NEW YORK -- In the tossup of this year's Tony Awards, a Latino story trumped an unusual African American coming-of-age tale Sunday as Tony voters gave their best new musical prize and three others to "In the Heights," about Caribbean immigrant families struggling to reach for the American dream in New York's Washington Heights barrio.
FOR THE RECORD:
Tony winner: A report on the Tony Awards in Monday's Calendar section said the award for best book of a musical was won by Heidi Rodewald and Stew for "Passing Strange." It went only to Stew. —
The show's major competitor, "Passing Strange," didn't go away empty-handed in ceremonies telecast from Radio City Music Hall. But it received just one Tony, for best book of a musical. The award went to Stew (Mark Stewart) and Heidi Rodewald, longtime L.A. underground rock collaborators in the band the Negro Problem, for the semiautobiographical story of a black kid growing up solidly middle-class in late '70s L.A. and then playing to gangsta stereotypes to win acceptance on the avant-garde performance scene in early '80s West Berlin.
As expected, "August: Osage County" dominated the awards for nonmusical shows. Having won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in April, Tracy Letts' dark but humorously barbed story about an Oklahoma family groping its way through the suicide of a drunken-poet paterfamilias won in five of the six categories in which it was nominated: best play (the first American play to win the Tony since "Doubt" in 2005), director (Anna D. Shapiro), lead and featured actresses (Deanna Dunagan as the lacerating mother and Rondi Reed as her Southern belle sister), and scenic design (Todd Rosenthal).
In the musical category, all four performance awards went to actors appearing in revivals. Patti LuPone, celebrating her 35th year on Broadway, won her second Tony as best actress in a musical playing one of the genre's greatest parts -- Momma Rose in "Gypsy."
LuPone said afterward that "if you lose for this one, it's like you didn't do a good job."
Broadway stalwart Boyd Gaines was named best featured actor for his performance as LuPone's love interest -- his fourth Tony -- and Laura Benanti won as best featured actress as her daughter Louise, who winds up attaining stardom in burlesque as Gypsy Rose Lee. The award for best actor in a musical went to Brazilian opera star Paulo Szot for the Lincoln Center production of "South Pacific."
Indeed, it was that 1949 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, being revived on Broadway for the first time since it closed in 1954, that led all other shows with seven Tonys, including best musical revival, director (Bartlett Sher) and four technical awards -- for lighting, scenic design, sound design (a new category covering nonsong sonic effects) and costume design.
Thanks to "In the Heights" and "August: Osage County," most of the Tonys went to Broadway newcomers -- or to previously overlooked veterans, such as "South Pacific" director Sher, who had never won before. The award for best actor in a play went to Britain's Mark Rylance, formerly the artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, for his portrayal of an awkward yet sexually avid Wisconsinite-in-Paris in " Boeing-Boeing," an adapted French farce that flopped on Broadway in 1965 but took the Tony on Sunday for best revival of a play.
Rylance accepted his award -- for which his major competition was the far better-known Patrick Stewart in "Macbeth" -- with a seemingly non-sequitur speech that he explained backstage was actually a prose poem by Minnesota writer Lewis Jenkins. "I tried this out at the Drama Desk awards, and it went over quite well," he said. Irish actor Jim Norton was named best featured actor in a play for his turn as a blind drunk in Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer."
Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer-star of "In the Heights," celebrated onstage with an impromptu rap -- a key element in a show that moved to hip-hop and salsa rhythms but also had the big-moment, belted emoting of a traditional Broadway musical.
"I'm off the dole, I wrote a little show about home," Miranda rapped, gesturing like an emcee with his left hand while grasping his medallion in his right. "I want to thank all my Latino people," he added.
The orchestrators of "In the Heights," Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, said backstage that a key to its success was deploying new sounds in a familiar scenario.
"It's a love story, about family and home," said Lacamoire. "It is really a very traditional musical in new clothes."
"We were trying to make hip-hop a universal language for Broadway," added Sherman. "It was hard work, but we got it."
Introducing the "Passing Strange" cast's performance of the tunefully hard-rocking number "Keys," California rocker Adam Duritz, singer of the band Counting Crows, said one good thing about the show was how its two key creators, Stew and writing partner and bandmate Rodewald, had gotten national exposure after being buried deep in rock's cognoscenti-only underground: "It was like the whole world got to see my favorite band."
In her best actress acceptance speech, Dunagan also reflected on having arrived in an unexpected place. "August: Osage County" was launched at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, one of the nation's signature nonprofit stages. "After 34 years in regional theater, I never even thought about" winning a Tony, she said. "I watched on TV like everybody else."
While refried film properties have become a dominant source for Broadway material, this year's Tonys gained some freshness from having relatively few shows with movie provenance: "Xanadu" was an also-ran in several musical categories, while "The 39 Steps," a nonmusical remake of an Alfred Hitchcock film thriller, won a pair of technical Tonys, for sound design and lighting design.
Tonys announced before Sunday night went to Stephen Sondheim for lifetime achievement; Chicago Shakespeare Theater for best regional theater; and the late Robert Russell Bennett, who wrote orchestrations for many musicals from the 1940s to early 1960s, including "Oklahoma!," "My Fair Lady" -- and "South Pacific."
Boehm reported from Los Angeles and Getlin from New York.