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Tonys give ‘Hairspray’ big kiss

Tuner wins 8, kudocast has gay old time

Call it the smooch seen ’round the world.

“Hairspray” copped eight Tony Awards on June 8, leading the Broadway pack as expected at the 57th annual nods. But it was the onstage kiss between the show’s co-authors, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, accepting their award for best score, that dominated coverage of the awards in the news media.

An Associated Press photo of the kiss was widely disseminated, accompanied by a story on the show’s plentiful gay content. This included cheerful references to the kiss by director Joe Mantello, accepting his award for “Take Me Out” (“I think I just saw two guys kiss on CBS, which is cool,” he said) and Michele Pawk, who won for featured actress in a play in “Hollywood Arms” (“I have never been more proud to be a member of this community. Men kissing each other on stage. Drag queens. Children. It’s a perfect world. As it should be”).

Also contributing to Tony’s coming-out party were Denis O’Hare, who thanked his “beautiful boyfriend” while accepting the featured-actor award for “Take Me Out,” and Dick Latessa, who noted that one of the season’s “most adorable couples was two men.” (Backstage, Latessa confirmed that he was in fact straight.)

The kiss, and the rest, made headlines in surprising places, everywhere from Newsday to “The View” to CNN to the BBC and the Guardian newspaper in the U.K., all the way to the Web site of the Salt Lake Tribune (which ran the AP story).

CBS spokesman Chris Ender said the net received only a handful of complaining letters and emails. “For the world of network TV, it was a very small amount,” he says.

But the media chatter didn’t reflect much of a boost in the ratings. The Tony telecast, returning to a full three hours on CBS after a few years of a split deal with PBS, inched downward to its smallest overall audience to date, an average of 7.86 million.

And yet there was a distinct silver lining. While viewers watching the show were treated to a barrage of advertisements for medications presumably aimed at the show’s old-skewing audience (Ambien was a sponsor), in fact the telecast saw significant growth in the sexier young demos. It was up 25% year-to-year in adults 18-49 (2.0/6) and a whopping 58% in men 25-54 (1.9/5) — likely aided by having a weaker NBA Finals game as competish.

Telegenic host Hugh Jackman, whose name was more likely to register with fans of the “X-Men” pictures than longtime Broadway watchers, also may have helped. Jackman makes his debut on Broadway this fall in “The Boy From Oz.”

While the kiss dominated post-Tony coverage in the news media, the industry itself went about the usual housekeeping chores following the kudofest. The most notable casualty of the night was Baz Luhrmann’s acclaimed production of “La Boheme.”

The show announced on June 11 that it would end its run June 29. Luhrmann’s staging of the Puccini opera picked up two design awards at the Tonys — for Catherine Martin’s sets and Nigel Levings’ lighting — but lost the biggest prize it was eligible for, the musical revival nod, to “Nine.”

“Our goal was to run a year,” producer Kevin McCollum says. “But we realized that we could not cross over into a broader audience, like ‘Show Boat.’ This is a capital-city show for a limited period. But to open for only 20 weeks didn’t make sense.”

McCollum also pointed to the general economic woes, the war and competition from Lincoln Center, where the Met and NYCO offered their own productions of “La Boheme” this winter and spring.

“Boheme” is expected to return $2.5 million on its $8.5 million capitalization.

Also throwing in the towel was “The Play What I Wrote,” which announced the day after the Tonys that it would shutter June 15.

The British comedy, featuring a pair of unknown-to-the-U.S. comics paying tribute to another pair of unknown-to-the-U.S. comics, had pinned its hopes for a B.O. boost on winning the special theatrical event Tony, but it lost the nod to “Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam” (which had already closed without turning a profit). Some boffo notices — including a rave in the Times — and Mike Nichols’ name above the title as a producer weren’t enough to win the show enough of an audience to survive the lean summer months.

Also closing on June 15 is “A Year With Frog and Toad,” which was a long shot, to say the least, to win any Tonys, and had announced its shuttering the week before the kudocast. “The Look of Love,” the panned Burt Bacharach-Hal David revue that has sharply curtailed its planned run, also closed on June 15, while “Salome” ended its successful run last week, too. “Life (x) 3,” which has done solid biz despite pans and a Tony snub, will exit at the end of the month.

That means Broadway will see six shows closing in June — a pretty hefty total even by the month’s usual standards, and reflective of the general economic uncertainty.

Producers of Tony night’s big winners had better news to report, of course. “Take Me Out,” which won the coveted best play nod along with the awards for Mantello and O’Hare, reported that tickets sales quadrupled the day after the awards.

The show’s fate probably rests on whether the bounce continues. The show has been doing middling biz at the B.O. — less than $200,000 a week — but jumped by a healthy $58,088 to $244,880 the week before the Tonys, a good sign.

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which also won three awards — for play revival and stars Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Dennehy — also saw improved business.

“We did double our daily business on Monday, and business has been very strong since,” says producer David Richenthal. “We only have a finite number of tickets to sell and we were selling extraordinarily well already. We still have some tickets in July and August, but at this rate we’ll probably sell out in the next 10 days or so.” He said an extension was highly unlikely, given the stellar cast’s future commitments.

The best news of all came at “Hairspray,” which won the hotly contested nods for both its leading performers, Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur, and also took home trophies for Latessa’s perf, book and score, director Jack O’Brien and William Ivey Long’s costumes.

Producer Tom Viertel says the show’s B.O. boost was “very substantial.”

“We did over half a million on both Monday and Tuesday, and Tuesday was actually higher than Monday,” he says.

Was it the extended Tony coverage engendered by that gay kiss?

Viertel laughs off the idea, although he adds that it clearly didn’t hurt. “It seemed like an exciting show altogether, I think,” he says. “The whole event seemed like a lot more fun than in past years. People had a good time, and maybe that was reflected at the box office.”

(Robert Hofler contributed to this report.)

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