: Barry Gordin