Billy Elliot, Norman Conquests, Hair, God of Carnage Are Tony Award Winners

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07 Jun 2009

Angela Lansbury on the red carpet at the 2009 Tony Awards.
Angela Lansbury on the red carpet at the 2009 Tony Awards.
Aubrey Reuben
Billy Elliot, the British-born musical about a miner's son who wants to be a ballet dancer, and God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza's dark comedy about two couples who squabble over a playground incident involving their children, were named Best Musical and Best Play, respectively, at the 2009 Tony Awards June 7 at Radio City Music Hall.

Billy Elliot won ten out of its 15 Tony nominations. A relaxed, confident Neil Patrick Harris hosted the Tony ceremony.

Stephen Daldry, who also directed the musical's source film, also called "Billy Elliot," took home the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical (it's his second Direction Tony after Inspector Calls in 1994). Lee Hall won for his libretto, based on his screenplay, which was inspired by events in his own life, though he is not a dancer.

Matthew Warchus — who was competing against himself in the category of Direction of a Play (for God of Carnage and the revival of The Norman Conquests) — snagged the Tony for staging Carnage, another production that began in London (the Broadway company includes American stars).

Christopher Hampton, not incidentally, penned the English language translation of Reza's French play, which, for Broadway, places its character in the gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill. He also translated Reza's previous Best Play Tony winner, Art.



The 1973 trio of Alan Ayckbourn plays that make up the almost eight-hour Norman Conquests (and play in rep through July 25 at Circle in the Square Theatre) won the Tony as Best Revival of a Play.

Hair was named Best Revival of a Musical. This Diane Paulus-directed production of the famous "American Tribal Love Rock Musical" began as a Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival outdoor concert in Central Park in 2007, followed by a full production there in summer 2008, at the Delacorte. The Broadway version was altered to be performed in a psychedelic theatre setting rather than a literal outdoor grassy knoll. The show's trip to Broadway was bumpy: Producer credits shifted in the months leading to its bow and there were reports of capitalization issues. The reviews were raves, the Tony solidifies its success.

The three teen-age actors who play Billy Elliot, a role that requires them to sing, act and do tap, ballet and modern dance, were packaged together as one Best Lead Actor in a Musical. They won the award in that category. They are David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish. They thanked parents, siblings, dance teachers and Billy Elliot colleagues. This is the first time in the 63 years of the Tonys that three actors won for one role in the same category.

(When asked recently by Katie Couric about eventually having to outgrow the role, the boys told her they try not to think about that.)

Peter Darling, whose musical staging and movement seamlessly meshes with Daldry's direction of Billy Elliot, won for Best Choreography. In one scene in the musical set in a blue collar world of striking British miners, a grandmother has a memory of drinking and dancing in a long-ago dance hall, and men from her past bleed through the walls in slow motion, pulling chairs along until they inscrutably exit through walls and windows of the set (and her mind). Billy Elliot asks Darling the address all kinds of dance, including the now-famous pas de deux Billy does with his older self (seen in the expansive, inclusive opening number of the Tonys).

Alice Ripley, who plays a depressed, grieving, unstable, bipolar mom who sings about her pain in rock songs in Next to Normal, was named Best Lead Actress in a Musical. She quoted John F. Kennedy in her acceptance speech, occasionally shouting her words for emphasis. (She was previously nominated for the cult musical Side Show.)

Best Score of a Musical went to composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey for their kinetic, rock-driven storytelling in Next to Normal, a rare original musical not based on source material (Yorkey was nominated for Best Book, as well). The writers mentioned the show's developmental steps and advocates on the way to Broadway, including Off-Broadway's Second Stage, Arena Stage in Washington, DC, the Village Theatre in Washington state, The BMI Workshop, the Jonathan Larson Foundation and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The Tony win is considered a great show of faith to writers of original musicals.

Octogenarian Angela Lansbury won her fifth Tony Award (this time as Best Featured Actress in a Play) for playing the dotty medium Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. She is the second actress in Tony history to win five awards (she tied Julie Harris).

"I feel deeply grateful," Lansbury said. "Being with all you Broadwayites is the greatest gift in my old age that I can possibly imagine. Thank you for having me back."

Liza Minnelli was also back as part of a Tony winning show: Liza's at the Palace…! won as Special Theatrical Event. A section of the limited-run concert show (now closed) was a tribute to actress, singer and vocal coach Kay Thompson, Minnelli's godmother. (The show has been preserved on a cast album.)

Geoffrey Rush, the Academy Award winning actor who plays the limber, fumbling, bumbling monarch in the rare revival of Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King, an absurd rumination on power and male mortality, won as Best Lead Actor in a Play. This new production of the darkly comic play began its life in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. (Rush was an Oscar winner for the movie "Shine.")

Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden was named Best Lead Actress in a Play for her turn as a caffeinated lover of art who goes ballistic in her living room in God of Carnage.

Roger Robinson, who plays the spiritual Bynum in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone, won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play. He was previously nommed in the same category in Wilson's Seven Guitars. In accepting the award, the veteran actor said, "It has taken me 46 years to come from that seat up these steps to this microphone." He thanked his 98-year-old mother, who was watching TV from Washington state.

The 63rd Annual Tony Awards — recognizing plays, musicals, specialty shows and the artists who brought them to life in 2008-09 — were broadcast on CBS-TV 8-11 PM (ET).

The so-called Creative Arts Awards — recognizing Best Book of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Sound Design of a Musical, Best Sound Design of a Play, Best Scenic Design of a Musical, Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Play, Best Orchestrations, Best Costume Design of a Play, Best Costume Design of a Musical — were handed out 7-8 PM in a pre-broadcast ceremony at Radio City. It was seen at tonyawards.com.

The nominees and winners of the 2009 Tony Awards follow, with winners indicated in boldface with an asterisk.


Best Musical

*Billy Elliot, The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek The Musical

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

*David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish ‚ Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
*Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
*Hair
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Best Play

Dividing the Estate
*God of Carnage
Reasons to Be Pretty
33 Variations

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Mary Stuart
*The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
*Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
*Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair

Best Special Theatrical Event

*Liza's at The Palace
Slava's Snowshow
Soul of Shaolin
You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush

Best Direction of a Musical

*Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair

Best Direction of a Play

Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
*Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Lee Hall

*Next to Normal
Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey

9 to 5: The Musical
Music and Lyrics: Dolly Parton

Shrek The Musical
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
*Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
*Roger Robinson, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Best Book of a Musical

*Billy Elliot, The Musical, Lee Hall
Next to Normal, Brian Yorkey
Shrek The Musical, David Lindsay-Abaire
[title of show], Hunter Bell

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
*Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
*Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
*Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
*Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
*Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
*Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Lighting Design of a Play

David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
*Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
*TIE Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*TIE Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
*Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair

*

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Jerry Herman

Regional Theatre Tony Award
Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.

Isabelle Stevenson Award
Phyllis Newman

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre
Shirley Herz

Here's the tally of the 2009 Tony Award winners:

Billy Elliot, The Musical - 10
God of Carnage - 3
Next to Normal - 3
Joe Turner's Come and Gone - 2
33 Variations - 1
Blithe Spirit - 1
Equus - 1
Exit the King - 1
Hair - 1
Liza's at the Palace - 1
Mary Stuart - 1
Norman Conquests - 1
Shrek The Musical - 1
West Side Story - 1
*

Playbill Magazine editor Blake Ross was Tweeting on Twitter during the Tony telecast (at twitter.com/playbillmag). Check out Playbill.com's Tony Blog, from the press room of the Tonys.

For more information visit www.tonyawards.com.