“Once,” the Broadway musical that turns razzle-dazzle tuner traditions on their head with a hushed and idiosyncratic take on an indie-style love story with a melancholy ending, topped the 2012 Tony Awards, nabbing eight of the 11 awards for which it was nominated. “Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ brutally comic riff on 50 years of race relations inspired by “A Raisin in the Sun,” nabbed the trophy for new play.
The 66th annual ceremony, produced by veteran Tonycast impresarios Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss, proved serviceable but largely uninspired as a evening of tube entertainment even as it served as the finish line for an unusual number of true horse races in the competitive categories.
In possibly the biggest surprise of the night, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” took the laurel for top musical revival, besting a well-received revival of “Follies” that had accumulated most of the awards-momentum buzz in the days running up to the ceremony.
Leading actress in a play, probably the most competitive category in season riddled with tough-to-call races, went Nina Arianda, the young star of two-hander “Venus in Fur,” topping a formidable field that also included Tracie Bennett (“End of the Rainbow”), Stockard Channing (“Other Desert Cities”), Linda Lavin (“The Lyons”) and Cynthia Nixon (“Wit”).
Harris, in his third go-round as host of the legit kudos, once again proved a game showman. Perhaps the funniest bit left him dangling upside-down in mid-air, in a mock technical snafu inspired by the travails of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” while Angela Lansbury and Theodore S. Chapin talked up the American Theater Wing, which presented the Tony Awards along with the Broadway League.”
“Newsies” was considered the other major contender for the top musical kudo, but “Once,” the stage adaptation of the 2006 indie film, took the lead early by scoring two pre-telecast kudos, one for book (Enda Walsh) and one for orchestrations (Martin Lowe), while “Newsies” won for choreography (Christopher Gattelli). Other early awards taken by the tuner included helmer (John Tiffany) and sound design (Clive Goodwin).
Show’s haul also included lead actor (Steve Kazee) and tuner design laurels for set (Bob Crowley) and lights (Natasha Katz).
Among the few sure bets of the evening were the wins for the strong-selling revival of “Death of a Salesman” and for helmer Mike Nichols, who got emotional just after he charmed the aud with a story about his childhood experience at the Beacon Theater when it was a cinema.
“Salesman” topliner Philip Seymour Hoffman also had seemed a solid bet for lead actor in a play, but the award went to the thesp who was considered his main competish, James Corden of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” the Rialto import of the Brit hit comedy.
In several categories, voters seemed to favor legit troupers over big-name stars in the thesping categories, led by stage veteran and industry favorite Audra McDonald scoring her fifth Tony but her first as a lead performer. Christian Borle (“Peter and the Starcatcher”), a stage veteran before his current starring role in “Smash,” bested movie star Andrew Garfield (“Death of a Salesman”), and two “Nice Work If You Can Get It” co-stars, character-thesp mainstays Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye, snagged the featured musical thesp awards.
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” a fave among legiters for its low-tech storytelling ingenuity, dominated in design honors, with the play talking kudos for sound (Darron L. West), costumes (Paloma Young), set (Donyale Werle) and lights (Jeff Croiter).
If the Tony telecast reps a rare chance for Broadway fare to occupy the primetime airwaves, the seg prior to the first commercial break is considered truly prime real estate. In a season when no Rialto show broke out of the theater-avid demo to become national headlines a la “The Book of Mormon” or “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the opening number went to “Mormon,” the show whose Tony haul last year helped cement its place on the pop culture radar. Sequence was a fairly straight recreation of the musical’s opening number, preceded by a video sequence of Broadway denizens (including Ricky Martin) slamming doors on the Mormon missionaries of the cast.
Others stage properties got shout-outs in the original song (penned by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger) with which Harris opened his hosting stint, a comic tune imagining if real life were more like theater. The title character of “Mary Poppins” made a cameo, as did the titular orphan of “Annie,” getting an advertising opp ahead of the title’s revival this fall.
Telecast kept the focus on youthful exuberance with “Newsies,” the nominee to get the spotlight prior to the first commercial break. The Disney Theatrical Prods. adaptation of the flop 1992 movie musical has already proven a popular draw following an initial regional staging that, driven by critical enthusiasm and box office success, eventually snowballed into what is now an open-ended Broadway run.
Excerpts of the musical nominees highlighted what producers consider their shows’ prime selling points. Whereas “Newsies” led with a rousing number (“Seize the Day”) centered around the production’s energetic dance elements, “Once” successfully played up its intimacy with an earnest love song (“Gold”) that grew into a full-cast jam session. The megaselling revival of “Evita” picked a sequence (“And the Money Kept Rolling In [And Out])” showcasing its biggest B.O. draw, topliner Ricky Martin, while “Jesus Christ Superstar” led with a multimedia-enhanced version of its climactic title number. “Porgy and Bess,” meanwhile, cobbled together an effective medley around its three stars, McDonald, Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier.
Nominees for plays — excerpts of which can rarely be lifted out of context as easily as musical number — always prove difficult to showcase, and this year’s solution, slo-mo choreography accompanying narrated descriptions by Jim Parsons (currently in a Rialto revival of “Harvey”), seems unlikely to make a repeat visit next year. A showcase of the year in plays, with a few live musical numbers from “Peter” and “End of the Rainbow,” also played erratically.
Others watchers of the ceremony weren’t sold on a live feed from a “Hairspray” production on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, questioning a marketing strategy that equates Broadway shows with cruise-ship fare.
Previously announced kudos went to legiters including lifetime achievement honoree Emanuel Azenberg, the veteran producer whose long career encompasses a string of Neil Simon plays. Tony Honors, the awards given to industry types whose activities don’t fit in any of the evening’s competitive categories, went to production supervisor Artie Siccardi, Music Theater Intl. topper Freddie Gershon and Theater Development Fund’s Open Doors, an education and access program.
Bernadette Peters, overlooked for a nom this season for her perf in “Follies,” landed the community service-oriented Isabelle Stevenson Award while special awards went to Actors’ Equity Association, the 100-year-old union for legit thesps and stage managers, and to Hugh Jackman. Annual regional theater kudo went to the Shakespeare Theater in Washington.
Ceremony wrapped on a Rat Pack-y number with lyrics drawn from the evening’s pool of winners, another offering penned by Javerbaum and Schlesinger.
Complete list of Tony winners:
“Clybourne Park,” written by Bruce Norris, produced by Jujamcyn Theaters, Jane Bergere, Roger Berlind/Quintet Productions, Eric Falkenstein/Dan Frishwasser, Ruth Hendel/Harris Karma Productions, JTG Theatricals, Daryl Roth, Jon B. Platt, Center Theater Group, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons
“Once,” produced by Barbara Broccoli, John N. Hart, Jr., Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G. Wilson, Orin Wolf, The Shubert Organization, Robert Cole, New York Theater Workshop
REVIVAL OF A PLAY
“Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman,” produced by Scott Rudin, Stuart Thompson,
Jon B. Platt, Columbia Pictures, Jean Doumanian, Merritt Forrest Baer, Roger Berlind, Scott M. Delman, Sonia Friedman Prods., Ruth Hendel, Carl Moellenberg, Scott & Brian Zeilinger, Eli Bush
REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” produced by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Rebecca Gold, Howard Kagan, Cheryl Wiesenfeld/Brunish Trinchero/Lucio Simons TBC, Joseph & Matthew Deitch, Mark S. Golub & David S. Golub, Terry Schnuck, Freitag Productions/Koenigsberg Filerman, The Leonore S. Gershwin 1987 Trust, Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Ken Mahoney, Judith Resnick, Tulchin/Bartner/ATG, Paper Boy Productions, Christopher Hart, Alden Badway, Broadway Across America, Irene Gandy, Will Trice, American Repertory Theater
BOOK OF A MUSICAL
“Once,” Enda Walsh
ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATER
“Newsies,” music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
James Corden, “One Man, Two Guvnors”
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Nina Arianda, “Venus in Fur”
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Steve Kazee, “Once”
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Audra McDonald, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Christian Borle, “Peter and the Starcatcher”
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Judith Light, “Other Desert Cities”
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Michael McGrath, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Judy Kaye, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”
SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
Donyale Werle, “Peter and the Starcatcher”
SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Bob Crowley, “Once”
COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Paloma Young, “Peter and the Starcatcher”
COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Gregg Barnes, “Follies”
LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Jeff Croiter, “Peter and the Starcatcher”
LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Natasha Katz, “Once”
SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY
Darron L. West, “Peter and the Starcatcher”
SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Clive Goodwin, “Once”
Christopher Gattelli, “Newsies”
DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Mike Nichols, “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman”
DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
John Tiffany, “Once”
Martin Lowe, “Once”
RECIPIENTS OF AWARDS AND HONORS IN NON-COMPETITIVE CATEGORIES
SPECIAL TONY AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE THEATER
REGIONAL THEATER AWARD
The Shakespeare Theater Company, Washington, D.C.
ISABELLE STEVENSON AWARD
SPECIAL TONY AWARD
Actors’ Equity Association, Hugh Jackman
TONY HONOR FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE THEATER
Freddie Gershon and Artie Siccardi, TDF Open Doors