Tony Awards make a nod to the past and future
NEW YORK – Broadway looked to the future ó and to its past ó at the 2008 Tony Awards with “In the Heights,” the best musical winner, and “August: Osage County,” the best play, sharing the spotlight with a nearly 60-year-old “South Pacific.”
Both “Heights,” a salsa and rap-flavored look at the Latino immigrant experience in Upper Manhattan, and “August,” a brutal dissection of a backbiting Oklahoma family, were written by artists making their Broadway debuts.
Yet it was Lincoln Center Theater’s lush, lavish revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that took more awards ó seven ó than any other show Sunday at Radio City Music Hall. Besides winning the musical-revival prize, it collected awards for debonair leading man Paulo Szot, who plays the French plantation owner Emile de Becque; director Bartlett Sher; and for the designers of its sets, costumes, lighting and sound.
Sher, in his acceptance speech, thanked not only the men who wrote the show’s music and lyrics, but its original director, Joshua Logan, and James Michener, who wrote the World War II short story on which the musical (which won nine Tonys back in 1950) is based.
“They were kind of incredible men, because they seem to teach me particularly that in a way I wasn’t only an artist but I was also a citizen,” Sher said. “And the work that we do in these musicals or in any of these plays is not only important in terms of entertaining people, but that our country was really a pretty great place, and that perhaps it could be a little better, and perhaps, in fact, we could change.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the Tony-winning score for “In the Heights,” rapped his acceptance speech and later proclaimed, “It is like the best prom ever, dude. I have several more musicals inside my head, and I want to write them.” The show, which was first seen off-Broadway last season before moving to Broadway this year, also won awards for choreography and orchestrations.
“August” playwright Tracy Letts, whose previous work in New York was only seen off-Broadway, said, “Writing is better than acting. You get to use your words and you don’t need to be there eight days a week.”
And in thanking his producers, Letts took a swipe at Broadway shows that cast movie stars and winners from TV reality shows and said, “They did an amazing thing: They decided to produce an American play on Broadway with theater actors.”
Two of his “August” actors, Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed, and the play’s director, Anna D. Shapiro, also won Tonys for their work in the show, which began life last summer at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
Said Dunagan, who portrays the bilious matriarch in the play: “This is so overwhelming. This whole year has been entirely unexpected and astonishing. … After 34 years in regional theater, I never thought about it (the Tonys). I watched it on television like everybody else.”
Despite losing the musical revival prize to “South Pacific,” “Gypsy” monopolized the musical performance prizes, taking three of the four awards.
The most dramatic was Patti LuPone’s win for her portrayal of Rose, the ultimate stage mother. Her rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” during the show got the cheering audience to its feet.
“It’s such a wonderful gift to be an actor who makes her living on the Broadway stage and then every 30 years or so picks up one of these,” said an exuberant LuPone, who last won a Tony in 1980 for “Evita.” “I was afraid to write a speech, because I had written a couple before and they never made it out of my purse. So I’m going to use one of the old ones and add a few names.”
Her co-star, Boyd Gaines, did even better. He collected his fourth Tony, winning for his portrayal of Rose’s gentlemanly candy-salesman suitor, Herbie. And Laura Benanti, who plays the ugly duckling daughter who blossoms into Gypsy Rose Lee in the show, received the featured-actress award.
“Boeing-Boeing,” a 1960s sex farce awash in slammed doors and split-second timing, took the play revival prize. Its lead, Mark Rylance, who portrays a nerdy visitor to Paris, won the top acting prize. He gave the night’s most bewildering acceptance speech, riffing about wearing clothing appropriate to your vocation or avocation.
“Otherwise, it might appear that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you’re just wandering the earth, no particular reason for being here, no particular place to go,” he said. “Thanks very much for this.”
“Passing Strange,” which had been expected to give “In the Heights” the stiffest competition, managed to take only one award ó book of a musical ó for its star and creator, Stew, another Broadway newcomer.
He said the intention of “Passing Strange,” a young black man’s journey through sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, was to stay “true to the music that people actually listen to… on subways or when they’re at home getting stoned or when they’re at parties.”
Tony Awards make a nod to the past and future