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Tonys: Mad about
the Boys

Tonys: Mad about
the Boys

Alan Bennett's The History Boys won six Tony awards including Best Play on Sunday, and the 1960s Four Seasons biographical show Jersey Boys overcame the stigma against "jukebox musicals" to win Best Musical. The History Boys dominated the drama category, also winning best director, actor, and supporting actress, adding to the clutch of awards it picked up in London, where it started life at the National Theater.

Honors for musicals were more evenly divided, with Jersey Boys winning four, including best actor, John Lloyd Young, and supporting actor, Christian Hoff. Its main rival, The Drowsy Chaperone, a parody of 1920s musicals, won five awards, including Best Book and Best Original Score, as well as best supporting actress for Beth Leavel. Best actress in a musical went to LaChanze for The Color Purple, a show based on Alice Walker's novel; this proved to be the musical's lone award despite 11 nominations. A new production of the musical Sweeney Todd, first seen in London, won best director for John Doyle.

Three of the original members of the Four Seasons were in the audience as Jersey Boys picked up the award for Best Musical, overcoming what director Des McAnuff said was a deep prejudice against musicals based on existing popular music. "I think we were a little bit tainted by this 'jukebox musical' term," McAnuff told reporters backstage. He said he preferred to think of Jersey Boys as a history play along the lines of Shakespeare, with celebrities as the new royalty.

Featuring hits such as "Sherry" and "Oh What a Night," the show tells the story of how four boys from New Jersey came from nowhere to be among the biggest pop stars of the 1960s. "People don't really know we're a rock and roll biography," Young told reporters after winning the award for best actor for his role as Four Seasons frontman Frankie Valli, adding that just 18 months ago he was working as an usher on Broadway.

On the dramatic side, it was a good night for the British. Set in a boys' school, The History Boys stars Richard Griffiths as an eccentric teacher preparing teenagers for university entrance exams. "When we were told we were coming to Broadway, we were a bit nervous about the response and whether the play would mean anything, really, over here," Bennett said, accepting the award. Griffiths won the award for best actor, Frances de la Tour won for best supporting actress, and out theater and film vet Nicholas Hytner won best director. The show also won awards for lighting and scenery.

Another Brit, Ian McDiarmid, was named best supporting actor for the play Faith Healer, one of a clutch of Irish works nominated for awards. Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon, who won best actress in a play for her portrayal of a bereaved mother in Rabbit Hole--and kissed her female partner before taking the stage--paid tribute to the foreign imports. "Other countries, particularly Britain, invest in their theaters in the way our government doesn't," she said. Two classic American shows won the awards for best revivals--Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! in the play category and The Pajama Game on the musical side.

The Tonys had been seen as what one critic called a "two-way referendum" on the American musical--pitting Jersey Boys with its well-known hits against The Drowsy Chaperone, an entirely original show paying tribute to the genre's traditions and absurdities. Although it missed out on the big awards, Drowsy picked up five trophies, capping a fairy-tale success story for its Canadian creators, who first wrote it as a skit to be performed at writer and lead actor Bob Martin's bachelor party. "This started as such a small thing and has grown to this marvelous creation," Martin said, adding that the musical had retained its "quirky" Canadian character from fringe theaters to Broadway.

The 60th Annual Tony Awards ceremony was held at Radio City Music Hall, with a string of Broadway stars handing out trophies. Presenters included Julie Andrews, Glenn Close, Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts, and Oprah Winfrey, a producer of The Color Purple. (Claudia Parsons and Chris Michaud, Reuters)

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