‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘The Coast of Utopia’ top Tony Awards

[11 June 2007]

By Howard Shapiro

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

And the big Tony Award winner on Broadway is - the 19th century! Two stage works set in the 1800s were named the season’s best musical and best play Sunday night - the bold rock musical “Spring Awakening,” about teenage love and angst, and Tom Stoppard’s sweeping trilogy of plays about Russian intellectuals, “The Coast of Utopia.”

The two shows dominated the 61st Tony Awards, whose three-hour ceremony, broadcast nationally on CBS, was studded with celebrity presenters, many of whom have careers not only on stage but in television and films.

Veteran actor Frank Langella won as best actor in a play for his nuanced performance as former President Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon,” which tells the story of the interviews Nixon gave to David Frost after he resigned. Christine Ebersole won for best actress in a musical, playing plays both Big Edie and, in the second act, Little Edie Beale in “Gray Gardens.”

Mary Louise Wilson, a 44-year veteran of Broadway, took home her first Tony, for featured musical actress, Tony’s category for a supporting role, also for “Gray Gardens,” in which she plays the aged, second-act Big Edie. Wilson let out a joyous howl after remarking on how articulate the other acceptances had been.

In a surprise decision - even to the actress who won - Julie White was named best actress in a play for her striking performance as the bizarre agent in the comedy “The Little Dog Laughed.” Other actresses in competition were Swoosie Kurtz, Eve Best Angela Lansbury and Vanessa Redgrave. “Just to be nominated with this extraordinary list of women!” White said in accepting the award. “I played a hideous agent - and my agent’s never been hideous ... to my face!”

David Hyde Pierce, who became famous on TV’s “Frasier,” won as best actor in a musical for his endearing portrayal of a detective who tries to solve an on-stage murder in “Curtains,” then ends up fixing the show in which the murder occurred.

“Spring Awakening,” set in the late 1800s in Germany and taken from a play written at that time by Frank Wedekind, looks at a rigid society that locks its teenagers into tough academic standards and a denial of their emerging sexuality. When the young cast of the show wants to express feeling, the actors pull wireless microphones from their costumes and sing in no-holds-barred modern terms.

The show’s producers and investors, who include the actor Tom Hulce, swamped the stage as soon as Angela Lansbury announced the award, the last of a night that included musical numbers from the season’s shows, and short clips from the nominated plays. “Spring Awakening” first played to sold-out houses last summer in downtown New York, at the Atlantic Theatre Company - the company’s first musical in 20 years of producing shows. It moved to Broadway last fall.”

“Spring Awakening’s” eight honors also included best original score for composer Duncan Sheik and lyricist Steven Sater. Sheik also won for his orchestration and Sater for the musical’s script.

The young actor John Gallagher Jr., whose character in “Spring Awakening” has trouble meeting rigid and arbitrary academic standards, took home a Tony medallion for his featured performance in the musical.

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, who set the dances on “Spring Awakening” - his first work ever on Broadway - won for choreography. The show’s director, Michael Mayer, took home the Tony for direction of a musical.”

“The Coast of Utopia” won seven awards - a Tony record for a play. Last year’s “History Boys,” best play, won six, tying the record set by “Death of a Salesman.” “Utopia” is made up of three plays - “Voyage, Shipwreck and” Salvage” - and its cast of 24 plays out the hopes and dreams of Russian intellectuals between the 1830s and the 1860s, when they watched as Europe evolved into a modern continent without them. It was enormous undertaking at Lincoln Center, where its run ended last month.

It also garnered a Tony for its director, Jack O’Brien, whose deceptively simple staging was packed with power. Billy Crudup, who made his Broadway debut 12 years ago in a Stoppard play and also has had a strong film career, won as featured actor in a play for his portrayal of the intense literary critic Vissarion Belinsky. Best featured actress in a play was “Utopia’s” Jennifer Ehle, who played three roles.

The best revival of a play went to the World War I drama, “Journey’s End,” which closed over the weekend. Although it contained not a second of combat, the play put its audiences into the middle of war, in a little officers’ bunker. The best musical revival was Steven Sondheim’s “Company,” a show about the ins and outs - mostly outs - of marriage, and a production in which every performer also plays at least one instrument and made up the orchestra as well as the cast.

Before the ceremony Sunday night, Tony’s nominating committee voted to give the annual regional theater award to Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, now in its 39th season. 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 dozen musicals, 11 plays and another dozen revivals. The season ended May 27.

Sunday night’s awards were decided by 785 producers, theater professionals and critics. The Tony Awards are presented by the League of American Theatres and Producers and the American Theatre Wing.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/spring-awakening-and-the-coast-of-utopia-top-tony-awards/