NEW YORK - A neighborhood and a family - both in sweeping transition - are the subjects of this Broadway season’s best-musical and best-play Tony Award winners, honored Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The exuberant In the Heights, which moved to Broadway from a downtown New York run and uses several musical genres to trace the gentrification of a Latino neighborhood in Manhattan, won for best musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda, 28, who conceived the show while in college, also won, for best musical score, as did choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. The show also won for its orchestrations as well.
Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, considered a shoo-in for best play, won that award and four others. The searing, funny play, brought to Broadway from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, is about a family for whom dysfunctional is a feeble adjective. When the patriarch vanishes, family members gather and get their hooks into each other in a sort of intellectual blood sport.
Lincoln Center’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific - the first Broadway revival of the American classic based on James Michener’s stories - won as best musical revival, in a season with three dynamic musical revivals.
Paulo Szot, a Brazilian opera singer in his Broadway debut, won as best musical actor for a powerful portrayal of the Frenchman who falls in love with an American nurse. South Pacific also won for lighting, sound, costumes, scenery and direction by Bartlett Sher - seven awards, the most of any production.
Patti LuPone, a life force giving a career-high-mark performance in Gypsy as Momma Rose, history’s pushiest stage mother, won for best musical actress. “It’s such a wonderful gift to be an actress working on the Broadway stage - and pick up one of these every 30 years or so,” LuPone said, accepting the award. She won for Evita 28 years ago.
Deanna Dunagan, who plays the outrageous, pill-popping mother in August: Osage County, a performance that has the audience buzzing at intermissions, won as best actress in a play. In 34 years in regional theater, the Chicago actress said, she watched the Tonys but never thought about the possibility of winning one. “New York has embraced us so enthusiastically.”
August: Osage County also won for its direction by Anna D. Shapiro, a Northwestern University professor long associated with Steppenwolf Theatre, where the play originated; Shapiro directed The Infidel for Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2002. Rondi Reed, who plays an aunt who has lost her social filter, won for best featured, or supporting, actress in a play.
The three-hour ceremony, broadcast by CBS, was hosted by a clowning, costume-changing Whoopi Goldberg at Radio City Music Hall in New York. It featured numbers from 13 current musicals, a special award to composer Stephen Sondheim (whose gracious acceptance speech was read by actor Mandy Patinkin), and the annual regional theater award, which went to Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The award comes with a $25,000 grant.
The nominating committee chose competitors in Tony’s categories last month, from among the productions that opened this season in Broadway’s 39 theaters - a season marred by a 19-day stagehands strike that darkened most of the houses in the last fall. In addition to revivals, the 36 new productions included eight musicals and 11 plays.
A Tony Award also was given posthumously before the broadcast to Robert Russell Bennett, an orchestrator who worked on South Pacific and others. Bennett died in 1981.
The hilarious 1960 French play Boeing-Boeing - about a man who juggles three stewardess girlfriends from different airlines - won as best revival of a play, and its star, Mark Rylance, won as the best leading actor in a play.
The one-name composer/performer Stew won for best book of a musical, for his Passing Strange, the rock-genre musical about a middle-class black teenager who goes to Europe to find himself among the avant-garde. Philadelphia playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes had been nominated for the category for her In the Heights script.
Jim Norton won the award for featured actor in a play for his portrayal of the elderly host of a drunken night of card-playing in The Seafarer.
Best featured actor in a musical went to Boyd Gaines, a Broadway favorite, who plays the put-upon agent in the revival of Gypsy. Laura Benanti, who plays Louise - the girl who becomes the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee - won for best featured actress.
Sunday night’s awards were decided by 795 voters, who are producers, theater professionals and critics. The Tony Awards are presented by producers, who make up the Broadway League, and by the American Theater Wing.