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B’way pets its Python

Tonys tap 'Spamalot,' 'Doubt'; 'Piazza' wins 6

This article was updated at 9:05 p.m.

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NEW YORK — King Arthur’s knights found their holy grail Sunday, as “Monty Python’s Spamalot” beat all comers to be honored as the season’s best musical.

But this was no round-table sweep — Tony Award voters spread the wealth among all four contenders in an unusually strong field.

Surprising no one, John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer winner “Doubt” dominated the play category, besting chief rival “The Pillowman” for top play of the 2004-05 season. Set in a 1960s Bronx Catholic school, the suspenseful drama continued its near-unbroken run of award triumphs this season, winning four Tonys.

Perhaps signaling an ongoing trend after the overthrow of commercial behemoth “Wicked” last year in favor of feisty, low-budget upstart “Avenue Q,” the 14 nominations secured by “Spamalot” yielded a relatively modest haul of three Tonys.

In addition to top tuner, the adaptation by Eric Idle and John Du Prez of the 1975 cult pic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” landed a ninth Tony for Mike Nichols, his first for directing a musical. Nichols’ sure-handed work was considered crucial in binding together the show’s string of comic sketches.

And one of the season’s major revelations, Sara Ramirez, won featured actress in a musical for her flashy Camelot-via-Vegas perf as the Lady of the Lake.

Ramirez’s struggle to stay in her dress as she accepted her award was commented upon by host Hugh Jackman: “Thanks to Sara Ramirez, the ‘Twelve Angry Men’ are no longer angry.”

The winning star performed “Find Your Grail” from “Spamalot” in one of the Tonycast’s better musical presentations.

The evening’s top trophy tally was netted by “The Light in the Piazza,” a winner for Adam Guettel’s lush, romantic score; for the shimmering orchestrations by Ted Sperling, Guettel and Bruce Coughlin; and for leading actress Victoria Clark’s emotionally resonant turn as an anxious mother fretting over her mentally stunted daughter’s passionate romance in 1950s Italy.

Prizes for scenic design of a musical (Michael Yeargan), costumes (Catherine Zuber) and lighting (Christopher Akerlind) gave “Piazza” a six-Tony harvest.

Taking tuners seriously

This result sends a clear signal that the Broadway community continues to endorse the increasingly rare species of ambitious traditional book musicals, even as jokey movie adaptations, jukebox tuners and nudge-wink pastiches poking fun at the genre multiply.

“Piazza” drew a mixed critical response when it opened in April, but has since steadily increased its standing, notably after the recent release of its much admired original cast album. The Tony recognition also underscores respect in the theatrical community for Guettel, the grandson of musical royalty Richard Rodgers.

Rachel Sheinkin took home the Tony for book of a musical for her poignant comic insight into awkward-age kids in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The hit Off-Broadway transfer also landed the featured actor in a musical nod for Dan Fogler as the show’s endearingly arrogant, peanut-intolerant bee contestant, William Barfee.

In the always erratic quest to make musical excerpts work out of context, “Spelling Bee” scored high in an amusing seg that enlisted Rev. Al Sharpton in one of the show’s regular audience-participant spots. Jackman later joked that he would be touring with Sharpton in “La Cage aux Folles.”

Fourth musical contender, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” also scored a key award, with Norbert Leo Butz winning lead actor in a musical for his perf as a crass con man looking to fleece an American heiress on the French Riviera. Prize was among the evening’s most widely predicted wins. Butz performed the show’s hip-hop-flavored ode to riches and luxury, “Great Big Stuff,” during the Tony telecast with some strategically bleeped lyrics.

Lucrative future

The spread of kudos across all four musicals should help prod summer box office on Broadway. While its $27 million advance indicates “Spamalot” would have continued to charge ahead regardless of its Tony performance, and both “Scoundrels” and “Spelling Bee” have been playing to north of 90% capacity, the more serious-minded and challenging “Piazza” stands to reap considerable rewards.

That show has extended its limited run at Lincoln Center through September. All four shows were spring openers, so should still have significant B.O. mileage.

Two of “Doubt’s” four nominated thesps took home Tonys. Cherry Jones landed her second leading actress Tony (after “The Heiress” in 1995) for her perf as an unyielding nun who conducts a witch hunt against a priest she suspects of improper attentions toward one of his students.

Also from “Doubt” and with only an incisive single-scene 10 minutes of stage time, Adriane Lenox was honored for featured actress in a play as the mother of a student who goes head-to-head with Jones’ fearsome Sister Aloysius; Lenox beat out co-star Heather Goldenhersh for the award. Rounding out the tidy haul for “Doubt” was the prize for direction of a play to Doug Hughes.

One of the season’s critical favorites, Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman,” also won two trophies, for Scott Pask’s set design and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting, the latter’s second Tony win. This year was the first in which musicals and plays were awarded separate prizes for set design, costumes and lighting.

The year’s most crowded and competitive race, revival of a play, went to David Mamet’s biting ensemble drama of real estate agents struggling to survive in their cutthroat environment, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” directed by Joe Mantello. That production also earned Liev Schreiber featured actor in a play honors for his role as the smoothest shark in the aquarium.

The play revival category was the toughest for Tony prognosticators to pick, given the rapturous receptions to restagings of Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men” and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in particular. Latter production yielded one of the evening’s few genuine surprises, when Bill Irwin was named best actor in a play for his turn as a browbeaten New England academic in a battleground of a marriage. That prize generally was tipped to go to Brian F. O’Byrne for “Doubt” or to James Earl Jones in “On Golden Pond.”

Less suspense surrounded the revival of a musical category, an underpopulated race this year with only three eligible productions that all had lukewarm critical receptions.

Predictions had been evenly split between “Sweet Charity” and “La Cage aux Folles,” but the resuscitated frockfest prevailed. In addition to the revival Tony, the athletic dance moves of “La Cage” secured choreographer Jerry Mitchell his first win after three previous nominations. Mitchell’s rivals in a year not distinguished by stellar dancing on Broadway included himself for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

While “La Cage” has been widely rumored for an early-summer closing, B.O. may receive a boost from its double win and from the energetic can-can number performed by drag chorines Les Cagelles during the Tonycast.

The evening’s other award considered a sure thing during the Tony run-up was the special theatrical event nod to Billy Crystal’s blockbuster solo show, “700 Sundays,” in which he reminisces over his Long Island roots and the loss of his parents. “I want to thank everybody on behalf of the entire cast,” joked Crystal.

As previously announced, the regional theater award went to Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis, while playwright Edward Albee was honored with a special Tony for lifetime achievement.

“I think the virtue of being given a lifetime achievement award before you have necessarily achieved your lifetime work is probably because if they wait until you have achieved all your lifetime work, you probably will have died,” said Albee. “This is better.”

The playwright dedicated the award to the memory of his life partner of 35 years, sculptor Jonathan Thomas, who died only a month ago.

While the “Virginia Woolf” revival was expected to earn costume designer Jane Greenwood her first Tony after fourteen nominations, the award for play costumes went instead to Jess Goldstein for the Lincoln Center revival of late-restoration comedy “The Rivals.”

Presented at Radio City Music Hall, the Tony ceremony was hosted for the third consecutive year by Jackman after being briefly hijacked at the start of the ceremony’s televised portion by Crystal. The seasoned Oscar emcee gave Jackman a tough act to follow, starting by declaring, “I have an announcement to make: I, too, am in love with Katie Holmes” and then promising, “All the songs from nominated musicals tonight will be sung by Beyonce … in French.”

But Jackman rallied to the challenge with suave irony in an opening number during which he tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress his natural instinct as a song-and-dance man. “Dancing makes studio executives really nervous,” he said. “After all, I’m Wolverine, and Wolverine does not do high kicks.”

TONYS BY SHOW

The Light in the Piazza
6
Doubt
4
Monty Python’s Spamalot
3
La Cage aux Folles
2
Glengarry Glen Ross
2
The Pillowman
2
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
2
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
1
The Rivals
1
700 Sundays
1
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
1

Winners noted in red.

MUSICAL

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
“The Light in the Piazza”
“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Hank Azaria, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Gary Beach, “La Cage aux Folles”
Norbert Leo Butz, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Tim Curry, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
John Lithgow, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Christina Applegate, “Sweet Charity”
Victoria Clark, “The Light in the Piazza”
Erin Dilly, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Sutton Foster, “Little Women”
Sherie Rene Scott, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

PLAY

“Democracy” by Michael Frayn
“Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley
“Gem of the Ocean” by August Wilson
“The Pillowman” by Martin McDonagh

LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY

Philip Bosco, “Twelve Angry Men”
Billy Crudup, “The Pillowman”
Bill Irwin, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
James Earl Jones, “On Golden Pond”
Brian F. O’Byrne, “Doubt”

LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Cherry Jones, “Doubt”
Laura Linney, “Sight Unseen”
Mary-Louise Parker, “Reckless”
Phylicia Rashad, “Gem of the Ocean”
Kathleen Turner, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

REVIVAL OF A PLAY

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“Glengarry Glen Ross”
“On Golden Pond”
“Twelve Angry Men”

DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

James Lapine, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
Mike Nichols, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Jack O’Brien, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Bartlett Sher, “The Light in the Piazza”

REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL

La Cage aux Folles”
“Pacific Overtures”
“Sweet Charity”

SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT

“Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance!”
“Laugh Whore”
“700 Sundays”
“Whoopi, the 20th Anniversary Show”

CHOREOGRAPHY
Wayne Cilento, “Sweet Charity”
Jerry Mitchell, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Jerry Mitchell, “La Cage aux Folles”
Casey Nicholaw, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”

FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Dan Fogler, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
Marc Kudisch, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Michael McGrath, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Matthew Morrison, “The Light in the Piazza”
Christopher Sieber, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Joanna Gleason, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Celia Keenan-Bolger, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
Jan Maxwell, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Kelli O’Hara, “The Light in the Piazza”
Sara Ramirez, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”

BOOK OF A MUSICAL

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” by Jeffrey Lane
“The Light in the Piazza” by Craig Lucas
“Monty Python’s Spamalot” by Eric Idle
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” by Rachel Sheinkin

ORIGINAL SCORE

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” by David Yazbek
“The Light in the Piazza” by Adam Guettel
“Monty Python’s Spamalot,” music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, lyrics by Eric Idle
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” by William Finn

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Mireille Enos, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Heather Goldenhersh, “Doubt”
Dana Ivey, “The Rivals”
Adriane Lenox, “Doubt”
Amy Ryan, “A Streetcar Named Desire”

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY

Alan Alda, “Glengarry Glen Ross”
Gordon Clapp, “Glengarry Glen Ross”
David Harbour, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Liev Schreiber, “Glengarry Glen Ross”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “The Pillowman”

SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY

John Lee Beatty, “Doubt”
David Gallo, “Gem of the Ocean”
Santo Loquasto, “Glengarry Glen Ross”
Scott Pask, “The Pillowman”

SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Tim Hatley, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Rumi Matsui, “Pacific Overtures”
Anthony Ward, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Michael Yeargan, “The Light in the Piazza”

COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY

Jess Goldstein, “The Rivals”
Jane Greenwood, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
William Ivey Long, “A Streetcar Named Desire”
Constanza Romero, “Gem of the Ocean”

COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Tim Hatley, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Junko Koshino, “Pacific Overtures”
William Ivey Long, “La Cage aux Folles”
Catherine Zuber, “The Light in the Piazza”

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY

Pat Collins, “Doubt”
Donald Holder, “Gem of the Ocean”
Donald Holder, “A Streetcar Named Desire”
Brian MacDevitt, “The Pillowman”

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Christopher Akerlind, “The Light in the Piazza”
Mark Henderson, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
Kenneth Posner, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Hugh Vanstone, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”

DIRECTION OF A PLAY

John Crowley, “The Pillowman”
Scott Ellis, “Twelve Angry Men”
Doug Hughes, “Doubt”
Joe Mantello, “Glengarry Glen Ross”

ORCHESTRATIONS

Larry Hochman, “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Ted Sperling, Adam Guettel and Bruce Coughlin, “The Light in the Piazza”
Jonathan Tunick, “Pacific Overtures”
Harold Wheeler, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

REGIONAL-THEATER

Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Minneapolis, Minnesota

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Edward Albee

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