'August,' 'Pacific,' 'Boeing' triumph

The difference between “Boeing-Boeing” now and “Boeing-Boeing” then? When the play first played the Rialto in the 1960s, it flopped. This year, it won the Tony for play revival.

Brit producer Sonia Friedman, also behind the upcoming Broadway transfer of Kristin Scott Thomas in “The Seagull,” explains it like this: “We’re through political correctness,” she said. “We’re out the other side.”

* * *

“Salsa is like a sauce of styles, and ‘In the Heights’ is the same way,” said Andy Blankenbuehler after his win for choreography for “Heights.” “We just mashed up every style we thought landed the moment.”

Up next for Blankenbuehler: Choreographing a number for “So You Think You Can Dance” and then the upcoming Rialto tuner version of “9 to 5.”

But first, he attributed his Tony to the dancers who helped fill the “blueprint” of his choreography. “This belongs so much to them.”

* * *

Set designer Todd Rosenthal managed to get a house onstage — or a skeletal version of it, anyway — for his winning play design for “August: Osage County.”

In the script, scribe Tracy Letts gave a four-page description of the nine rooms that needed to be seen onstage.

“I was really interested in combining the whimsy of a dollhouse with something a little more Gothic,” Rosenthal said.

* * *

“Everybody in the world can tell you what Bali Ha’i looks like,” said winning musical set designer Michael Yeargan of the challenge of designing the fabled tropical island in “South Pacific.”

“It’s almost like a state of mind,” he said. “We didn’t want to do a little grass hut.”

That onstage mountain that magically appears and disappears in the distance is the result of an old legit trick called a “translucent drop.” “Everybody thinks it’s a projection,” Yeargan laughed.

* * *

Catherine Zuber appearing on the podium was hardly a surprise. Her Tony for the costumes of “South Pacific” was her fourth consecutive win in the category.

“I’m on air,” she said.

Clearly a costume designer for all seasons, she’ll be moving on to design “A Man for All Seasons” at the Roundabout, in a revival starring Frank Langella, and then she and the “South Pacific” team will get together again for an opera staging of “Romeo and Juliet” in Salzburg.

* * *

New this year were the sound design categories for both play and tuner. Inaugural kudos were the result of long years of campaigning by legiters to recognize the little-understood art of theatrical audio design.

“It’s everything the audience hears that isn’t the actors’ unamplified voice,” explained the winner for sound design of a play, Mic Pool, who picked up the laurel for “The 39 Steps.”

* * *

Rondi Reed tried to turn down her Tony-winning featured role in “August: Osage County.”

Four times. Even though scribe Tracy Letts wrote the part for her.

“I didn’t even read the play,” she said. “I turned it down because I was happily ensconced in ‘Wicked’ in Chicago.”

The lesson she learned from it all?

“When I get out of my own way and shut up, I’m better off!” she laughed.

* * *

Jim Norton’s Tony for featured actor in a play is his second big-time honor for his role in Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer.” He won the Olivier for his perf in London.

“It’s two for the price of one,” he quipped.

He played a blind drunkard in “Seafarer,” so he did a lot of falling down onstage. “When the show was over, I was covered in bruises!”

The McPherson play he’s in now, “Port Authority” at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company, is far more gentle, he said.

* * *

“I’ve never had so much panic in my whole life,” said helmer Bartlett Sher of directing the first Broadway revival of the 50-year-old Rodger & Hammerstein musical “South Pacific.”

“Every single place I went, all I heard was, ‘That’s the greatest musical I’ve ever seen.’ Which was really terrifying. We felt like we could only fail.”

Far from failing, Sher and his designers all picked up Tonys.

The race-themed tuner struck a chord, Sher said, in part because race figures prominently in the current presidential contest.

* * *

Laura Benanti of “Gypsy” talked up her real-life mother as the anti-Mama Rose in her acceptance speech for supporting actress in a tuner.

“She’s my voice teacher, and she’s an incredible woman,” she said, describing how her mom gave up a Broadway career to raise a family. “She gave up her dream so I could have mine,” she continued, tearing up.

Benanti won critical raves for her onstage transformation from awkward tomboy Louise to seductive stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s a role that no other actress has won a Tony for.

* * *

The Tony Boyd Gaines picked up Sunday night — for supporting actor in a musical for his perf in “Gypsy” — was his fourth.

Gaines said he sends his trophies to his mother in California, because he doesn’t like having them around.

“When you walk by them, they go, ‘Hey. Hey, what’ve you done lately?’ ” he said.

He added he didn’t expect to win this time around.

“Someone on the subway stopped me and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry about the Tony,'” he explained. “I assumed they knew something I didn’t.”

* * *

Tony night for big winner — including best play — “August: Osage County” was bittersweet for many cast members, since five of them played their last Rialto perfs in the show on Sunday.

“The last couple days have been really emotional at the theater,” said Anna D. Shapiro, who picked up the Tony for her direction of the Pulitzer-winning play. “There’s been a lot of crying, and these guys don’t cry that easily.”

For Shapiro, winning the award was overhwhelming. “I thought I was going to faint. Martha Plimpton gave me a beta-blocker that didn’t work,” she said.

From “August,” Shapiro moves on to a revival of the Thornton Wilder classic, “Our Town,” in Chicago.

And then there’s the rumor that she’s taking the original cast of “August” to London for a run at the National Theater in November. “That’s a good rumor,” she said.

* * *

Deanna Dunagan, who won the lead actress in a play kudo for “August: Osage County,” was backstage when the show picked up the top play Tony. She threw both arms in the air and screamed.

Dunagan described the difference between starring in a play in Chicago, her hometown (where “August” originated), and appearing on the Rialto.

“There is no way to be prepared for New York,” she said. “In Chicago, I get recognized maybe once a month. I walk out my door here and people say, ‘May I hug you?’ ”

* * *

Playwright Tracy Letts, who scored the Tony for a play — not to mention the Pulitzer, along with a slew of other laurels — is no stranger to winning awards for “August: Osage County.” But the press room backstage at the Tonys was still a little wacky for him, as he stood on the podium looking out into the lights.

“I’m blind. You’re all at computers. It’s kind of like I’m at an OTB,” he cracked.

It’s no accident auds see broader national resonance in the sprawling family drama of “August.”

“I had it in my mind to write about America now,” he said. “I hope it has something to say about the state of our nation in the here and now.”

And what’s it saying, exactly?

“I can’t fill in that blank for you.”

* * *

The main post-Tony question for Mark Rylance, winner of the trophy for leading actor in a play, was: What was up with his baffling, funny acceptance speech?

“It’s a prose poem by Lewis Jenkins, who’s a wonderful poet from Duluth, Minn.,” he said. “It seemed to have some kind of meaning.”

* * *

“It’s a huge part,” Patti LuPone sai
d of the legendary stage-mother of “Gypsy,” the role that won her the Tony for leading actress in a musical. “It encompasses everything: comedy, tragedy, singing, shouting, a range of emotions. If you lose the Tony for this, it’s like you didn’t do a good job. Isn’t that terrible to say?”

A few years ago, it looked uncertain that LuPone would ever play Mama Rose on Broadway, due to rumored bad blood between her and helmer Arthur Laurents. It took a phone call to Laurents to clear the air.

“As my husband has said to me a couple of times tonight: ‘Aren’t you glad you called Arthur?'”

* * *

“Passing Strange” creator Stew, who nabbed the Tony for book, said the rock music he composed for the show is “music people actually listen to on subways, or when they’re getting stoned.”

Stew plays himself in the bio-tuner, but he said he definitely could see someone else in the role, for instance, Corey Glover from the rock band Living Colour.

He can also see “Passing Strange” as a movie. He said a pic version is in the works.

* * *

Brazilian opera singer Paulo Szot, making his Rialto debut as the romantic lead in “South Pacific,” nabbed the kudo for leading actor in a tuner.

He’ll stay with the show through November, when he’ll return to his opera gigs. Sunday night, though, he needed to call his mom ASAP. It was her birthday.

“I need to give her this present,” he said.

* * *

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the “In the Heights” creator and star who picked up the award for music and lyrics, had prepped a series of rhyming couplets for his acceptance-speech rap.

But it all left his head about halfway through the speech, around when he said the words “off the dome.” “That’s when it really started to unravel for me,” he said. The rest was improv.

All the “Heights” wins, including the one for tuner, feel pretty darn good, Manuel said. “It’s like the best prom ever, dude.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more