But the rumpled Kotis, who won a remarkable pair of Tony Awards Sunday night for "Urinetown," the first musical he had ever written and perhaps the show with the lousiest title in Broadway history, was very much in the right place.
Thanks to the wins of Kotis, Evanston resident Mary Zimmerman and Chicago producer Michael Leavitt, the American Theatre Wing's 56th Annual celebration of commercial American theater also was a celebration of Chicago's growing influence on the American commercial theater.
The diverse crop of this year's Tony winners also seemed to suggest that the divide between alternative theater and what's perceived as viable fare for the commercial theater appears to be narrowing. If there was any overall theme to the night, it's that Tony voters are more and more willing to reward the progressive.
Still, neither of those qualities could be ascribed to the defiantly retro "Thoroughly Modern Millie," which overcame mixed reviews to snag the biggest prize of the nightthe Tony Award for Best Musical. In typically modest style, Leavitt allowed his co-producer, Hal Luftig, to give the acceptance speech.
"Millie," which won six Tony Awards, emerged as the big winner on the musical side of the Tony Awards. As was widely expected, Sutton Foster, initially the understudy and later the star of the show, won for best actress in a musical.
"Urinetown" snagged three awards. Kotis won a solo Tony in the category of Best Book of a Musical. Along with Mark Hollman, a former ensemble member of Chicago's Cardiff-Giant Theatre Company and a composer who once worked with New Tuners on Belmont Avenue, Kotis also took home the Tony for best original score. And in one of the evening's few upsets, John Rando won the Tony Award for best direction of a musical over the predicted Michael Mayer of "Millie."
"This success is all very confusing," Kotis said in an interview. "This was a madcap and non-commercial show. The sensibility was kind of a marriage of everything I did in Chicago at Cardiff Giant and the Neo-Futurists."
Asked about the duo's next projects, Kotis said that he was working on a new show set entirely under water. Kotis also said he was working on a new play about a group of Medieval soldiers who have somehow survived and live in New York.
John Lithgow, the long-suffering star of "Sweet Smell of Success," which had a pre-Broadway engagement in Chicago, won his expected Tony for best actor in a musical. That was the only Tony Award the show got.
At a press conference after winning the award, Lithgow called the Tonyhis first in 14 yearsa tribute to the show he loved, but let some of his resentment show at the production's critical dubbing.
"It hurts a lot when people dismiss it and ridicule it," Lithgow said. "It's very hard to overcome the bad smell of a bad review in a very important newspaper."
Elaine Stritch, Tony winner for special theatrical event, was also less than happy.
After the awards, an intensely emotional Stritch said she was "very, very upset" that she was not allowed to finish her lengthy speech (the show's broadcast cut to a commercial).
Long considered a lock in the Best Director category, Zimmerman won the Best Director Tony for her work on "Metamorphoses," a show that was first produced professionally by Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company and ran for eight months on Chicago's North Side.
Overcome by emotion in her acceptance speech, the normally controlled Zimmerman thanked the Lookingglass Theatre, Frank Galati, Northwestern University and her ex-boyfriend, the actor-playwright Bruce Norris, who accompanied Zimmerman to the awards.
"They're been writing the story about Chicago theater being dominant in New York for years," Zimmerman said in an interview. "It's really a perennial story.
"There's value in doing a work of such poetry right now that comes from that part of the world," Zimmerman said, describing the show as both "deeply beautiful" and "deeply Islam."
Other than that, she eschewed the questions about working more in New York.
"To tell the truth, I'm always sort of busy in Chicago," Zimmerman said. "It's hard to get away."
Even though its narrative is built around the familial trauma caused by a married man who is having a sexual relationship with a four-legged creature, Edward Albee's "The Goat" won the Tony Award for Best Play. In interviews after his award, Albee explained that his play also was intended to function as notes towards the definition of tragedy.
The play-revival and musical-revival categories had been regarded as too close to call. As it worked out the revival of James Lapine's "Into the Woods" beat out Trevor Nunn's revisionist revival of "Oklahoma." "Private Lives," with three Tonys, was the most lauded play revival.
Shuler Hensley, who plays Judd Fry, won for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. He borrowed the words of his character to express his pleasure"that's a dinger, that is," he said.
In the untelevised section of the awards, a special Tony was given to Julie Harris, the woman who has been given the most Tony Awards. After having suffered an apparent stroke in her Chicago apartment, Harris last appeared at Chicago's Victory Gardens in Claudia Allen's "Fossils."
Standing on the stage of Radio City, Harris appeared to be in exuberant health and ebullient mood.
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