Capturing the Grail

`Spamalot' grabs Tony as Broadway's best

`Doubt' named top play

June 06, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Spam was haute cuisine in New York last night when Monty Python's Spamalot -- a send-up of everything from King Arthur's Round Table to Broadway itself -- was named the best musical at the 59th-annual Tony Awards.

Spamalot took home three Tonys, out of 14 nominations. Sara Ramirez was honored for her portrayal of the Lady of the Lake, a character only mentioned in passing in the musical's source, the 1975 movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The show's third award went to director Mike Nichols, bringing his career total to nine Tonys. In an irreverent, Monty Python-esque sentiment, Nichols offered his "love to those who have not won tonight. I just want to remind you of my motto: `Cheer up. Life isn't everything.'"

Despite winning the Holy Grail of Tonys, Spamalot did not garner the largest number of awards at the ceremony. That distinction went to The Light in the Piazza, an adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer's 1960 novel about a mother and daughter vacationing in Italy. Piazza won six Tonys, including two for composer and co-orchestrator Adam Guettel, grandson of legendary Broadway composer Richard Rodgers.

Although the best-musical contest went down to the wire, there had been little doubt about the winner of best play. That distinction went to this year's Pulitzer Prize winner -- Doubt, a drama about a fierce nun who accuses a young priest of molesting a child. Accepting the Tony, playwright John Patrick Shanley (a 1988 Oscar winner for the screenplay of Moonstruck) said, "I want to thank the Sisters of Charity for teaching me to read and write. I want to thank the Irish Christian Brothers for throwing me out of high school."

Doubt won four Tonys -- more than any other non-musical. As he accepted the award for direction, Doug Hughes thanked his parents, actors Helen Stenborgh and 1978 Tony winner Barnard Hughes, saying, "I know it must seem like a wild act of Oedipal revenge for the son of two actors to become a director, but I assure you, that's not the case."

The play also won two acting awards. Adriane Lenox won the featured actress award for her depiction of the mother of the boy who may have been abused, and Cherry Jones won for her portrayal of the stern, accusatory nun. It was the second Tony for Jones, who starred in Center Stage's 1993 production of A Moon for the Misbegotten.

But it was the musical competition that was a real nail-biter. Though there had been speculation that The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee might be an upset winner, the small-scale musical walked off with only two awards, including one for Broadway newcomer Dan Fogler for depicting an overweight adolescent who spells with his "magic foot." "We did it with this hair and this body!" the pudgy, shaggy-haired actor proclaimed. "Be brave, be different."

The awards for orchestration and design were presented before the telecast began. This year, for the first time, there were separate design categories for musicals and plays. Light in the Piazza dominated these early awards, winning best orchestration as well as every design category for which it was eligible. Catherine Zuber won for her 1950s-era costumes with their full-skirted, wasp-waisted dresses; Michael Yeargan for his elegant piazza sets, and Christopher Akerlind for lighting them. All three designers have worked at Center Stage.

One of the evening's surprises was the best actor nod given to former clown Bill Irwin, who was cast against type as George, the alcoholic professor in the revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Irwin's high-profile competitors included James Earl Jones, Billy Crudup, Philip Bosco and much-touted Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne, who plays the priest in Doubt.

Although Irwin's award was the only Tony won by the Virginia Woolf revival, Albee himself was honored for lifetime achievement. The writer dedicated his award to his life partner of 35 years, Jonathan Thomas, a sculptor who died last month. "He made me a happy playwright, and you have made me a happy playwright tonight," Albee said.

The award for best play revival went, instead, to Glengarry Glen Ross -- marking the first time a David Mamet play has won a Tony.

The Tony telecast got off to a light-hearted start with Billy Crystal popping up -- literally from a trap door below the stage -- when the host of the ceremony was announced. Crystal cracked a couple of jokes welcoming viewers to the (frequently low-rated) Tonys, quipping that "CBS calls them, CSI Broadway." He then answered his ringing cell phone to find Hugh Jackman on the line. "I'm actually hosting the Tony Awards," the Australian actor informed him before taking over the master of ceremonies post for the third year in a row.

Crystal was back on stage later when his one-man autobiographical show, 700 Sundays, was named best special theatrical event. "I want to thank everybody on behalf of the entire cast," Crystal kidded. "I love working with the actors that I get to work with every night."

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