Tony Awards 2012: Emotional night in the intimate Beacon Theatre

NEW YORK — As the Tony Awards crowd filed out of the Beacon Theatre on Sunday night, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks was standing in a crowded hallway, holding her newly won award for “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.” Some attendees wanted to hold her hand; others wanted to touch the Tony.

“I just want to run away with it,” she said, alternating between nodding and crying.

That was just one of many unscripted interactions at the Manhattan performing space, a historic venue so intimate it can make the Oscars’ Dolby Theatre feel like, well, the Staples Center.

It’s the kind of show, and theater, where principals from winning productions who didn’t take the stage gathered in a small alcove under an exit sign 50 feet up from the stage — not a balcony or two up, as is customary at other shows. The Tonys moved to the Beacon from the far more cavernous Radio City Music Hall last year, and it seemed a fitting location for what is, in essence, a family affair by and for the theater community.

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There were plenty of other examples of serendipitous run-ins in its narrow confines. As they found themselves walking in simultaneously through a narrow entrance at the start of the show, honorary award winner Hugh Jackman practically bumped into Judith Light (“Other Desert Cities”). He squeezed her shoulder and wished her good luck. (It worked — she won a Tony an hour later.)

The intimacy also meant the house was feeling the emotions more acutely. And there was plenty of that emotion on Sunday night. Acting winners Steve Kazee (“Once,” which dominated the night) and Judy Kaye (“Nice Work If You Can Get It”) each paid tribute to recently deceased parents, prompting a flurry of tears and tissues as far up as the balcony.

The surprises resonated through the halls too. An unusually enthusiastic applause rained down for leading actor and featured actor, both in plays. In both cases, theater insiders were celebrating wins of one of their own — veteran actors including Brit James Corden (“One Man, Two Guvnors”) and Christian Borle (“Peter and the Starcatcher”), respectively.

Just before the show started, Corden said that he had no expectations to win — and in fact almost felt uncomfortable being in the same category as film and theater veteran Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman”). “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “He’s my favorite actor and I’m just a bloke who does comedy.”

Before the show, Borle expressed similar sentiments. In the music-filled “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Borle plays a mustache-twirling, fourth-wall-breaking pirate. He won the Tony by beating out favorite Andrew Garfield, who played Biff in “Death of a Salesman.”

“I mean, really, how do you compare one of the great dramas of our time to a show about Peter Pan?” he said. “It’s the definition of apples and oranges.”

Nina Arianda (“Venus in Fur”) got one of the biggest laughs in the room when she heard the music giving her acceptance speech the hook — and playfully snapped back at it that she was staying up there because she may never have another opportunity.

Perhaps the most telling description of the night — and the space that hosted it — came from “Salesman” director and Tony winner Mike Nichols. He described in his acceptance speech how he came to the theater as a child — and won a pie-eating contest. But this night, he said, was even better.

It was the kind of sentimental moment that the crowd at the Beacon — and Broadway audiences — love. But as Suzan-Lori Parks noted, there’s room for both the schmaltzy and the heady on Broadway.

“It’s like dating,” she said. “Sometimes you want a second date. And sometimes you just want a good time.”