`Boys': big night out

June 12, 2006|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"Oh What a Night" for Jersey Boys. The musical biography of the Four Seasons - the group that made that song a hit - took home the award for best new musical at last night's Tony Awards at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

The musical also won three other awards, including a Tony for its star, John Lloyd Young, who plays Four Seasons' lead singer Frankie Valli, and one for featured actor Christian Hoff, who plays Tommy DeVito, the singer who formed the group.

Sobbing as he accepted his award, Hoff said, "Papa, this is for us," explaining his father "died when he was 52; he immigrated to this country in 1961, the year [the song] `Sherry' broke."

Young, also tearful when his turn came, spoke of his father as well, saying, "He was an officer in the Air Force and I always wanted to be an actor, and it put us at odds at certain points. ... Dad, we're among 6,000 people [at Radio City] tonight but for some reason I'm remembering that first early struggle that we got through together and somehow it feels like it's just the two of us again."

The night's biggest winner, however, wasn't a musical, but a play. The History Boys, Alan Bennett's account of a popular but controversial teacher, had been considered a shoo-in for best new play, and it did not disappoint. The London import chalked up the most Tonys of the night - six.

"When we were told we were going to Broadway, we were a bit nervous about the response and whether the play would mean anything really over here," Bennett said, accepting the Tony while flanked by producers and the entire cast. Those worries were clearly groundless.

Among The History Boys' honorees was Richard Griffiths, who portrays the play's unconventional teacher. Best known as Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter movies, the rotund British actor thanked his wife "who actually persuaded me not to quit the show. Boy, what a clever idea that seems." He concluded with a Walt Whitman quote that is part of the script: "Now, Voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find." Griffiths added, "So I did, and I have."

Broadway handicappers had characterized this year's best-musical competition as a neck-and-neck race between Jersey Boys and The Drowsy Chaperone, a sleeper hit about a fan in love with a vintage musical.

And, though it missed out on the top award, Chaperone took home more Tonys (five) than any other musical. Its awards included best book, shared by Bob Martin, at whose bachelor party Chaperone had its genesis, and Don McKellar.

Named best actress in a play and a musical, respectively, were Cynthia Nixon, for her portrayal of a mother coping with the death of a child in Rabbit Hole, and LaChanze for her portrayal of abused Celie in The Color Purple. LaChanze's award was the only Tony won by The Color Purple out of 11 nominations.

The Pajama Game, which won the Tony for best new musical in 1955, took home the musical-revival Tony this year as well as one for Kathleen Marshall's choreography. In her acceptance speech, the choreographer mentioned two former Marylanders in the Pajama Game company - Megan Lawrence, who was nominated for best featured actress (but lost to Chaperone's Beth Leavel), and the musical's conductor, Rob Berman.

Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing! which was named best play revival, debuted in 1935 before the Tony Awards were created.

Winners of design awards, which were presented prior to the telecast, included Catherine Zuber, an associate artist at Center Stage, who was honored for her Depression-era costumes in Awake and Sing!

Several records were set on Broadway this season. Paid attendance exceeded the 12 million mark for the first time, and box office grosses also reached a record high at $862 million, a 12 percent increase over last season, according to the League of American Theatres and Producers, which co-presents the Tonys with the American Theatre Wing. The winners were selected by 754 theater professionals.

Special Tonys were awarded to Sarah Jones, for her one-woman show, Bridge & Tunnel, and to producer/director Harold Prince, for lifetime achievement. It was his 21st award, making Prince the Tony King, with more awards than any other recipient.

Broadcast live from Radio City, this year's telecast did not have a host. Instead, 60 stars - including Color Purple producer Oprah Winfrey and Julia Roberts, whose Broadway debut in Three Days of Rain was overlooked by the nominating committee - commemorated the awards' 60th anniversary on stage.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

Tony winners

Winners of the 60th Tony Awards announced last night

Book, musical:

The Drowsy Chaperone, Bob Martin and Don McKellar

Original score:

The Drowsy Chaperone, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison

Revival, play:

Awake and Sing!

Actor, play:

Richard Griffiths, The History Boys

Actress, play:

Cynthia Nixon, Rabbit Hole

Featured actor, play:

Ian McDiarmid, Faith Healer

Featured actress, play:

Frances de la Tour, The History Boys

Featured actor, musical:

Christian Hoff, Jersey Boys

Featured actress, musical:

Beth Leavel, The Drowsy Chaperone

Direction, play:

Nicholas Hytner, The History Boys

Direction, musical:

John Doyle, Sweeney Todd

Choreography:

Kathleen Marshall, The Pajama Game

Costume design, play:

Catherine Zuber, Awake and Sing!

Costume design, musical:

Gregg Barnes, The Drowsy Chaperone

Regional Theater Tony Award:

Intiman Theatre, Seattle

Special Tony Award:

Sarah Jones, Bridge & Tunnel

Lifetime Achievement in the Theater:

Harold Prince

For a complete list of winners and a photo gallery, visit baltimoresuncom/tony

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