Once, Clybourne Park, Porgy and Bess, Audra McDonald, Salesman Win 2012 Tony Awards
By Kenneth Jones
Clybourne Park, the dark comedy about race and real estate, and Once, the Dublin-set musical that uses actor-musicians to tell its love story, were named Best Play and Best Musical, respectively, at the 2012 Tony Awards ceremony on June 10.
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Revivals of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward & Dorothy Heyward, also won Tonys as Revival of a Play and Revival of a Musical, respectively.
Bruce Norris previously won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Clybourne Park, a play inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (he acknowledged her in his acceptance speech).
The play borrows an incident from Hansberry's groundbreaking 1959 play about an African-American family moving into a white suburb. In Act One of Clybourne Park, the white family selling to that black family gets criticized by neighbors. In Act Two, set in 2009, we see another shift in the same neighborhood, in the same house, leading to a fiery discussion of race, history, property and economic power.
Norris said in his acceptance speech, "I have to thank Lorraine Hansberry, who actually built the neighborhood of Clybourne Park; we just moved in and depressed the property values." The play had its world premiere at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons in 2010; it was also produced in London and Washington, DC. The Broadway company is a reunion of the Horizons cast and creative team, including Tony-nominated director Pam MacKinnon.
Steve Kazee thanked his cast for their support when he accepted the Best Actor (Musical) Tony for Once, in which he plays a sad and lost Dublin singer-songwriter. His mother died on Easter, he told the crowd. He invoked her name in his acceptance speech.
In addition to Best Musical and Best Actor, Once won in the categories of Best Orchestrations (Martin Lowe), Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Bob Crowley), Best Direction of a Musical (John Tiffany), Best Book of a Musical (Enda Walsh), Sound Design of a Musical (Clive Goodwin) and Lighting Design of a Musical (Natasha Katz). The show, in which all the scenes play out on the unit set of an Irish pub, is based on the indie film hit of the same name; the score borrows from the soundtrack and interpolates later numbers written by the movie's actor-musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (who were at the Beacon). The Once songwriters were not eligible for the Best Score Tony; more than half of a show's score must be new in order to be considered for the Tonys.
The main competition for the aching, expressionistic Once was thought to be the broad-strokes slice of musical optimism, Disney's Newsies, also based on a film; that show is raking in over a million dollars a week.
Audra McDonald won her first Best Actress Tony for her potent performance as tragic Bess in Porgy and Bess; she is a previous four-time Tony winner in Featured categories. The Revival category win was considered something of an upset for a show that some critics (including composer Stephen Sondheim) took to task for rewriting a classic (it's rebranded, per the Gershwin estate, as The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, and includes cuts and reassignment of some material). In the end, the vivacious, audience-favorite Gershwin show (revisions and all) won out over a revival of Sondheim's Follies, a now-closed limited engagement which was considered the favorite. (Follies took home one Tony — for the Costume Design of Gregg Barnes.)
Mike Nichols won his sixth Tony, out of 18 nominations over the years, for staging Arthur Miller's tragedy Death of a Salesman (using the original 1949 scenic design of Jo Mielziner and music of Alex North, in a move that critics and audiences found both simple refreshing — and a loving remembrance of American theatre history).
In his acceptance speech, Nichols said that he used to go to movies at the Beacon Theatre, when he was a kid, and participated in a pie-eating contest there. He got choked up speaking about his Salesman cast, and gave a special mention to Miller's daughter, Rebecca.
James Corden, the British star who plays a servant of two masters in the Broadway engagement of the London farce One Man, Two Guvnors, beat out Death of a Salesman's Philip Seymour Hoffman (considered the favorite) for the Best Actor (Play) Tony.
Nina Arianda, who was fresh out of NYU when she landed the Off-Broadway job of Vanda in David Ives' sexy dark comedy Venus in Fur in 2010-11, became a critics' darling — praise that stuck up to its Broadway transfer in 2011-12. She won the Tony as Best Actress in a Play.
Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, whose stage scores include Little Shop of Horrors, Sister Act, King David and Leap of Faith, won his first Tony Award for Best Score, for Newsies, with lyricist Jack Feldman. (Menken's augmented scores from the films "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" were also heard on Broadway, of course.) Menken and Feldman revised their 1992 flop film score for the new stage version, and added new songs to it. ("Seize the Day," in which the striking 1890s newsboys rally, was performed during the ceremony; Christopher Gattelli, a former Broadway gypsy, won the 2012 Tony for his balletic, athletic choreography).
Judith Light, a theatre and TV favorite who was nominated for the Featured Actress Tony for Lombardi a year ago, won the Featured Actress prize this time around, for her work as alcoholic Aunt Silda in Jon Robin Baitz's drama of family secrets, Other Desert Cities. Among those she thanked: Herb Hamsher, her manager of 36 years. Without him, she said, she would not be winning the Tony.
Christian Borle, a previous Tony nominee for his work as Emmett in Legally Blonde the Musical, took home the 2012 Featured Actor (Play) Tony for his lusty, purposely hammy work in the Peter Pan prequel Peter and the Starcatcher, in which he plays the nascent Captain Hook (here called Black Stache). Borle's national profile was raised this spring when he starred as a Broadway composer in the new TV series "Smash." The series has been picked up for a second season.
Rick Elice's Starcatcher, which is presented on a mostly bare stage, with a trunk, rope and seemingly found objects as props, won Tonys for Costume Design of a Play (Paloma Young), Scenic Design of a Play (Donyale Werle), Sound Design of a Play (Darron L. West) and Lighting Design of a Play (Jeff Croiter).
When she won her 2012 Tony for Featured Actress (Musical), Judy Kaye pointed out her unique relationship with chandeliers over the years. Her first Tony was for playing diva Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera, in which her character has a run-in with a plunging light fixture. In the Gershwin-infused Nice Work If You Can Get It, in which she plays a starchy temperance advocate, she swings on a chandelier after her first encounter with hooch. It gets one of the biggest ovations in the Joe DiPietro-penned musical comedy that seeks to recreate the daffiness of 1920s musicals.
Michael McGrath, the character actor seen in Spamalot (for which he was previously Tony-nommed), won the 2012 Featured Actor for his rambunctious turn as a bootlegger named Cookie McGee in Nice Work. McGrath's next project is playing Ralph in a new stage musical based on the TV show "The Honeymooners."
The 2012 Tony Award winners' tally follows.
Once - 8
The winners and nominees of the 66th Annual Tony Awards follow. Recipients are indicated with an asterisk and boldface.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Best Revival of a Musical
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Best Revival of a Play
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Bonnie & Clyde
One Man, Two Guvnors
Peter and the Starcatcher
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Best Costume Design of a Play
Best Direction of a Play
Best Direction of a Musical
Best Sound Design of a Play
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Best Book of a Musical
Golden Globe nominee and Emmy Award winner Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother") returned to host the 66th annual awards ceremony at the Beacon Theatre. CBS-TV aired the main three-hour ceremony starting at 8 PM.
Once, the new musical based on the film of the same name, earned 11 Tony nominations, the most of any production of the season. The two Gershwin musicals, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess and Nice Work If You Can Get It, earned 10 nominations apiece.
All four Best Play nominees, including the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Clybourne Park, arrived on Broadway after acclaimed Off-Broadway runs. Venus in Fur and Clybourne Park were first seen by New York audiences in the winter of 2010, while Other Desert Cities and Peter and the Starcatcher debuted in 2011.
The three-hour program featured performances by Tony-nominated musicals including Evita, featuring Ricky Martin and Elena Roger ("And The Money Kept Rolling In"); Follies, featuring Tony-nominated actor Danny Burstein ("The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues"); a medley of tunes from The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, featuring Tony nominees Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier; Jesus Christ Superstar, featuring Tony nominee Josh Young; Leap of Faith, featuring Raúl Esparza, who will offer "Rise Up"; Newsies, featuring Tony-nominated actor Jeremy Jordan; Nice Work If You Can Get It, featuring Matthew Broderick and Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara; and Once, featuring Tony nominees Steve Kazee, Cristin Milioti and Elizabeth A. Davis.
The evening also included performances by Tony-nominated plays: End of the Rainbow with Tony-nominated actress Tracie Bennett; One Man, Two Guvnors with Tony-nominated actor James Corden; and Peter and the Starcatcher, featuring Tony nominees Christian Borle and Celia Keenan-Bolger.
The show featured a performance with Corbin Bleu and the cast of Godspell; Ghost The Musical, featuring Bryce Pinkham, Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman; and a live broadcast from Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas' cast of Hairspray.
During the evening, two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters received the Isabelle Stevenson Award, and Special Tony Awards were presented to Actors' Equity Association and to Tony winner Hugh Jackman. Veteran producer Emanuel Azenberg earned a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement. Peters is being recognized for her charitable work with such organizations as Broadway Barks!, which she co-founded with Mary Tyler Moore as a program to promote the adoption of shelter animals; Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; Standing Tall; and Actors Fund of America. Jackman is being honored for his "contributions to the Broadway community, both as a performer and humanitarian; his tireless dedication to charitable works of many types; and his personal generosity of spirit." And, Actors' Equity is being celebrated on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.
The 2012 Tony Awards are presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.
The Antoinette Perry "Tony" Awards are bestowed annually on theatre professionals for distinguished achievement.
Recipients of Awards and Honors in Non-Competitive Categories
Tony Nominations by Production
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(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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