They were the Tonys, but you could have called them the Billys.
Wantagh, Long Island, teen Trent Kowalik, an international Irish dance champion, on Sunday night won Broadway’s top honor as lead actor in a musical for “Billy Elliot,” the stirring story of a coal miner’s son with a dream to dance.
Composed by Elton John and based on the spirited 2000 movie, “Billy Elliot” leaped away with 10 statues at the 63rd annual Tony Awards — including the top prize, best musical and honors for featured actor, director, book and choreography.
Kowalik shared his award with New Yorker David Alvarez and Kiril Kulish, the musical’s rotating leads.
“None of us would be here today if it wasn’t for all of our fabulous teachers,” said Kowalik, 14, offering a shout-out to his friends at Dorothy’s School of Dance in Bellmore.
Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” a physical comedy with a marquee cast including James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden, was named best play.
Harden was best actress in a play as one of four parents who meet to discuss an altercation between their two young sons, only to find they’re no more capable of managing conflict themselves.
“I tell my kids every day that bad behavior and hysteria and tantrums will get them nowhere. I don’t know quite how to explain this,” Harden said.
Harden’s victory came in a category that included Jane Fonda, who had made her return to Broadway after nearly a half-century in “33 Variations.” While most critics liked Fonda’s performance, her chances at an award were hampered by what some considered a specious script.
Career-maker. Long Island was well represented among the recipients of Broadway’s top honors, handed out in a three-hour ceremony hosted by Neil Patrick Harris at Radio City Music Hall. Alice Ripley, of Albertson, won for lead actress in a musical for her career-defining turn in “Next to Normal,” a rock opera about a suburban mom with bipolar disorder. “Normal” also won for original score (upsetting Elton John for “Billy”) and orchestrations (a tie with “Billy”).
Date night. Roger Robinson was an early Tony victor as featured actor in a play for “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” the second story in August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle — now better known as the play seen by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on “date night” in New York on May 30.
Weighty roles. Gandolfini, introducing the nominees for featured actress in a play with his “God of Carnage” co-star Jeff Daniels, won guffaws with his opening remark: “For the record, Shrek and I are no relation.” The Tony went to Angela Lansbury for “Blithe Spirit,” making her only the second actress in history to earn five of the statuettes. Lansbury called it “the greatest gift in my old age that I could possibly imagine.”
Musical revival. “Hair” was the best revival of a musical, beating its main competition, “West Side Story.”
Liza vs. Will. “Liza’s at the Palace,” starring Liza Minnelli, and “You’re Welcome America,” with Will Ferrell, made the special theatrical event category a contest. The award went to Minnelli, who said — in her inimitable fashion — “I can’t tell you, this is exquisite.”
Success ‘Story.’ Karen Olivo won her first Tony for her performance as Anita in the revival of “West Side Story,” besting Haydn Gwynne in “Billy.” “I want to dedicate this to everyone who has a dream . . . if you surround yourself with people who love you, you can do anything,” she said. She was in tears before we heard the orchestrations ending her time at the podium.
Memoriam. Bebe Neuwirth introduced the annual tribute to members of the theater community lost in the past year with some lovely words about the late Natasha Richardson and Gerald Schoenfeld. The tribute, which also mentioned theater lights Harold Pinter, Estelle Getty and Horton Foote, unfolded to the song “What I Did for Love,” from “A Chorus Line,” most recently revived at the theater named for Schoenfeld, former chair of the Shubert Organization.
Strange bedfellows. The Tonys have always favored musicals, and in case you needed the point driven home, consider the opening number, a medley that likely marked the first time Bret Michaels, Stockard Channing and Liza Minnelli ever shared a stage — or probably ever will again. Elton John played piano on “Electricity” while the three “Billy” boys danced.
In rapid succession came performances by the casts of “West Side Story,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Shrek” and “9 to 5,” led by Dolly Parton, who wrote new songs for the Broadway translation of her 1980 movie. “I’m told that was the biggest and most expensive number in the history of the Tony Awards,” began host Harris. “And that is why I’m your host tonight.”
The pitch. Further underscoring that the awards telecast is really a sales pitch: The touring cast of “Mamma Mia” got airtime early on, ahead of any of the current crop of plays. “Mamma Mia” opened on Broadway in 2001.
Splat. A spokeswoman for the Tonys told The Associated Press that Poison singer Michaels “missed his mark” during the opening number, and a descending set piece hit him on the head and knocked him to the ground. She says he did not break his nose, but the extent of his injuries are not yet known.