Light in the Piazza sweeps the Tonys

Judd Hollander
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There were a number of surprises at the 59th annual Antoinette Perry Tony Awards, held on June 5 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, where most of the categories were up for grabs going into the telecast. The show was broadcast live for three hours by the CBS Television Network and hosted by Hugh Jackman (who won a Best Actor Tony last year for his portrayal of Peter Allen in the musical The Boy from Oz). This was Jackman’s third consecutive turn as host of the Tonys.

First presented in 1947, the Tony Awards are given out annually for excellence in Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The League of American Theatres and Producers.

The Light in the Piazza, based on the novella by Elizabeth Spencer, about an American mother and daughter with a tragic secret vacationing in Florence, Italy, was the big winner of the evening, taking home six awards out of 11 nominations – many in categories it was not expected to win. The show won for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, Best Original Score (beating out Eric Idle and John Du Prez of Spamalot), Lighting Design, Costumes (over Tim Hatley for Spamalot), Orchestrations and Scenic Design (edging out both Hatley and Anthony Ward’s flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – a musical which was shut out entirely).

Spamalot did not win nearly as many awards as expected (it received 14 nominations), but did pick up three Tonys, including the big prize of Best Musical. The Python show also received the prizes for Best Featured Actresss and Best Direction – the latter being Mike Nichol’s ninth Tony win of his career.

Elsewhere, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was honoured with the prizes for Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Best Book of a Musical. This was bookwriter Rachel Sheinkin’s first Tony Nomination and first win. Spelling Bee was also the only musical of those nominated to be created originally for the stage, instead of from another medium – as was Spamalot, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Piazza. Scoundrels, based on the 1988 movie with Steve Martin and Michael Caine, won only one award out of 11 nominations – for Best Leading Actor in a Musical.

The only other winning musical at the Tonys was the revival of La Cage aux Folles, which walked away with two awards – for Jerry Mitchell’s choreography and for Best Revival of a Musical – widely considered the weakest category of the awards (there were only three nominees). In the choreography category, Mitchell was up against himself, as he performed the same chores for Scoundrels.

On the play side of things, it was mostly Doubt’s night. The John Patrick Shanley drama, about a priest at a Catholic school in 1964 New York who is suspected of abusing a child, won four awards out of eight nominations, winning for Best Play, Direction of a Play, Featured Actress and Leading Actress in a Play. However in a surprise, one category in which it did not win was for Best Actor in a Play, where Brian F O’Byrne (who most pundits figured was a hands-down lock for the award), lost out to Bill Irwin for his performance in the revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Irwin’s award was the only one Woolf received (out of six nominations), although Woolf Playwright Edward Albee was given a special Tony for Lifetime Achievement.

In his acceptance speech, Shanley acknowledged his closest competition in the Best Play category, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Pillowman ended winning just two awards – for Scenic Design and for Lighting Design of a Play.

Although the Tonys have long been the lowest-rated of the major award shows, there was a major push to promote the programme. Not only did CBS do a one-hour special the afternoon of the awards, but the TV Guide Channel presented its first-ever “red carpet at the Tonys” programme (as it does at many other award shows), with its correspondents interviewing the nominees and presenters as they arrived for the ceremony.

Billy Crystal won the Tony for Special Theatrical Event for his solo show 700 Sundays, the highest grossing non-musical in Broadway history. Best Featured Actor in a Play was won by Liev Schreiber for his work in the revival of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. The well-received Glengarry also won for Best Revival of a Play, one of the more contested categories, as it was up against equally acclaimed productions of Twelve Angry Men and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

While the Tony Awards were telecast live for three hours, nine of the awards – Best Orchestrations, Best Lighting Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of a Musical, Best Costume Design of a Play, Best Costume Design of a Musical, Best Scenic Design of a Play and Best Scenic Design of a Musical; as well as the Best Regional Theatre Award (presented to the Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis, Minnesota), and the Lifetime Achievement Award – were given out in the hour before the broadcast. The official Tony website (www.tonyawards.com) offered a live video feed of these awards, which were presented by Idina Menzel, who won the Best Actress Tony last year for her performance in the musical Wicked.

There were a few technical glitches during the evening, with some mics cutting out prematurely and some presenters not being introduced. Additionally, the memorial tribute to those in the theatre who passed away last year seemed to have been cut a bit short due to time constraints. Also interesting was the choice of some of the words bleeped during the musical number from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

A complete list of Tony winners and nominees follows:

Best Play: Doubt (winner); Democracy; Gem of the Ocean; The Pillowman.

Best Musical: Monty Python’s Spamalot (winner); Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; The Light in the Piazza; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Best Revival of a Play: Glengarry Glen Ross (winner); Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; On Golden Pond; Twelve Angry Men.

Best Revival of a Musical: La Cage aux Folles (winner); Pacific Overtures; Sweet Charity.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play: Bill Irwin – Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (winner); Philip Bosco – Twelve Angry Men; Billy Crudup – The Pillowman; James Earl Jones – On Golden Pond; Brian F O’Byrne – Doubt.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: Cherry Jones – Doubt (winner); Laura Linney – Sight Unseen; Mary-Louise Parker – Reckless; Phylicia Rashad – Gem of the Ocean; Kathleen Turner – Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Best performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical: Norbert Leo Butz – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (winner); Hank Azaria – Monty Python’s Spamalot; Gary Beach – La Cage aux Folles; Tim Curry – Monty Python’s Spamalot; John Lithgow – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical: Victoria Clark – The Light in the Piazza (winner); Christina Applegate – Sweet Charity; Erin Dilly – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Sutton Foster – Little Women; Sherie Rene Scott – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play: Liev Schreiber – Glengarry Glen Ross (winner); Alan Alda – Glengarry Glen Ross; Gordon Clapp – Glengarry Glen Ross; David Harbour – Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Michael Stuhlbarg – The Pillowman.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Adriane Lenox – Doubt (winner); Mireille Enos – Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Heather Goldenhersh – Doubt; Dana Ivey – The Rivals.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical: Dan Fogler – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (winner); Marc Kudisch – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Michael McGrath – Monty Python’s Spamalot; Matthew Morrison – The Light in the Piazza; Christopher Sieber – Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical: Sara Ramirez – Monty Python’s Spamalot (winner); Joanna Gleason – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Celia Keenan-Bolger – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Jan Maxwell – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Kelli O’Hara – The Light in the Piazza.

Best Direction of a Play: Doug Hughes – Doubt (winner); John Crowley – The Pillowman; Scott Ellis – Twelve Angry Men; Joe Mantello – Glengarry Glen Ross.

Best Direction of a Musical: Mike Nichols – Monty Python’s Spamalot (winner); James Lapine – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Jack O’Brien – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Bartlett Sher – The Light in the Piazza.

Best Choreography: Jerry Mitchell – La Cage aux Folles (winner); Wayne Cilento – Sweet Charity; Jerry Mitchell – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Casey Nicholaw – Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre: The Light in the Piazza – Music & Lyrics: Adam Guettel (winner); Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Music & Lyrics: David Yazbek; Monty Python’s Spamalot – Music: John Du Prez and Eric Idle; Lyrics: Eric Idle; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Music & Lyrics: William Finn.

Best Book of a Musical: Rachel Sheinkin – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (winner); Jeffrey Lane – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Craig Lucas – The Light in the Piazza; Eric Idle – Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Best Scenic Design of a Play: Scott Pask – The Pillowman (winner); John Lee Beatty – Doubt; David Gallo – Gem of the Ocean; Santo Loquasto – Glengarry Glen Ross.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Michael Yeargan – The Light in the Piazza (winner); Tim Hatley – Monty Python’s Spamalot; Rumi Matsui – Pacific Overtures; Anthony Ward – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Best Costume Design of a Play: Jess Goldstein – The Rivals (winner); Jane Greenwood – Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; William Ivey Long – A Streetcar Named Desire; Constanza Romero – Gem of the Ocean.

Best Costume Design of a Musical: Catherine Zuber – The Light in the Piazza (winner); Tim Hatley – Monty Python’s Spamalot; Junko Koshino – Pacific Overtures; William Ivey Long – La Cage aux Folles.

Best Lighting Design of a Play: Brian MacDevitt, The Pillowman (winner); Pat Collins, Doubt; Donald Holder, Gem of the Ocean; Donald Holder, A Streetcar Named Desire.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Christopher Akerlind, The Light in the Piazza (winner); Mark Henderson, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Kenneth Posner, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Hugh Vanstone, Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Best Orchestrations: Ted Sperling, Adam Guettel and Bruce Coughlin – The Light in the Piazza (winner); Larry Hochman – Monty Python’s Spamalot; Jonathan Tunick – Pacific Overtures; Harold Wheeler – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Best Special Theatrical Event: 700 Sundays (performed by Billy Crystal) (winner); Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance!; Laugh Whore (performed by Mario Cantone); Whoopi – the 20th Anniversary Show (performed by Whoopi Goldberg).

Regional Theatre Tony Award: Theatre de la Jeune Lune – Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre: Edward Albee.

Total Number of Tony Wins: The Light in the Piazza – 6; Doubt – 4; Monty Python’s Spamalot – 3; Glengarry Glen Ross – 2; La Cage aux Folles – 2; The Pillowman – 2; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – 2; Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – 1; Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – 1; The Rivals – 1; 700 Sundays – 1.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster