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‘Big River’ Gets 7 Tonys; Simon Wins for Best Play

From Times Wire Services

“Big River,” a musical version of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” ran away with the Tonys on Sunday, winning seven prizes, and Neil Simon won his first award for best play with “Biloxi Blues.”

“Big River” was named best musical and won for best score, by Roger Miller in his Broadway debut, at the 39th annual Tony Awards, televised live from the Shubert Theater.

Season Without Hit

The show, which opened near the end of a season that failed to produce a single smash hit musical, also captured a best featured actor award for Ron Richardson, who plays the runaway slave, Jim, and best director of a musical for Des McAnuff, artistic director of the La Jolla (Calif.) Playhouse, where the show had its first major run last summer. William Hauptman also won for his adaptation of Twain’s masterpiece.

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Derek Jacobi, as the confirmed bachelor Benedick who falls in love in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” and Stockard Channing, as the mother of an incurably brain-damaged child in “Joe Egg,” won as best actor and actress in a play. “Joe Egg” also won the award as best revival for its author, Peter Nichols.

Simon, whose semiautobiographical World War II comedy also won for direction by Gene Saks and featured acting by Barry Miller, drew a laugh from the audience.

“I have always dreamed, naturally, of winning a Tony,” Simon said. “I just didn’t think I’d have to dream through 22 plays to do it. But it was worth the sleep.”

Yul Brynner, now completing his “farewell” engagement in “The King and I,” received a standing ovation as he came out to accept a special Tony.

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Leilani Jones, who plays the lead stripper in “Grind,” won the Tony for best featured actress in a musical. The show also picked up a best costume design award for Florence Klotz, her third Tony.

Judith Ivey, who played a good-time party girl in “Hurlyburly,” won for best featured actress in a play.

Other prizes for “Big River” went to Heidi Landesman for scenic design and Richard Riddell for lighting.

“Big River,” which received generally enthusiastic reviews but has not been selling out, led all shows with a total of 10 nominations.

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For the first time, no Tony nominations were made in three categories for musicals--best actor, best actress and best choreography--because of the thin crop of new musicals this year.


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