‘Millie’ thrills to top Tonys

'Urinetown,' 'Goat' also key winners, but no one's watching

With the box office slumping on Broadway in the week leading up to the Tony Awards and ratings for the telecast plunging to a record low, Elaine Stritch may not be the only one with an emotional hangover this week.

Nevertheless, since the Tony voters spread the wealth at the 56th annual ceremonies, concluding a difficult season in Broadway history by divvying up major awards with a remarkably even hand, the annual spate of closings following the telecast may not be as brutal this season.

Or maybe it will just be more protracted.

“Sweet Smell of Success” was the only show to put up a closing notice in the days after the June 2 Tonycast. (“The Elephant Man” folded on the day of the telecast, while “The Crucible” had previously announced its limited run would end June 9.)

A single Tony for star John Lithgow wasn’t enough to give “Sweet Smell” a lift at the B.O., and the show will fold as a total loss of its $10 million capitalization.

The critically clobbered tuner will have played 108 perfs when it ends its run June 15.

But there was some of the usual good news at the box office for the bigger winners of the evening.

“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which took the coveted best musical prize and five other awards, reported between $300,000 and $350,000 in sales on the day after the awards — about $200,000 more than usual.

“The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” took home the best play trophy and saw its daily sales double on Monday. The Edward Albee play has been languishing at the B.O. in recent weeks and could use some juice. Its grosses have been the weakest of the four best-play nominees in recent frames.

Best musical revival winner “Into the Woods” and “Mamma Mia!” also were among shows reporting a boost in their usual B.O. numbers on June 3, as was “Urinetown,” “Millie’s” chief rival for the top prize.

“Urinetown” came away from the awards ceremony with what it was touting in ads as a “triple crown”: Tonys for best book, score and director of a musical.

Although it’s hardly unusual these days for one show to take the best musical prize and another to win book and score — it’s now happened in four of the last five seasons, the exception being “The Producers” last year — it apparently was the first time in Tony history that the directing prize also went to a show that didn’t grab the top prize.

Stritch’s saga

The other major controversy at the Tonys centered, oddly enough, on the most predictable win of the night.

When Stritch and her creative team and producers took the stage after being inevitably awarded the Tony for special theatrical event, the singular star was just getting warmed up (albeit after two minutes of airtime) when the CBS telecast cut away from her speech.

A tearful Stritch let loose in the press room backstage, proving as memorable in humiliation as she would no doubt have been in triumph, had the TV audience been allowed to hear her speech.

“I’m very, very upset about the whole situation. I’m upset because it’s not just me, and I know CBS can’t let you do the Gettysburg Address up there. But I think they should have given me my time. I only had two minutes, I timed myself,” she said. “To be cut down like that has spoiled it for me. For a woman my age, to win her first Tony, it has spoiled it for me.”

“Working works for me. Winning doesn’t. Because I am a winner, but I find it so hard to win. And the more reason I wanted to turn that around tonight and accept my prize with graciousness. And I blew it. “I’ll tell you what isn’t working, is the waterproof mascara.”

A contrite Stritch later apologized for her effusions, which included some expletives launched at the network.

Industry talk the following day was mostly unsympathetic, with most faulting Stritch rather than the telecast.

There were few other surprises in the ceremony that parceled out awards to a wide spectrum of shows.

Dancing feat

Nevertheless, the evening began with an upset that portended the good news to come for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” as Broadway newcomer Rob Ashford topped choreographic royalty Susan Stroman (“Oklahoma!”) and John Carrafa — a double nominee in the category — to take the choreography nod for “Millie.”

The next award, for orchestrations, also went to “Millie,” to Doug Besterman and the late Ralph Burns, and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz was honored for his work on “Millie,” too.

But for a while the pendulum moved in favor of “Urinetown,” as Greg Kotis collected the award for best book of a musical (striking an aptly irreverent note, he thanked a friend who once helped him move a piano) and then shared the award for best score with Mark Hollmann.

Tuner’s director, John Rando, made it three by the end of the PBS portion of the ceremony — meaning “U-town” and “Millie” were neck-and-neck.

But “Millie” later picked up the awards for featured actress Harriet Harris and lead actress Sutton Foster, and completed the evening with the top prize.

The ceremony was something of a debutantes’ ball, notable for the number of first-time nominees taking home prizes.

Victors in half the acting categories, both directing winners (John Rando and Mary Zimmerman for “Metamorphoses”) and book and score honorees Kotis and Hollmann came home with trophies on their first try, as did the winning set designer, choreographer and lighting designer. Shuler Hensley, of “Oklahoma!” and “Noises Off’s” Katie Finneran joined Harris and Foster in the newcomers’ winners’ circle.

But there were several second-time winners taking home prizes in the acting categories, including Lithgow, Frank Langella and Alan Bates, who took home trophies as featured and lead actor in a play, respectively, for their perfs in “Fortune’s Fool.”

(Oddly, Lithgow and Bates won their first trophies in the same year, 1973, when Lithgow took the featured prize for “The Changing Room” and Bates won the lead actor award for “Butley.”)

“Private Lives” was named best revival of a play in a season that saw a more than usually large crop of them. The London-originating production also won awards for its set design by Tim Hatley and for lead actress Lindsay Duncan.

“Private Lives” and “Urinetown” came in second in the multiple-Tony tally, with three apiece.

Among the few notable shows that went home without any trophies at all were Pulitzer Prize winner “Topdog/Underdog” and “Mamma Mia!,” the Abba tuner that can console itself with its box office numbers.

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