"Once," the tender-hearted love story of misfit musicians in Dublin -- with actors singing, dancing and playing their own instruments onstage -- had the luck of the Irish at Sunday night's 66th annual Tony Awards held at the Beacon Theatre, winning eight awards (including best actor Steve Kazee, best director John Tiffany, and nods for orchestration, sound, book, scenic design and lighting).
"Clybourne Park," Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about race relations, real estate and the quest for community, was best play. "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" beat out "Follies" for best musical revival.
Audra McDonald won her fifth Tony -- her first as a leading actress in a musical -- for her intoxicating performance as Bess. "I was a little girl with a pot belly and Afro puffs, hyperactive and over dramatic -- and I found the theater and I found my home," she said, teary-eyed.
Nina Arianda won best actress in a play for "Venus in Fur." Best actor in a play was James Corden in "One Man, Two Guvnors."
TV fave and lovable Broadway mascot Neil Patrick Harris returned to host the awards show, which was jam-packed with celebrity presenters, video clips of nominated plays and a record 16 musical numbers -- so many that winners, alas, had only 90 seconds to race from seat to mike to deliver rapid-fire acceptance speeches.
"I'm extremely touched that you did that," said Mike Nichols, who got a standing ovation on receiving his (sixth) Tony for best director of a play for "Death of a Salesman," which was named best revival of a play. "But you used up some of my 90 seconds."
The show got off to a familiar start with the white-shirted cast of "Book of Mormon" (last year's best musical and still a near-impossible ticket on Broadway) doing their opening number, ringing doorbells at the dressing rooms of stars -- including Ricky Martin and Matthew Broderick -- who were both snubbed by the Tonys this year.
Christian Borle, of NBC's "Smash," won best featured actor in a play for his preening pirate role in "Peter and the Starcatcher." "Thank you for making this so much fun," he said. And thanks, he added, for "making my mom very happy." Judith Light won best featured actress in a play for "Other Desert Cities."
Featured actress and actor in a musical both came from "Nice Work If You Can Get It": Judy Kaye, who thanked her husband, "who knows the care and feeding of the diva," and Michael McGrath.
Some memorable moments:
HANG ON: "Spidey" didn't get to have a musical number (fair enough -- the show got one last year even though it missed the eligibility deadline), but it got a moment, as a (very flexible) Harris was lowered to the stage, upside down, to introduce Angela Lansbury and Ted Chapin, president of the American Theatre Wing. Harris pretended to suffer a technical glitch, hanging behind Lansbury and Chapin as they chattered about stuff the ATW does besides hosting the Tonys. We won't "leave you hanging," Lansbury noted.
YOU'RE A LIFESAVER: Or, at least, Harvey Fierstein was wearing one -- a big blow-up inner tube, with trunks and holding a drink with mini-umbrella as he introduced a tribute to cruise line musical productions -- and we went live to a number from "Hairspray" performed in the Caribbean. But who could stop thinking of Harvey's sexy knees.
LOCAL BOY GETS HIS TONY (FINALLY): Lawrence native Jack Feldman, accepting the Tony with Alan Menken for best musical score for "Newsies," noted that he's wanted to write Broadway shows since he was 5 years old. "It didn't really occur to me that it would take 56 years to actually accomplish that, but it was worth the wait," he said raising his trophy to the sky. "Look ma, a Tony."