An Enchanted Evening for 'South Pacific,' 'In the Heights'

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 16, 2008

A tragicomedy about dysfunctional Oklahomans and a musical flavored with New York salsa and hip-hop walked away with the most coveted prizes last night at the 62nd Tony Awards, the annual celebration of achievement on Broadway.

"August: Osage County," a play by Tracy Letts that this year already accepted the Pulitzer Prize for drama, won the award for best play, while "In the Heights," set in a pulsating Dominican and Puerto Rican barrio of Upper Manhattan, was cited as best musical.

In the separate categories for revivals, the 700-plus Tony voters chose the sterling Lincoln Center Theater production of "South Pacific" as outstanding musical. The contest also included a vibrant "Gypsy," a moving "Sunday in the Park With George" and a desultory "Grease." For best play revival, the winner was "Boeing-Boeing," a well-received restaging of the '60s sex farce.

Only three of the eight acting awards went to performances in new works, a sign of how dominant revivals were this season. Patti Lupone, Mama Rose in the latest revival of "Gypsy," and opera singer Paulo Szot, "South Pacific's" Emile De

Becque, won for best actress and actor in a musical. Deanna Dunagan was named best actress in a play for her pill-guzzling matriarch in "August" and Mark Rylance took the best-actor Tony for his comic work in "Boeing-Boeing."

"South Pacific" collected the most trophies, with wins in seven of the 26 categories, followed by "August" with five.

The three-hour ceremony, broadcast on CBS from Radio City Music Hall, was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, in expectedly mischievous mood, and featured an assortment of celebrity presenters, most of whom have spent time on Broadway stages, or will soon. These included Laura Linney, Liza Minnelli, Alec Baldwin, Mandy Patinkin, Brooke Shields and Daniel Radcliffe, the last of whom is to make his Broadway debut next season in a revival of Peter Shaffer's "Equus."

If there was any doubt that the broadcast was becoming ever more of a commercial for Broadway, last night's should put that to rest. The ceremony was even more self-congratulatory than usual, offering plugs to virtually every show still running; it even allowed musicals that had been pretty much ignored by the Tony nominators opportunities to present songs on the telecast.

The chipper Goldberg soldiered her way through routine parodies of "The Phantom of the Opera," "Mary Poppins" and "Spamalot." That the evening began with a number, "The Circle of Life," from a decade-old show, "The Lion King," suggests how deeply the show's producers had to dig to fill their pizazz quota. In fact, the show's most exhilarating production numbers were Lupone's delivery of "Everything's Comin' Up Roses" and "There's Nothing Like a Dame" from "South Pacific."

"August" was the prohibitive favorite in the new play category, although it certainly faced credible competition from Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" and Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer." (The fourth nominated play, "The 39 Steps," was, like Stoppard's and McPherson's pieces, an American incarnation of a British import.) While "August" is destined for a national tour, both "Rock 'n' Roll" and "The Seafarer" are to be staged in new productions at Washington's Studio Theatre next season.

"August," which began life at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, charts the fissures that deepen in a warring clan following the suicide of the family patriarch. It was the biggest winner among plays, also earning Tonys for direction, set, and featured actress (Rondi Reed), as well as leading actress.

Letts had especially kind words for his producers. "They did an amazing thing," he said. "They decided to produce an American play on Broadway with theater actors."

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