British play wins six Tonys in New York

British play The History Boys, Alan Bennett’s wise, witty and warmhearted dissection of education in his homeland, was named best play at the 2006 Tony Awards and received six Tonys in all—more than any other production.

“It almost seems unfair to get prizes for something we have so much fun doing,” said Bennett, who won a special Tony in 1963 for the revue Beyond the Fringe.

The other top winner on Sunday night was Jersey Boys, the fast-moving musical biography of pop icons Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which won best musical.

The History Boys—which premiered at London’s National Theatre in May 2004—also took home prizes for best actor, Richard Griffiths; best director, Nicholas Hytner; and best featured actress, Frances de la Tour; as well as two design prizes, sets and lighting.

“You are insanely talented people,” said Julia Roberts before giving the best-actor prize to Griffiths for his portrayal of an unorthodox yet beloved teacher in The History Boys.

In his Broadway debut, John Lloyd Young, who plays Valli in Jersey Boys, took the award for top actor in a musical and dedicated the prize to his father. After the show, Young said winning the Tony was “a very personal thing for me ... To have been an usher a year-and-a-half ago and now to be starring in a Broadway show and holding this—this is a triumph for everyone in my life.”

Christian Hoff, who plays tough, wise-guy Tommy DeVito in the show, won the prize for best featured actor in a musical.

While the race between Jersey Boys and Canada’s The Drowsy Chaperone was the evening’s most competitive contest, there were a few surprises.
LaChanze won in the category for best actress in a musical for her portrayal of the courageous Celie in The Color Purple. It was the only award the musical based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel received despite 11 nominations.

While Jersey Boys picked up the top musical prize and received four Tonys, its main competitor, The Drowsy Chaperone, the Canadian-born musical that affectionately celebrates Broadway’s past, won more awards—five—including best book and score.

“Thank you, America,” exulted Drowsy star Bob Martin, who co-wrote the book with Don McKellar.

The Canadian winners said they were proud that the show originated in Toronto.

“It’s the longest-running show in Canadian history—12 performances; we celebrated that,” Martin said with a laugh.

Their Canadian cohorts, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, received the prize for music and lyrics, and an exuberant Beth Leavel, who portrays the show’s inebriated title character, scooped up the featured-actress musical prizes. It also won two musical-design awards—for sets and costumes.

The Pajama Game edged out Sweeney Todd for the musical revival prize and took the choreography award, which went to its director Kathleen Marshall. Sweeney Todd managed two awards, one for its director, John Doyle, who developed the concept for the show—having the actors play the show’s instruments. The revival also grabbed an award for its new, spare orchestrations.

Cynthia Nixon, playing a distraught mother who loses a young son in an auto accident, won the best actress-play prize for her performance in Rabbit Hole.

Ian McDiarmid, who plays Ralph Fiennes’s fey, funny manager in Faith Healer, yelped out a “fantastic” as he ended his speech thanking voters for his featured-actor prize.

The Lincoln Centre Theatre production of Clifford Odets’s stirring 1935 drama Awake and Sing! received the prize for play-revival as well as a costume design prize.

No single host shepherded the presenters and winners through the telecast, although a parade of stars, including Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey (a producer of the Tony-nominated Color Purple), were on hand to entice viewers to the CBS telecast.

Jersey Boys, The Drowsy Chaperone and The History Boys are among the shows doing potent business at the box office, underscoring the fact that the 2005/06 season has been a good year on Broadway.

For the first time, Broadway attendance topped the 12-million mark, jumping past the 11,9-million reached in the season before the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. Grosses have been robust, too, with the season total climbing to $861,6-million, a 12% hike from the $768,5-million of the year before.

Those money figures were helped by the appearance of big names on Broadway, most prominently Roberts. The Hollywood star may not have won over the critics for her performance in Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain, but her marquee value was undeniable, pretty much selling out the play’s three-month run.

Tony winners were chosen by 754 theatre professionals including actors, producers, writers, stagehands and theatre owners. The Antoinette Perry—or Tony—Awards were founded in 1947 by the American Theatre Wing and are administered by the wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers.—Sapa-AP

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