For best musical, the top award of the night went to “In the Heights,” a show about Latino families in way uptown Manhattan created by 28-year-old Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is not only making his Broadway debut but his professional theater debut with this show as well. The show also won awards for score, orchestrations and choreography.
Mr. Miranda, who has been known to rap in public presentations from time to time, did not disappoint when he won for his salsa, rap, hip-hop and reggaetón-flavored score for “In the Heights,” a show he created in college.
“I used to dream about this moment, now I’m in it,” he rapped. “Tell the conductor to hold the baton a minute.” (Mr. Miranda did, in fact, give a shout-out to Broadway royalty, quoting Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics from “Sunday in the Park With George”: “Look, Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat where there never was a hat and it’s a Latin hat at that.”)
But in a year when the new musical awards were spread around, “Heights” won fewer awards — four — than did the best play of the year. Tracy Letts’s “August: Osage County,” a sprawling, knock-down family melodrama which won the Pulitzer, marched through the play awards, winning five: for scenic design, featured actress, actress, director and play .
“Writing is better than acting,” said Mr. Letts, a sometime actor himself who was making his Broadway writing debut. “You get to use your words, you don’t have to be there eight times a week and I can guarantee you that this moment beats the hell out of auditioning for ‘JAG.’ ”
Two of the winners for “August,” Deanna Dunagan (actress) and Rondi Reed (featured actress) have played their last performances and will not rejoin the show on Tuesday. When the show first was transferring to Broadway from the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, where it originated, some in the cast were not even sure they wanted to make the trip. And now, well:
“After 34 years in regional theater I never even thought about it,” Ms. Dunagan, who plays a drug-addled monster of a mother, said of her prospects of winning a Tony. “I watched it on TV like everyone else.”
For all the newcomers, quite a few of the musical categories were split in a head-to-head battle between two old-fashioned revivals: “Gypsy” and Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of “South Pacific.”
“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific,” the most successful show of the night with seven wins, took best revival and best actor — for the lead, Paulo Szot — in addition to four design awards and an award for best director, Bartlett Sher. This is the second year in a row that a production from the nonprofit Lincoln Center put in such a showing at the ceremony; its production of “The Coast of Utopia” last year won the most Tonys ever for a play.
Mr. Sher paid homage to the show’s composer (Richard Rodgers), its lyricist and book writer (Oscar Hammerstein), its director and co-writer of the book (Joshua Logan) and the man who wrote the novel on which the show was based (James Michener). “They were kind of incredible men because they seem to teach me particularly that, in a way, I wasn’t only an artist but I was also a citizen,” Mr. Sher said. “And the works that we do in these musicals or in any of these plays is not only important in terms of entertaining people, but that our country is really a pretty great place, and that perhaps it could be a little better, and perhaps, in fact, we could change."
Like “Coast,” the production of “South Pacific” swept the musical design categories, winning for scenic design, sound design, costumes and lighting. A special posthumous award was even given to Robert Russell Bennett, who orchestrated the original 1949 production of “South Pacific.”
But Patti LuPone, who played Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” took home the leading actress in a musical award with Boyd Gaines (winning his fourth Tony) and Laura Benanti taking featured actor and actress awards.
“It’s such a wonderful gift to be an actor making her living working on the Broadway stage and then every 30 years or so pick up one of these,” said Ms. LuPone, a previous Tony winner and multiple Tony nominee. “I was afraid to write a speech because I’d written a couple before and they never made it out of my purse, so I’m going to use one of the old ones and add a few names.”
An emotional Ms. Benanti singled out her director, Arthur Laurents, who also wrote the show’s book, directed it twice before and, incidentally, is 90 years old. “Oh my gosh, hi Arthur, you’re standing!” Ms. Benanti shouted at Mr. Laurents, who was on his feet when her win was announced.
Stephen Sondheim, two of whose shows —“Gypsy” and “Sunday in the Park With George”— were competing for best musical revival this year, received a lifetime achievement award.
But aside from the triumphs of big brassy shows like “Gypsy” and “South Pacific” (and the orchestral interludes, which mainly stuck to Broadway’s greatest hits), the rest of the evening was decidedly less reverential.
In winning best revival of a play, “Boeing-Boeing,” a ’60s sex farce about a playboy frantically trying to juggle a trio of flight attendants, beat out more earnest contenders like “Macbeth,” “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and Harold Pinter’s “Homecoming.”
The lead actor of “Boeing-Boeing,” Mark Rylance, playing a bashful but libidinous American tourist, won the top acting award over, among others, Patrick Stewart, playing Macbeth, and Laurence Fishburne, playing Thurgood Marshall.
“Passing Strange,” a rock concert/musical/cabaret that was the main competition for “Heights” and that won the award for book of a musical, was also created by someone who had no previous professional theatrical experience.
Stew, the single-named artist who wrote the book (the non-singing part) of “Passing Strange” with his partner Heidi Rodewald, accepted the award at a prebroadcast ceremony. He wore sunglasses and sneakers, and, as usual, played the class cut-up.
“I don’t know what to say, because I didn’t know we were going to do this right now,” he said. “I thought this was going to happen in an hour or something. I was looking for some M & M’s in my pocket.” (Later that night he wore a Groucho Marx disguise when the camera panned to him before the best actor award.)
Ms. Reed, who won the award for featured actress in a play, for her performance as the belittling Mattie Fae Aiken in “August: Osage County,” dedicated it in part to Dennis Letts, the father of the playwright and a member of the cast, who died in February.
In the best featured actor in a play category, Jim Norton won for his alternately hilarious and touching portrayal of an old drunk in Conor McPherson’s supernatural play “The Seafarer.” His co-star Conleth Hill was also nominated in the category; Mr. Norton said he wanted to share the moment with his fellow actors in the play.
The design categories were a little more varied on the play side than the musical side, with awards for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (costumes), “August: Osage County” (scenic design) and “The 39 Steps,” the quirky, bare-bones version of the 1935 Hitchcock movie, which won for lighting and sound design.
The ceremony before the broadcast, which, in previous years, was usually limited to awards for design and orchestrations, was expanded this year to include awards for choreography, play revival and book of a musical. This was to make room for a greater number of performances during the main event, which offer producers a network opportunity to display their shows to potential ticket-buyers.
Traditionally, only shows nominated for a Tony have the chance to perform at the ceremony; in an attempt to goose ratings this year, numbers were scheduled to be performed from “The Lion King,” which just turned 10, and “Rent,” which is nearing its closing date, as well as the three new musicals from this season that were not nominated: “A Catered Affair,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Young Frankenstein.” That those last two shows, brought to you by Disney and Mel Brooks respectively, were not nominated underscores the particular challenge of drumming up excitement in a season when none of the shows competing for best musical could be described as big hits or were based on widely familiar material.
Ratings have been fairly dismal for the ceremony, and last year, when it was up against the final episode of “The Sopranos” on HBO, they were at a record low. This year the ceremony was up against its old nemesis: the NBA finals. Whoopi Goldberg was brought in to host, a return to a format that was rejected in the last two years in favor of a rotating cast of presenters.
While Broadway continued to report high grosses and attendance figures (down slightly from last year due in part to a 19-day stagehands strike in November), much of that was based on the continued success of blockbusters like “Wicked,” “Jersey Boys” and “The Lion King.”
The Tony Awards are voted on by 796 producers, journalists, union officials and other industry professionals, and are presented jointly by the Broadway League, an industry trade group, and the American Theater Wing, a nonprofit service organization that created the Tonys in 1947.
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater was recognized for regional theater excellence, an annual award presented at the prebroadcast ceremony.