'South Pacific' takes home seven statues

Broadway ushered fresh talent into the winner’s circle at the 62nd Tony Awards Sunday, when a fistful of prizes including best musical and play went, respectively, to “In the Heights” and “August: Osage County,” both written by Rialto newcomers. But the evening’s biggest winner in terms of sheer numbers was a 50-year-old chapter from American musical theater history.

A vibrant chronicle of life in a close-knit Upper Manhattan Latino community, infused with hip-hop, reggaeton and salsa rhythms, “In the Heights” bagged four Tonys including score for 28-year-old composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who began the project as a student production during his sophomore year at Wesleyan U. In keeping with the spirit of the show, Miranda rapped his acceptance speech.

A blistering three-act comedy-drama about an epically dysfunctional Oklahoma family squaring off after the mysterious disappearance of its boozing poet-patriarch, “August” won five Tonys.

Transferred from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company with most of its original 13-member ensemble intact, the production marks the Main Stem debut of Tracy Letts, whose smaller-scale previous plays “Bug” and “Killer Joe” both ran Off Broadway.

Along with comparisons to the work of Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee, Lillian Hellman, Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard, the play has racked up almost every conceivable theater prize this season, including the Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

“I can guarantee you this moment beats the hell out of auditioning for ‘JAG’,” deadpanned actor-playwright Letts.

In addition to lead honors for “Heights” and “August,” winners in nine of the remaining 24 competitive Tony categories were making their Broadway debuts.

Rialto history did not go unrepresented, however, with Lincoln Center Theater’s superlative production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” scooping seven awards including musical revival — the highest trophy tally of any honoree in the kudos ceremony.

The first official Broadway revival of the 1949 show about romance and racial prejudice in an occupied island paradise, “South Pacific” came close to matching the original production’s harvest of nine Tonys.

The vintage tuner shared the spotlight with another classic from Broadway’s past, “Gypsy,” which bagged Patti LuPone a second best actress Tony to pair with her 1980 nod for “Evita,” as well as the featured actress in a musical prize for Laura Benanti and featured actor for Boyd Gaines.

“It’s such a wonderful gift to be an actor who makes a living working on the Broadway stage and then every 30 years or so, pick up one of these,” said LuPone. “To the real Rose, who gave all of the women who have ever played this part the role of a lifetime, thank you.”

Following Angela Lansbury in 1975 and Tyne Daly in 1990, LuPone’s win marks the third time an actress has taken the Tony for playing the mother of all stage mothers, Madam Rose, in the frequently revived 1959 Arthur Laurents-Jule Styne musical.

But Benanti reps the first winner in the role of Louise, the wallflower daughter who blossoms into stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Ditto Gaines as Rose’s long-suffering companion, Herbie; it was the fourth Tony for the actor, who won previously for “The Heidi Chronicles,” “She Loves Me” and “Contact.”

“It just goes to show what a lot of hard work and a number of well-placed bribes will do for you,” said Gaines.

Underscoring that this was an especially competitive year for musical revivals, Sam Buntrock’s illuminating reinvention of “Sunday in the Park With George” for Roundabout Theater Company went away empty-handed despite being in the top tier with nine nominations.

In a remarkable turnaround from its fortunes last time on Broadway, Marc Camoletti’s sex farce about an American lothario in Paris juggling simultaneous affairs with three flight attendants, “Boeing-Boeing,” won a pair of Tonys, including revival of a play for Matthew Warchus’ buoyant production. The original 1965 Rialto run was a major flop, shuttering after just 23 perfs. Producers Sonia Friedman and Bob Boyett shepherded the Brit transfer.

But the big news of the night was the top musical nod to “In the Heights.” An Off Broadway transfer whose team of producers was led by Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller and Jill Furman, the show was long favored to take Tony honors, but predictions in the run-up to awards night had the unconventional coming-of-age rock odyssey “Passing Strange” gaining ground.

Possibly due to its greater potential as a touring property, as well as its balance of classic musical theater traditions with younger, hipper sounds, the upbeat “Heights” held off the competition, also landing prizes for Andy Blankenbeuhler’s street-style choreography and Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman’s orchestrations.

“We chased our dreams and they’ve been realized,” said producer Furman.

The Tony crown for “In the Heights” marks the second consecutive year that an Off Broadway transfer has taken top honors, following “Spring Awakening” last season.

But the show was prevented from capitalizing further on its bounty of 13 nominations by the “South Pacific” juggernaut. In addition to revival, that production won Bartlett Sher his first directing Tony after being nominated for both his prior Broadway gigs on “The Light in the Piazza” and “Awake and Sing!”

“There are four extraordinary American artists I have to thank more than anything for this, and they are Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, James Michener and particularly Josh Logan,” said Sher.

Making his musical theater debut, Brazilian opera star Paulo Szot was named best actor for his role as the French plantation owner with a mysterious past.

“I am proud to play Emile de Becque, this man who opposes war and fights for love – that’s simple,” said Szot.

Sher’s regular design collaborators also took home more metal for their trophy cabinets: Set designer Michael Yeargan previously won for “Piazza,” while costumer Catherine Zuber was honored for both “Piazza” and “Awake and Sing!” Following her nod last year for “The Coast of Utopia,” Zuber has now won costume Tonys in four consecutive years.

A previous winner for “The Lion King,” Donald Holder’s painterly lighting and Scott Lehrer’s pristine sound design rounded out the “South Pacific” prizes.

Also cutting into the chances of the top tuner to stage a sweep, “Passing Strange” won its sole Tony out of seven noms for the book by single-monikered rock troubadour Stew. The semi-autobiographical show chronicles a middle-class black youth’s search for his identity as a man and an artist in countercultural 1970s Europe.

Along with LuPone’s victory, the evening’s least surprising win was for “August.” In addition to the main prize, lead actress in a play went to Deanna Dunagan for her role as the pharmaceutically addled, viper-tongued clan matriarch, and featured actress to Rondi Reed as her equally blunt sister.

Anna D. Shapiro became only the fifth woman to win a directing Tony, following Julie Taymor, Garry Hynes, Susan Stroman and Mary Zimmerman, while a nod for Todd Rosenthal’s set designs added to the “August” haul. Lead producers on the Broadway run are Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler and Jerry Frankel.

In one of the toughest races to predict, Mark Rylance beat out stiff competition from Patrick Stewart in “Macbeth” and Laurence Fishburne in “Thurgood” to take actor in a play for his role as an unworldly Midwestern visitor dizzied by the revolving bedroom doors of “Boeing-Boeing.”

Making his Broadway debut in the comedy, the Brit stage vet and former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London gave the evening’s most eccentric acceptance speech – an absurdist string of sartorial and accessory advice for the city and the wood
s.

Jim Norton took the featured actor in a play prize as a literally blind-drunk Dubliner in Conor McPherson’s supernatural comedy “The Seafarer,” which closed in March.

While the Roundabout’s lead contender, “Sunday in the Park,” was passed over, the company landed three craft awards: for Katrina Lindsay’s costumes in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and for Kevin Adams’ lighting and Mic Pool’s sound design on Brit import “The 39 Steps.” Adams also took home a Tony for lighting last year with “Spring Awakening.”

Punched up by host Whoopi Goldberg’s irreverent clowning and aired live on CBS from Radio City Music Hall, the Tony ceremony attempted to boost the flagging ratings of recent years by beefing up the number of musicals showcased on the show and relegating more of the secondary awards to the pre-show seg.

In addition to new musical and revival nominees, numbers were performed from other season openers such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Young Frankenstein,” as well as long-running hits “The Lion King” and “Rent,” the latter with its original cast reassembled for an emotional reunion.

As previously announced, seven-time Tony winner Stephen Sondheim was presented an award for lifetime achievement in theater; Chicago Shakespeare Theater won the annual regional theater honor, the sole Tony that recognizes work beyond Broadway; and a posthumous special award went to Robert Russell Bennett, whose original orchestrations are being heard again this season in “South Pacific.”

And the winners are:

MUSICAL
“In The Heights”

PLAY
“August: Osage County”

REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
“South Pacific”

REVIVAL OF A PLAY
“Boeing-Boeing”

DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Bartlett Sher, “South Pacific”

DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Anna D. Shapiro, “August: Osage County”

PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Paulo Szot, “South Pacific”

PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Patti LuPone, “Gypsy”

PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Mark Rylance, “Boeing-Boeing”

PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Deanna Dunagan, “August: Osage County”

PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Boyd Gaines, “Gypsy”

PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Laura Benanti, “Gypsy”

PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jim Norton, “The Seafarer”

PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Rondi Reed, “August: Osage County”

ORIGINAL SCORE
“In The Heights” – Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda

ORCHESTRATIONS
Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman, “In The Heights”

CHOREOGRAPHY
Andy Blankenbuehler, “In The Heights”

BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Stew, “Passing Strange”

COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Catherine Zuber, “South Pacific”

COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Katrina Lindsay, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”

SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Michael Yeargan, “South Pacific”

SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
Todd Rosenthal, “August: Osage County”

SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Scott Lehrer, “South Pacific”

SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY
Mic Pool, “The 39 Steps”

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Donald Holder, “South Pacific”

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Kevin Adams, “The 39 Steps”

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
Stephen Sondheim

REGIONAL THEATER AWARD
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

SPECIAL TONY AWARD
Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981), in recognition of his historic contribution to American musical theatre in the field of orchestrations, as represented on Broadway this season by “South Pacific.”

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