The work of three legends of the American theater, playwright Arthur Miller and the song-writing brothers George and Ira Gershwin, reaped multiple honors. Miller's blue-chip middle-American tragedy "Death of a Salesman" won for revival of a play.
In accepting the Tony, producer Jeffrey Richards pointedly thanked the Gershwin estate among others for "permission to bring 'Porgy and Bess' into the 21st century."
Audra McDonald, previously a four-time winner for featured actress, finally won lead actress in a musical for her stirring performance as the Gershwins' indomitable heroine.
"Once," a pocket musical that took many on Broadway by surprise this season, won eight awards. John Tiffany, making his Broadway debut, won musical directing over more experienced rivals, including Great White Way veteran Kathleen Marshall. With his lyrical Irish accent ringing through his acceptance speech, Tiffany acknowledged his family "who gave me the gift of music."
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Other "Once" winners were Bob Crowley (scenic design), Natasha Katz (lighting design) and Clive Goodwin (sound design).
Early in the evening, there were hints of a coming smackdown between "Once," adapted from a 2006 indie film, and "Newsies," a feel-good show about a turn-of-the-century New York newsboys' strike, adapted from a 1992 Disney film musical.
Before the telecast's official start, "Once" won for orchestration (Martin Lowe), and Enda Walsh won for book of a musical. Meanwhile, Christopher Gattelli won choreography for "Newsies."
"Newsies" also won for score. Composer Alan Menken, an eight-time Oscar winner, and lyricist Jack Feldman joked that theirs was the first musical to win both the Razzie and the Tony for the same show.
The leading actor categories yielded several of the evening's most emotional acceptance speeches. McDonald teared up while recalling herself as a "hyper-active" "little girl with a pot belly" who'd found a home in the theater.
Steve Kazee, winner of lead actor in a musical for "Once," thanked his fellow cast members for their support after the death of his mother, who passed away Easter Sunday.
Lead actor in a play winner James Corden's sublime physical clowning in "One Man, Two Guvnors," Richard Bean's transposition of Carlo Goldini's 1743 commedia dell'arte comedy to 1960s Brighton, England, earned him an upset victory over Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Death of a Salesman."
In his speech, Corden chokingly thanked his girlfriend, the mother of his child.
"She's my baby mama, and I can't wait to marry her," Corden said. "She made me say 'us' instead of 'I' and 'we' instead of 'me.'"
Nina Arianda won lead actress in a play for her turn as an ambitious young actress in David Ives' meta-fictional "Venus in Furs," based on the classic erotic novel.
Hosted for the third time by Neil Patrick Harris, the show as usual alternated between kinetic musical numbers and more down-tempo dramatic sketches.