Stoppard's Coast of Utopia sweeps Tony awards

Russian revolutionaries and rebellious teenagers were the big hits at the Tony Awards on Sunday when Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of the Utopia and the rock musical Spring Awakening took home the top honours.

Stoppard’s epic trilogy won seven of the awards given for Broadway productions and performances, including best play and director, and Spring Awakening dominated the musical categories, taking home eight prizes including best musical and direction of a musical.

The Coast of Utopia‘s crop of seven awards was a new record for a play, breaking the record of six set by Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in 1949 and matched last year by Alan Bennett’s The History Boys.

“They’re both plays that I admire very much,” Stoppard told reporters backstage. “What didn’t they get?”

The British playwright’s eight-hour trilogy about 19th century Russian intellectual revolutionaries was first produced in London in 2002. Stoppard said a Russian version was in rehearsals in Moscow and there was talk of a French version.

Coast of Utopia cast members Billy Crudup and Jennifer Ehle won acting awards for their supporting roles and the show also won for scenery, costumes and lighting.

While Stoppard’s play came to Broadway amid huge expectations 40 years after his first show in New York, Spring Awakening was created off-Broadway against the odds.

It tackles taboo subjects such as teenage sex, homosexuality, abortion and masturbation, and has a cast of little-known actors ranging in age from 16 to 24.

“When we couldn’t get anybody to look our way for four years, imagine how gratifying this is,” writer and lyricist Steven Sater told reporters backstage.

Taboos triumph

The musical was adapted from Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play about teenage sexual angst, and features rock music, graphic language, partial nudity and a tragic ending—a far cry from feel-good shows such as Mary Poppins, this year’s Disney offering, which won just one award, for scenery.

Composer Duncan Sheik said the success of Spring Awakening was a sign of the times.

“[With] what’s happening politically, people were ready for something that dealt with real issues and had teeth and was about turning the tide away from hypocrisy and foolishness,” Sheik said.
His co-writer Sater said they started working on it at the time of the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado.

Frank Langella won the Tony for best leading actor in a play for his role as Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, a dramatisation of David Frost’s 1977 television interviews with the disgraced president.

Julie White, who played a pushy celebrity agent in The Little Dog Laughed, won best actress in a play, beating big names Vanessa Redgrave and Angela Lansbury.

“I never imagined I would be on a list like this unless it was for dinner reservations,” White said in her speech to the start-studded crowd at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Grey Gardens, a critical hit about two reclusive, eccentric relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had 10 nominations but won just three awards—acting awards for star Christine Ebersole and supporting actress Mary Louise Wilson, and best costumes in a musical.

The Tony for best actor in a musical went to David Hyde Pierce, best known for his role as Niles in the long-running television sitcom Frasier. He played a singing detective in the musical Curtains.

Perhaps the most poignant moment was for the cast of Journey’s End, which won the Tony for best revival of a play, hours after its last performance on Sunday. The show drew rave reviews for its portrait of men of war, but failed to attract a large enough audience to continue its run. - Reuters

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