“Once,” a low-tech musical based on the 2006 film about the bittersweet romance between a Dublin street musician and a Czech flower girl, was the big winner last night with eight Tony Awards, including picking up the top prize. “Once” also picked up a best actor nod for Steve Kazee, best director for John Tiffany and best book of a musical for Enda Walsh.
The imaginative play, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a riff on J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” stories, came away with five Tony Awards, including Christian Borle for best actor in a featured role in a play, best scenic design (Donyale Werle) and best costume design (Paloma Young).
It was an evening of some genuine surprises and suspense; love from Tony voters was spread around to 11 shows that received at least one award making it a more interesting show than in previous years.
“Clybourne Park,” the Pulitzer-Prize winning play by Bruce Norris about race and real estate, won the Tony Award for best play. The production, which was directed by Pam MacKinnon, only received one Tony Award but it was a big one that should boost box office. Producer Jordan Roth was asked why he said yes to this production. “It was on the page as soon as I started reading it, that it is necessary and essential and that kind of theater that I love to see and that’s the kind of theater that we want on our stages.”
The Tony Award for best revival for a play went to Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” and to the director Mike Nichols, who won his 9th Tony. He thanked Rebecca Miller, the playwright’s daughter, and said the play “gets truer as time goes by.” The 80-year old director said he had been there before, but he meant the neighborhood of the Beacon Theater on West 76th St., which he said was the location of his old neighborhood movie theater and the place where he won a childhood pie-eating contest.
Gershwin’s opera "Porgy and Bess" received the Tony Award for best revival of a musical, beating out the revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies." In a final irony, Mr. Sondheim had complained about this production of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” which had been adapted by American Repertory Theater artistic director Diane Paulus and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, along with composer Diedre Murray, who reworked the four-hour opera, shortening it and adding songs they said deepened the characterizations. Mr. Sondheim expressed fears the opera was being corrupted with these changes. On the red carpet, when we asked Ms. Parks if she had heard from Mr. Sondheim lately, she shrugged, and said, “No. It is what it is.”
Many of the races were tight, especially for best actor in a musical. The 36-year-old Mr. Kazee won over Jeremy Jordan from “Newsies.” Mr. Kazee, who is from Ashland, Kentucky, said in the pressroom that he was “absolutely shocked” to win. “I grew up dirt poor in the middle of nowheresville, and you don’t ever expect for things to happen, and I think that’s a good thing. You’re constantly surprised in your life that you’re not let down.” Mr. Kazee had one of the more emotional moments in the awards show, breaking down when he mentioned his mother, who died of cancer on Easter Sunday. “My mother told me to speak from my heart always, that’s why I don’t prepare speeches, cause speeches are boring,” he said. “She fought her butt off for 14 years and that instilled in me a certain way that I would like to live my life and that is always to speak from your heart and share. What’s the point of me pretending like everything’s ok all the time,” he said. “This has given me the opportunity to share with all of you,” he said, “what a wonderful and courageous and beautiful person my mother was.”
The two Tony Awards for the musical “Nice Work If You Can Get it,” were both predictable and went to featured actors Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath. Judith Light won for best featured actress in a play for “Other Desert Cities,” the only award the Jon Robin Baitz play received. “Smash” actor Christian Borle won a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play over Andrew Garfield from “Death of a Salesman.” Mr. Garfield will soon be the new Spider-Man in the blockbuster out this summer. Tom Edden, who won a Drama Theater Award and Outer Critic’s Award for “One Man, Two Guvnors,” was favored to win.
One of the biggest upsets of the evening was James Corden’s best actor win for the British slapstick comedy import, “One Man, Two Guvnors.” The 33 year-old actor won over Philip Seymour Hoffman’s star turn in “Death of a Salesman,” and no one was more surprised than Mr. Corden, who said, in the newsroom, “I’ve been saying for the last week that I’m not going to win it because when you’re on a list like that, you just don’t expect it. It would be incredibly arrogant to think, yeah, I can win over James Earl Jones, Frank Langella and John Lithgow and Philip Seymour Hoffman, pretty much four of the finest actors alive,” he said. “It just reminds me there’s no such thing as best. I’m thrilled to win, honest. Beyond words, I really am.”
“I have this theory that actors, the people who they love, are people who they feel like they might see a little bit of themselves in. So anyone short just loves Al Pacino and Tom Cruise,” continued Corden. “For me seeing someone who you would always think is a character actor to break through and be playing those leading roles is nothing but inspiring to a young boy from High Wycombe, who hopes that that might be something they they would be able to do one day. It’s kind of ridiculous that I would win this and he sat there watching this.”
Another close race was for best actress. Nina Arianda received the Tony Award for her break out performance as the imperious dominatrix in David Ives’s “Venus in Fur.” She had tough competition from Tracie Bennett, who portrays Judy Garland in her later life in “End of the Rainbow,” and who won both the Outer Critic Circle Award and Drama Theater Award for the part. Other nominees Ms. Arianda squared off against were Stockard Channing (“Other Desert Cities”), Linda Lavin (“The Lyons”) and Cynthia Nixon (“Wit”). When asked in the pressroom how it felt to win the award for a play that is soon closing, Ms. Arianda said, “It’s very sad and it’s very exhilarating that this journey of three years is ending in a week, and I’m going to really take in every performance as best I can.”
Hugh Jackman received a special Tony Award from the Actors’ Equity Association. He thanked his wife, Deborah, who presented the award to him. “She hates public speaking, so this is probably the greatest thing you’ve ever done for me.”
Mr. Jackman generated a lot of excitement in the pressroom. Journalists asked about the movie version of “The Miserables,” which is being directed by the Academy-Award winning director of “The King’s Speech,” Tom Hooper. Mr. Jackman, who plays Jean Valjean, co-stars with fellow Aussie actor, Russell Crowe, who plays Javert. “It’s going great,” Mr. Jackman said. Commenting on the buzz the trailer is getting, he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever quite received that kind of feedback from a teaser trailer before. I’ve done it enough to know when it’s b.s. and when it’s not,” he said. “We’re going for something risky. We’re doing something that’s never been done before,” he said. “It makes it very exciting because every day at work is like an opening night.”
As for why he is so passionate about the stage, which he alternates with films, Mr. Jackman said, “it’s where I began. That’s where I learned my craft, and that’s what I knew. That’s where I fell in love with acting.’’ Any plans for “Wolverine: The Musical,” a journalist asked? “Oh yeah! That’s coming,” Mr. Jackman said. “Some people don’t see the vision. I don’t know why,” he cracked. “And no one else in it. Just Wolerine’s one monologue.” But Mr. Jackman will return to Broadway for the 2013-14 season in the musical “Houdini,” in which he stars as the famed illusionist “We’re doing a first act read through in two weeks, so the ball is really rolling as they say.” Academy Award and six-time Emmy award winner Aaron Sorkin will write the story and Stephen Schwartz of “Wicked” fame will write the music and the lyrics. “Not to knock film acting, but there’s something magical that can happen on stage that rarely happens on film,” Mr. Jackman said.
“Newsies,” which was nominated and won two Tony Awards, brought eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken his first Tony for best score, as well as a Tony Award for lyricist Jack Feldman. Christopher Gattelli, a choreographer who picked up every theater award this season, won easily for his high-powered moves.
In an award in which she had a lock, Audra McDonald made history when she won her fifth Tony Award for best actress in a musical for “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.” She is now in the company of Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris for most Tony wins, and she is the youngest at 41.
“I don’t think it will ever hit me, and that’s the truth,” Ms. McDonald said in the pressroom about being in that esteemed company. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at,” she said, of being on the stage. “It’s the only thing that fulfills me the way that it does. It’s where I found who I was.”
When asked in the pressroom if there was any genre or type of play she’d still like to do, Ms. McDonald said, “I would love to do more Shakespeare because it’s so challenging. Maybe delve into more opera,” she said. “For some reason the right project just seems to come along at the right time. I don’t ever plan.”
During her emotional acceptance speech as fiancé Will Swenson (“Hair” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert) looked on with his two sons and Ms. McDonald’s daughter, Zoe - named after actress Zoe Caldwell - Ms. McDonald gave a shout out to her daughter, “I want you to know something. This is an amazing night for Mommy, but February 14, 2001, the day you were born, is the best night ever. Never forget that.”
Later a journalist in the pressroom asked Ms. McDonald what her daughter said after her speech. “ ‘Mommy you won!,” Ms. McDonald laughed, while “the boys wanted to know how much a Tony costs.”
Here’s a complete list of the winners and nominees: http://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/nominees/winners.html