'Once' in a lifetime night at 2012 Tony Awards; 'Clybourne Park' wins best play

Broadway fell fast for "Once," the melancholy but moving movie-to-musical about a lovelorn Irish street musician and his Czech guardian angel, which scooped Disney's chirpier "Newsies: The Musical" for the award for best musical at the 2012 Tony Awards. Meanwhile "Clybourne Park," Bruce Norris' prismatic,Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about race and real estate on Chicago's complex North Side closed on the Tony for best play.

The Tonys for work on musicals reflected the reality that there were only two credible candidates to emerge from the musically thin 2011-12 Broadway season: "Once" and "Newsies" largely split the awards. Alan Menken won his first Tony, with lyricist Jack Feldman, for the score of "Newsies," and Christopher Gattelli, surely now to be Broadway's most in-demand choreographer, won for his showstopping work on that same Disney-produced show. Meanwhile, among the winners on the "Once" side of the aisle, John Tiffany took the Tony for best director of a musical, Steve Kazee won for best actor in a leading role in a musical, Martin Lowe won for best orchestrations, Bob Crowley for best scenic design, and Enda Walsh won the Tony for best book of a musical.

Walsh won one of several major awards handed out during commercial breaks to save time for the show's plethora of musical numbers from a panoply of shows — some nominated, some not; most from this season, some not. The Tonys have long been a battle of handing out awards versus showcasing shows. This year, the latter ruled the broadcast roost. Time was, mere cruise-ship entertainment would never have gained a spot on the snooty Tony dance card. But times, and cruise ships, have changed and Sunday night's Tony Awards broadcast cut away to a ship owned by Royal Caribbean International (a sponsor), where jolly cruisers were watching an abbreviated non-Equity version of "Hairspray," produced by the Chicago-based company Under the Radar and the choreographer Harrison McEldowney.

Of the stronger slate of musical revivals, "Follies" and "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" both had their Tony moments, with the once-controversial latter winning the Tony for best revival of a musical. Audra McDonald, the star of"Porgy and Bess," won the Tony for best actress in a leading role in a musical.

 

As expected, Scott Rudin's production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" won the Tony Award for best revival of a play. Rudin accepted the award in the company of his cast and director, instead of the traditional scrum of fellow producers. This year, Broadway's fiscal backers were mostly kept off the stage, although several still got to grin for the CBS cameras in return for risking their money in this dangerous commercial enterprise.

The prestigious award for leading actor in a play went to the comic performer James Corden in "One Man, Two Guvnors ," with Nina Arianda taking the Tony for best leading actress in a play for her work in "Venus in Fur." "Sir," Arianda said to Christopher Plummer, her presenter, "you were my first crush."

This year's Tony broadcast was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris for the third time. Harris delivered a bravura medley of Broadway numbers composed by Tony-winning composers, but the genial host's most anarchic, and thus funniest, comic bit was spent hanging upside down, a la Spider-Man, as Angela Lansbury and Ted Chapin delivered the much-reviled but obligatory boilerplate annual commercial for the American Theatre Wing, one of the presenters of the Tonys.

Harris' opening comic number this year revolved around the burning question of, "What if life were more like theater?" It featured a panoply of fast-moving scenes, everything from a flying Mary Poppins to Patti LuPone pushing a lawn mower, and even a genuinely droll moment where Harris suddenly was replaced by his own understudy. "If life were more like theater," the last line of his apt if mostly milquetoast song went, "life wouldn't suck so much."

Others for whom Tony night was better than real life included veteran actress Judy Kaye, who last won a Tony in 1988 for "The Phantom of the Opera," but took home the award for her supporting role in "Nice Work If You Can Get It," which included a memorable moment spent hanging from a light fixture. Kaye thanked her father, whom she said died last week and she also noted, dryly, that chandeliers had been good to her.

Hugh Jackman was surprised that his special Tony Award was presented by his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness. "She has never kept a secret in her life," he said.

Veteran director Mike Nichols, scoring a remarkable sixth Tony for his work on the revival of "Death of a Salesman," was similarly emotional. "There is not a person in this theater," Nichols said, "who does not know what it means to be a salesman."

cjones5@tribune.com

Winners of the American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards:

Best play: "Clybourne Park" (by Bruce Norris)

Best musical: "Once"

Best revival of a play: "Death of a Salesman"

Best revival of a musical: "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"

Best book of a musical: "Once" (by Enda Walsh)

Best original score: "Newsies" (Alan Menken and Jack Feldman)

Best actor in a leading role in a play: James Corden, "One Man, Two Guvnors"

Best actress in a leading role in a play: Nina Arianda, "Venus in Fur"

Best actor in a leading role in a musical: Steve Kazee, "Once"

Best actress in a leading role in a musical: Audra McDonald, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess"

Best direction of a play: Mike Nichols, "Death of a Salesman"

Best direction of a musical: John Tiffany, "Once"

Best choreography: Christopher Gattelli, "Newsies"

Best orchestrations: Martin Lowe, "Once"

For a complete list of 66th Annual Tony Award winners, go to tonyawards.com

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