Audra McDonald, Alan Menken win big at Tony Awards

Actress Audra McDonald shows off the Tony Award

Actress Audra McDonald shows off the Tony Award she won Sunday night during the 66th annual Tony Awards. (June 10, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images )

The Hudson Valley was represented well at the 66th annual Tony Awards, with Audra McDonald and Alan Menken winning in major categories.

Audra McDonald, a longtime Croton resident, won her fifth Tony Award on Sunday, her first win in the Best Leading Actress in a Musical category.

McDonald won a Tony for her performance in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” beating out fellow Westchester County resident Kelli O’Hara, who had received a nod for “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” “Porgy and Bess” also won Best Revival of a Musical.

Upon accepting the award, a tearful McDonald said, “I was a little girl with a pot belly and afro puffs, hyperactive and overdramatic, and I found theater and I found my home ... and to think the theater would be so good to me is mind-blowing.”

She thanked the “Porgy and Bess” company, saying it was “filled with light and soul and spirit.” After thanking her fiance, actor Will Swenson, she told her daughter Zoe, who was in the audience, “This is an amazing night for Mommy. But ... the day you were born was the best night ever.” 

Meanwhile, iconic composer Alan Menken finally can add  "Tony Award winner" to his incredible resume. The New Rochelle native won for Best Original Score along with lyricist Jack Feldman for “Newsies,” a musical based on the 1992 film. Though he has been awarded eight Oscars for his musical contributions to popular Disney films, it was Menken’s first Tony Award.

Menken told Newsday that the victory was a relief, in part because it's the end of a long awards season, full of luncheons, meetings, interviews and events.

"And obviously, this is my first Tony Award, so I'm really thrilled that I finally won one," he said.

During his acceptance speech, Menken thanked “the generation of kids who adopted this movie” and noted that his daughters predicted he would win. He also referenced a previous Razzie Award he received for Worst Song for the movie version of "Newsies."

"I always found the Razzie to be sort of a badge of honor, quite frankly," Menken said later when asked about his speech. "I found out that I won the Razzie backstage at the [1992] Oscars, after I'd won my second Oscar for 'Beauty and the Beast.' I almost took it almost like a joke, like, 'Let's humble Alan Menken a little bit.' ... I think it's fine, but it is interesting to see something that's famous for being ridiculed and not successful become something that's famous for being popular."

But not all of the local tie-ins to Tony Award winners were in the musical categories. Jeff Croiter, who grew up in Eastchester, won a Tony for Best Lighting Design for the play "Peter and the Starcatcher." Croiter is a Purchase College graduate whose previous Broadway productions include "The Pee-wee Herman Show" and "Next Fall."

Although McDonald, Menken and Croiter won Tonys, there were other theater veterans with Hudson Valley roots that did not. Danny Burstein, a Mount Kisco native, was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Musical for “Follies,” but he lost to Steve Kazee from “Once.” Legendary actor James Earl Jones, a Dutchess County native who was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Play, lost to James Corden from “One Man, Two Guvnors.”  

"Once," based on the 2006 film about star-crossed Irish musicians, was the night's big winner, taking home eight awards (including Best Actor winner Steve Kazee, Best Director winner John Tiffany and nods for orchestration, sound, book, scenic design and lighting). "Clybourne Park," the remarkably perceptive Pulitzer Prize-winning play about race and real estate, won the Tony Award for Best Play.

"Peter and the Starcatcher" won for Best Costume Design, Best Scenic Design and Dest Sound Design for a Play. Christian Borle, who plays the clumsy, overheated pirate who will be Captain Hook in the Peter Pan prequel, was named Best Featured Actor in a play.

"Thank you for making this so much fun," said Borle, who also stars in the NBC series "Smash." He said he was even more pleased that his mother was in the crowd.

Mike Nichols, one of those rare people who has won a Tony, Grammy, Oscar and Emmy, won his ninth Tony for directing "Death of a Salesman." He won previously for directing such shows as "Barefoot in the Park," ''The Odd Couple" and "Spamalot."

On winning, Nichols said Arthur Miller's 63-year-old play gets truer as time goes by and has a special meaning for actors. "There's not a person in this theater that doesn't know what it is to be a salesman — to be out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine," he said. "As we know, a salesman has got to dream. It goes with the territory."

Judy Kaye won for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical in "Nice Work If You Can Get It," playing a temperance worker who turns out likes to drink and hangs from a chandelier at one point. It's Kaye's second Tony — she also won for "The Phantom of the Opera."

"I guess chandeliers have been very, very good to me," she said to a burst of laughter. She dedicated the award to her father, who died last week.

Judith Light, who plays an acerbic alcoholic in "Other Desert Cities," won for for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Michael McGrath won for Best Actor in a Featured Musical for his role in "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

With no clear, dying-to-see-it front-running musical like last year's juggernaut, "The Book of Mormon," the show Sunday at the Beacon Theatre on upper Broadway in Manhattan actually began with a nod to the past, with host Neil Patrick Harris joining with the cast of "Mormon" for their opening number of "Hello!" from the 2011 musical winner.

He then was surrounded by dancers in tuxes and shimmering dresses for a rousing original number in which he wished that real life was more like theater, complete with backup dancers, rhymes and quick costume changes. He had cameo help from Patti LuPone, the little red-headed orphan from "Annie" and a flying Mary Poppins.

The three-hour telecast was packed with stars and performances from musicals, plays and revivals. The explosion of performances was an attempt to showcase as much on Broadway as possible. 

-- With contributions from The Associated Press

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