It was a good night for new blood at the 2005 Tony Awards, a relatively bad one for actors best known for screen roles, and a testament to the principle of share and share alike, as seven Broadway shows won multiple awards and four others won one apiece.
"The Light in the Piazza" led with six awards but was trumped for best musical by "Monty Python's Spamalot," which earned three.
"Doubt" by John Patrick Shanley, already this year's Pulitzer Prize winner, took four awards, including best play in a field considered one of the strongest in years for Broadway drama.
"The Pillowman," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "La Cage aux Folles" each took two awards. "La Cage" won for musical revival while "Glengarry" was best play revival -- the first time a show by playwright David Mamet has won a Tony.
Bill Irwin was the evening's surprise winner for his portrayal as the failed but acid-witted academic George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" It was his first Tony.
The actor, previously celebrated as a clown and physical humorist, bested two big names pegged by many pundits as the favorites: Brian F. O'Byrne, the priest in "Doubt," was widely expected to create a sweep for Shanley's play, and there was some sentiment for James Earl Jones for his turn in "On Golden Pond." Other nominees were Billy Crudup ("Pillowman") and Philip Bosco ("12 Angry Men").
As universally expected, Cherry Jones picked up a Tony for Sister Aloysius, the nun in "Doubt" who sets out on an unswerving, doubt-free quest to nail a priest for sexual abuse.
Jones, who won a 1995 best actress Tony for the title role in "The Heiress," beat an impressive field that included Kathleen Turner (a critically hailed Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"), Phylicia Rashad (for "Gem of the Ocean"), Mary-Louise Parker ("Reckless") and Laura Linney ("Sight Unseen").
Star power faded before newcomers in the featured actor categories. Alan Alda and " NYPD Blue" veteran Gordon Clapp lost to fellow "Glengarry Glen Ross" cast member Liev Schreiber. John Lithgow, Tim Curry and Hank Azaria proved also-rans for lead actor in a musical, which went to Norbert Leo Butz. Butz plays the American con man who competes with Lithgow's suave operator in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
Other first-time winners dominated. Adam Guettel, long regarded as a promising musical-theater contender, fulfilled a family tradition with victories for score and orchestrations in "The Light in the Piazza." His grandfather was famed composer Richard Rodgers, and his mother, Mary, wrote the music for the Broadway hit "Once Upon a Mattress."
"I try not to worry about it too much," Guettel said of his family legacy and its pressures. "One time I had a dream and I asked him if I was any good and he said, 'You have your own voice.' " Guettel recalled his mother, from whom he first heard of the original novel, "The Light in the Piazza," as a taskmaster who would sternly ask him, "You call that a melody?"
Doug Hughes, winner for best director of a play ("Doubt"), also continued an award-winning family tradition; his father, Barnard Hughes, won the 1978 best actor Tony for "Da." And his mother, Helen Stenborg, was a 2000 Tony nominee for "Waiting in the Wings."
Victoria Clark, as expected after her glowing reviews, was best lead actress in a musical, playing the mother of a romantically involved but mentally childlike daughter in "Piazza."
Adriane Lenox of "Doubt" won as featured actress in a play, joking in her speech that "I guess less is more," since she had just a single 10-minute scene as the mother of the boy thought to have been molested. Chubby, frizzy-haired Dan Fogler won for featured actor in a musical, playing one of the misfits who finds a way to excel in "Spelling Bee." He noted that he's something of a real-life misfit when it comes to filling the usual bill for a Tony-awarded actor:
"We did it with this hair and in this body. Be brave, be different," he proclaimed, recalling similar sentiments from Marissa Jaret Winokur after she won the 2003 best musical actress award for "Hairspray." Another newcomer, Sara Ramirez, won best featured actress in a musical for her turn as the Lady of the Lake in "Spamalot."
The failure of the biggest names to win awards -- even though they're counted on to bring in audiences -- brought no open gloating from lesser-known winners.
Butz was typical. Sidestepping a question about the issue, he instead lauded his costar, Lithgow, as "a brilliant legend." And Jones, while winning, extolled Turner's performance as Martha as a must-see.
In a telling spoof at the opening of the CBS broadcast from Radio City Music Hall, Billy Crystal, the comic known for his turns hosting the far more highly rated Academy Awards broadcasts, pretended to steal the host's role from Hugh Jackman.
Crystal returned to the stage, as expected, in what was considered a sure-lock, capturing the "special theatrical event" Tony for "700 Sundays," in his Broadway debut. "The greatest thrill in my career, coming home to the stories of growing up and the people who touched me," he said of his one-man show, a hot ticket that will close this Sunday but not for lack of audience interest.
Backstage, Crystal said he's in no hurry to rush the property to the screen and is instead mulling how his stories might play on stage in London. "It's still too new to me" after just 200 performances, he said. "I don't want to give it away to television."
One veteran eminence who won was Mike Nichols, for best director of a musical -- his first win since 1984. Backstage, Nichols confessed he had grown uneasy as his show, "Spamalot," lost to "Piazza" early in the evening. "I sat there thinking, 'We are in the toilet. This is backlash big time.' We all agreed it was over ... and then it turned out OK."
Tony voters went mainly for new faces in the six design categories and best orchestration awards; Brian MacDevitt, lighting designer for "The Pillowman," won his second Tony, following up a 2002 victory for "Into the Woods." The other six categories were won by first-timers.
The show was virtually devoid of politics, if you don't count the Rev. Al Sharpton's guest appearance as spelling contestant in a number from "Spelling Bee."
"I hate people who use award shows for political messages, but I do have one for Saddam Hussein," jested presenter Nathan Lane. "For the love of God, switch to boxers." Ted Sperling, who partnered with Guettel and Bruce Coughlin on the winning orchestrations for "Piazza," did allude to one key issue looming over Broadway and its touring offshoots: increased pressure to save costs by paring the size of pit bands and using synthesizers to fill out the sound: "Here's to more live music on Broadway with real strings and real heart," he said.
In awards determined earlier, the Theatre de la Jeune Lune (Theater of the New Moon) of Minneapolis won for best regional theater.
Edward Albee won a lifetime achievement Tony.
Top WinnersMusical: "Monty Python's Spamalot"Actor, musical: Norbert Leo Butz, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"Actress, musical: Victoria Clark, "The Light in the Piazza"Play: "Doubt"Actor, play: Bill Irwin, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"Actress, play: Cherry Jones, "Doubt"
Lieberman reported from New York. Boehm reported from Los Angeles.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times