‘The Book of Mormon’ wins big at Tony Awards

“The Book of Mormon” inscribed its own chapter of Broadway history Sunday night, winning the Tony Award for best musical as well as eight others — a formidable harvest for the irreverent songfest by “South Park’s” Matt Stone and Trey Parker and “Avenue Q’s” Robert Lopez.

“Mormon’s” bounty of nine trophies made it the top Tony-earner at the ceremony for the 65th annual awards, telecast from the Beacon Theatre on New York’s Upper West Side. Alongside “Mormon,” the Tony voters named the British import “War Horse” — a story told with life-size equine puppets — the best new play of the 2010-11 season.

“I want to thank my dad for his edge and my mother for her sweetness,” said Parker early in the evening, accepting the best direction award with Casey Nicholaw for “Mormon,” which competed for best musical against “Catch Me if You Can,” “Sister Act” and the shuttered “The Scottsboro Boys.” The recognition for the profane and funny sendup of religious dogma continues a recent Tony tradition of anointing scathing musical comedies. “The Producers,” “Avenue Q” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot” are other examples of satirical works that captured the top Tonys.

Although “The Book of Mormon” fell short of the record 12 Tonys collected in 2001 by “The Producers,” it proved to be the evening’s juggernaut, snagging statuettes for original score, book, orchestrations, set design, sound design, lighting, direction and featured actress (Nikki M. James).

Other major awards were divided among some of the season’s other leading productions. Norbert Leo Butz was named best actor in a musical for his performance as the FBI man pursuing a young forger in “Catch Me if You Can.” The versatile Sutton Foster secured her second Tony for best actress in a musical, for her portrayal of Reno Sweeney in the revival of “Anything Goes.”

Best actress in a play went to Frances McDormand, for her turn as a down-on-her-luck single mother in “Good People.” “I’ve played all three of Chekhov’s sisters,” the actress declared, adding that she believes that “one day young actors will grow up” to play her “Good People” part. Mark Rylance was voted best actor in a play for the second time in three years, this time for his tour-de-force performance as a raucous societal outcast in “Jerusalem.”

In the thin category of best revival of a musical — only two shows were nominated — Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” got the nod, as well as the award for best choreography, to director Kathleen Marshall. Best revival of a play was won by “The Normal Heart,” Larry Kramer’s ’80s drama of outrage at the feeble government response to the AIDS epidemic.

“Twenty-six years ago, he lit a fire,” Ellen Barkin, the winner for featured actress in a play for her work as a frustrated doctor in “The Normal Heart,” said of Kramer. “That fire still burns today at the Golden Theatre.”

“War Horse,” a drama by Nick Stafford set during World War I, about an English horse named Joey sent to the front lines in France, has been a runaway hit for Lincoln Center Theater since its opening this spring. In addition to being named best play — an award it received over David Lindsay Abaire’s “Good People,” Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “The [Expletive] With the Hat” and Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” — the work garnered Tonys for its co-directors, Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, as well as technical awards for sets, lighting and sound design.

The three-hour ceremony, packed with production numbers from musicals that were nominated, and some that weren’t, is widely considered as much a commercial for Broadway as it is an evening for honoring the industry’s best. Which helps explain why some shows that were not even eligible for awards received musical slots in prime time. Among them was the notorious “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” which doesn’t have its official (and repeatedly delayed) Broadway opening until Tuesday night.

“We could have opened in February, but we wanted to keep the excitement level up at the New York Post,” joked the Edge, “Spider-Man’s” co-composer with Bono, as they introduced a song from the hyper-publicized, $70 million musical.

“Spider-Man’s” high-flying star, Reeve Carney, and Jennifer Damiano, playing his love interest, were featured in “If the World Should End” from the show, which had been under the direction of Julie Taymor until her dismissal in March. Other shows not currently in contention for best musical, such as last year’s Tony winner, “Memphis,” and this season’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” also secured coveted air time.

The host of this year’s Tonys, Neil Patrick Harris, reprised the ceremonial duties he performed two years ago, when the proceedings were broadcast from Radio City Music Hall. (Harris, who has occasionally appeared on Broadway, stars in “How I Met Your Mother,” presented, like the Tonys, on CBS.) In fact, with Harris at the helm, the show was one of the smartest Tony telecasts in memory, moving securely from entertaining if often promotional musical numbers to the host’s winking comic interludes; a competitive bit between Harris and one-time emcee Hugh Jackman was a highlight.

Among those making appearances were such previous Tony winners as Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Hyde-Pierce and Angela Lansbury, and such would-be nominees as Daniel Radcliffe, passed over this year for his performance in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” (His “How to Succeed” co-star, John Larroquette, won for featured actor in a musical.)

Harris’s opening number set the tone for the evening. Describing Broadway as “a barely affordable, unlip-synced version of ‘Glee,’ ” he launched into an elegantly wit-filled number whose theme was “Broadway is not just for gays anymore.” “People from red states and people from blue,” the suave Harris sang tongue-in-cheekly to an audience including Al Pacino, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, “a big Broadway rainbow is waiting for you.”

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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