Tonys 2015: 'Fun Home' concludes offbeat journey with musical win, 4 others

Alison Bechdel's memoir-turned-musical #FunHome strikes a chord at #Tonys with 5 wins

The musical "Fun Home" follows the graphic novelist Alison Bechdel as she goes from an uncertain childhood in a small-town funeral home to a career as a highly successful lesbian author and artist.

The show concluded a similarly triumphant journey at the Tony Awards on Sunday night. An offbeat production born at the Ojai Playwrights Conference and the Sundance Theatre Lab, "Fun Home" swept up five awards, including best musical, the Tonys' top honor.

"Creating a Broadway musical means years of asking yourself, 'Will this ever happen?'" said Lisa Kron, who wrote the show's book and lyrics. She added, in a reference to a collegiate theme from the show, "You have changed our major to 'miracle.'"

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"Home," which opened at New York's downtown Public Theater in 2013 before moving to Broadway this season, also won prizes for direction, score, book and lead actor in a musical.

The wins for "Fun Home," which also centers on a closeted gay father, were part of a larger move by the roughly 900 Tony voters to honor shows about people who are sometimes on society's margins.  It was a similarly strong night at the show for "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," which won five awards, including best play.

The Olivier Award-winning British import furnishes  a look into the mind of an autistic young man often thwarted by the world around him. It also landed the director award for Marianne Elliott and lead actor in a play for Alex Sharp.

Elliott was a co-winner for "War Horse" in 2011. Sharp, on the other hand, had never had a professional acting role before.

"This time last year I picked up my diploma graduating from Juilliard, so to be holding this is insane," Sharp said in accepting the prize. "Curious Incident" is the rare production to take a young person's point of view. Upon winning the Tony for best play, writer Simon Stephens said, "This play is written so my three children ... can finally go and see what their dad did for a living."

The 69th Tonys were hosted by musical veterans Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth. It was a show that brought out numerous Hollywood stars: Vanessa Hudgens performed, Sting presented, Larry David and Jason Alexander riffed and Bradley Cooper both presented and was nominated. Harvey Weinstein had his moment too — the "Finding Neverland" producer was given a TV cutaway early in the show, and "Neverland" was one of two shows to be given a musical number despite an absence of Tony nods.

But the Tonys also hewed closely to the theater world, both with Cumming and Chenoweth's bits and with a coronation of sorts for one of the tight-knit group's favorite daughters: Kelli O'Hara.

O'Hara had been nominated for a Tony five previous times — including as recently as last year — and finally won a Tony upon her sixth nomination, for landed lead actress in a musical honors for her role as Anna in the revival of "The King and I."

"I don't need this, but now that I have it I've got some things to say," she joked in her acceptance speech, then concluded with "I'll be back, maybe not up here but on the theater stage," before dancing off to some of the loudest cheers of the night.

The event saw some other favorites earn their Tony stripes, including Helen Mirren, who won lead actress in a play for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in the Peter Morgan-penned historical drama "The Audience." It was also her first Tony. "The foundation upon which I stand is built on an elegant and fleet play," said Mirren, who won for playing the same character that notched her an Oscar in 2007 with "The Queen."

Revival of a play honors went to David Hare's two-hander "Skylight," while the musical revival Tony was given to "The King and I."

But it was "Fun Home" that enjoyed the most time in the limelight Sunday.

The show centers on a young Bechdel — on whose graphic novel the production is based — coming to terms with her sexuality and her fraught relationship with her closeted father, played by Michael Cerveris.

Bechdel said she was surprised at the success of both the book and the play. "It's a very personal story. I wasn't telling that story for anyone but myself," she told reporters after the Tonys.

The show's multiple wins continue a boomlet for more intimate productions in the historically splashy original musical category, following major wins for "Once" in 2012 and, in a somewhat different vein, the parlor comedy of "The Gentlemen's Guide to Love & Murder" last year. "Fun Home" became the first modern production to open on Broadway at the small, theater-in-the-round venue of Circle In the Square and go on to win best musical.

"Fun Home" director Sam Gold was also a surprise winner for director, taking the prize over Christopher Wheeldon, whose ballet-centric "An American in Paris" was also a musical frontrunner. Underscoring the night "Fun Home" was having, Gold said in his acceptance speech that the show's authors were still "backstage [in the winner's press room] so they're going to have to watch this on YouTube later."

Cerveris also staged an upset in nabbing the prize for lead actor in a musical over Brian d'Arcy James of meta-musical romp "Something Rotten!" He gave a spirited speech in which he shouted out the New Orleans "who dat" phrase and also exhorted the Supreme Court to rule in favor of gay marriage.

Backstage,‎ Cerveris underlined the theme of Tony winners focusing on characters outside the mainstream "They’re both about people who at first glance are not accepted and people who have not  been able to see themselves as part of the culture we all share,” he said of "Fun Home" and "Curious Incident."

Meanwhile, "Home's" Jeanine Tesori and Kron landed score honors, with Kron also winning for book.

Indeed, at a time when Hollywood has come under fire for a lack of female filmmakers, it was a strong night for women writers and directors. The win for Tesori and Kron was the first time an all-female team had won the score Tony.

And Elliott's win for direction of a play marked the third time in five years a woman stood on stage to receive the award (including 2011, when Elliott shared the award with Tom Morris for "War Horse.")

In contrast, a woman has won best director only once in the entire history of the Oscars.

Elliott said she never imagined directing a play when she was first getting into theater. "I assumed you had to be a man," she said. "It's getting better in Britain now," she added, "but it's still quite unusual."

Cumming‎ and Chenoweth, hosting the show for the first time, kept true to their musical roots. "Cabaret" and "Wicked" jokes came within the first minute, and Cumming did a bit in drag as Anna from "The King and I." In non-musical realms, there was also a "Fun Home" visual pun that involved Chenoweth dressed‎ as E.T.

It was the first time in the past five years that Neil Patrick Harris was neither host nor nominee. He did appear as a presenter, though, and gamely offered a self-deprecating jab at his mixed Oscar-hosting turn in February.

Noting he hadn't locked the predictions in a box, as he had done at the Oscars, he then deadpanned. "That's a drag. Because it went so well last time.‎"

For his part, Cumming offered his own riff on award-show traditions, imploring winners not to go too long with their speech by articulating a parody of a choked-up, elaborate speech in which the winner thanked everyone they ever knew.

That parody was then ‎nearly acted out when "You Can't Take It with You's" Annaleigh Ashford won for featured actress and choked up thanking, essentially, everyone she ever knew.

"The King And I's" Ruthie Ann Miles, winning the counterpart prize in ‎musical, gave a similarly tearful speech, with a twist.

"Thank you for agreeing to come on this crazy ride," she addressed  her husband. Looking thrown for a moment, she then said, "Where are you?"

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tina Susman contributed to this report.

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