By Robert Viagas
03 Jun 1996
Best Actress in a Musical went to Donna Murphy in The King and I, snapping its fingers in the face of Julie Andrews, who withdrew her name for consideration for the award when no one else from her musical, Victor/Victoria, was nominated. In her acceptance speech, Murphy -- the 1994 winner for Passion -- talked about the honor of being nominated with Andrews and the others in the category.
But it was one of the very few references to the controversies of the previous four weeks, which saw Andrews' curtain speech, a lawsuit against the Tonys by State Fair producer David Merrick, and a threatened strike by stagehands that would have stopped the Tony show.
Would Murphy have beaten Andrews if Andrews had not withdrawn? We'll never know. Andrews has now been nominated for the Tony three times -- for My Fair Lady, Camelot and Victor/Victoria -- and lost all three times.
Hosted by Nathan Lane, the show was tight, classy and one minute under the stringent two-hour limit set by CBS-TV, which broadcast the awards. Lane made one of the few references to Andrews when he swept onto the stage in the show's early minutes wearing an approximation of the gown Andrews wears in the finale of Victor/Victoria.
Though Rent was named Best Musical, there was none of the expected sweep for the Pulitzer-winning alternative-rock musical about downtown New York artists struggling to keep their love -- and themselves -- alive. Rent won four Tonys: Best Musical, Best Score (Jonathan Larson), Best Book (Jonathan Larson) and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Wilson Jermaine Heredia).
In his Tony speech, Heredia hailed the future of Broadway, and indeed the awards tended to go to up-and-coming artists. Both the main contenders for Best Musical originated Off-Broadway, were created by young artists and were full of young performers.
But in a related melancholy note, the producers of Rent acknowledged their debt to composer/lyricist/librettist Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic aneurysm the night of the show's final dress rehearsal.
Two other shows won just as many (but perhaps less key) Tonys as Rent: Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk -- a history of black people in America as expressed through dance -- won Best Choreography (Savion Glover), Best Director of a Musical (George C. Wolfe), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Ann Duquesnay), and Best Lighting Design Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer).
The King and I a revival of the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a clash of wills and cultures in 1850s Siam, also won four awards: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Donna Murphy), Best Sets (Brian Thomson) and Best Costumes (Roger Kirk).
Among dramas, two shows won three awards each. Master Class, Terrence McNally's tribute to opera diva Maria Callas, won Best Play (Terrence McNally), Best Actress in a Play (Zoe Caldwell) and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Audra McDonald). Lincoln Center Theatre's revival of A Delicate Balance, about a Connecticut family thrown into turmoil by the arrival of two house guests who decide never to leave, won Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play (George Grizzard) and Best Director of a Play (Gerald Gutierrez).
None of the controversial shows won anything. Completely shut out were Victor/Victoria, State Fair, Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Swinging on a Star.
An unusual number of winners also won in recent years. Gerald Gutierrez won Best Director for directed a Lincoln Center Theatre production named Best Revival two years in a row. This year it was for A Delicate Balance; last year it was for The Heiress
Donna Murphy and Audra McDonald (then Audra Ann McDonald) won Best Actress in a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Play; they both won in 1994 as well: Murphy for Passion and McDonald for Carousel as Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Terrence McNally won Best Play two years in a row -- the first time that's happened since Tony Kushner won on successive years for the two parts of Angels in America In 1996 McNally won for Master Class; in 1995 for Love! Valour! Compassion! McNally's play goes inside the mind of opera diva Maria Callas. In his acceptance speech, McNally thanked Callas, and thanked his family, whom he said "let me listen to opera on the good radio" when he was a young man.
One face who finally made it to the winners circle was Tony host Nathan Lane, who had not won the award as Best Actor in a Musical for his career-making role in Guys and Dolls, and had not been nominated for major roles in Laughter on the 23rd Floor and Love! Valour! Compassion! His was the only award for his revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
August Wilson's Seven Guitars, which was counted as the front-runner for Best Play by several major prognosticators, took home just one award, Best Featured Actor in a Play for Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
Here is a complete list of winners of the 50th annual Tony Awards:
Best Musical: Rent
Best Play: Master Class
Best Performance By A Leading Actress in a Musical: Donna Murphy for The King & I
Best Performance By A Leading Actor in a Musical: Nathan Lane for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum
Best Performance By A Leading Actor in a Play: George Grizzard for A Delicate Balance
Best Performance By A Leading Actress in a Play: Zoe Caldwell for Master Class
Best Revival of a Musical: The King & I
Best Revival of a Play: A Delicate Balance
Best Choreography of a Musical: Savion Glover for Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk
Best Direction of a Musical: George C. Wolfe for Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk
Best Direction of a Play: Gerald Gutierrez for A Delicate Balance
Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Ann Duquesnay for Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk
Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Wilson Jermaine Heredia for Rent
Best Featured Actor in a Play: Ruben Santiago-Hudson for Seven Guitars
Best Featured Actress in a Play: Audra McDonald for Master Class
Best Book of a Musical: Jonathan Larson for Rent
Best Score of a Musical: Jonathan Larson for Rent
Best Costume Design: Roger Kirk for The King & I
Best Lighting Design: Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer for Best Scenic Design: Brian Thomson for The King & I Outstanding Regional Theatre: Alley Theatre of Houston Award Totals By Show:
Rent - 4
Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk - 4
The King & I - 4
A Delicate Balance - 3
Master Class - 3
Seven Guitars - 1
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum - 1
Best Scenic Design: Brian Thomson for The King & I
Outstanding Regional Theatre: Alley Theatre of Houston
Award Totals By Show: