Audra McDonald makes Tony history; Bryan Cranston wins for 'All the Way'
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"A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder," the wacky tale of an Edwardian chap who decides to kill off all the folks who stand between him and a great inheritance (and sings about it along the way) won top honors at Sunday night's 68th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, nabbing four awards (including one for its director, Darko Tresnjak).
Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way," about a pivotal year in Lyndon Johnson's presidency, won best play; Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" was named best revival; and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" won best revival of a musical.
It was a record-setting night for Audra McDonald, who earned her sixth Tony (this time for best actress in a play) for her star turn as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." The win makes her the most statue-laden female Tony winner (topping Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris, who each have five Tonys) and the only performer to win in all four acting categories.
The first 30 seconds of her speech were just tears. "I want to thank my mom and my dad up in heaven," she said, "for not medicating their hyperactive little girl and finding out what she was into instead." She dedicated the award to Billie Holiday.
Crowd favorite Bryan Cranston won best actor in a play for his powerful portrayal of Lyndon Johnson in "All the Way." He noted that the first Broadway show he ever saw was in 1977, sneaking into "the second act of 'Hair.' To this day, I still haven't seen the first act, but they tell me the second act was better because there was more nudity."
The show got off to a memorable start with Hugh Jackman bouncing his way into the theater -- nearly beaning himself several times on low doorways -- past cast members from nominated shows, Clint Eastwood (a nod to the upcoming film "Jersey Boys," which he directs) and Neil Patrick Harris (looking glum in an elevator -- hey, NPH, you can't host the Tonys every year).
Harris won best actor in a musical for his role in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." In his acceptance speech, Harris thanked his 3-year-old twins, Harper and Gideon, saying, "I'm so sorry I haven't been able to spend as much time with you as I wish I could."
Jessie Mueller won best actress in a musical for her tender portrayal of Carole King in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." She gave a nod to her actor parents, saying they "raised four kids and sent them all to college. It's true, I'm not making that up."
"I am loving it here in New York," said Sophie Okonedo, who won featured actress in a play for her blistering performance in "A Raisin in the Sun." She thanked producer Scott Rudin, who "somehow had the vision that a Jewish Nigerian Brit could come over the pond and play one of America's most iconic parts."
Some memorable moments:
IT'S ABOUT TIME: After years of shoving the Tony Awards show orchestra out of the orchestra pit and having them perform in cramped quarters on other floors of the theater or, worse, in studios sometimes miles away, the producers finally wised up, realizing part of the thrill of live theater is having a live orchestra, not piped in via wires and video cameras.
WHADDA GUY: Jackman, known for being a gent and respectful of crew members, gave a shout-out to the cameraman who followed him throughout that bouncing open.
WHAT'S HER NAME: Long Island's own Idina Menzel, singing from her "If/Then" musical, was introduced as . . . "Idina Menzel." Imagine that.
THE EARTH MOVED: When "Beautiful's" Jessie Mueller (who plays Carole King) and the real-deal King sang a duet of her "Tapestry" album hit "I Feel the Earth Move."
BETTY WHITE SHOUT-OUT: Alan Cumming, now starring in the "Cabaret" revival, spoke about the efforts of the 97-year-old American Theatre Wing. "That's like Betty White old," he said, adding that the group's work, in addition to sponsoring the Tonys, makes possible what everyone there dedicated their lives to: "making and sharing and witnessing great theater."