Musical 'Billy Elliot' Wins 10 Tony Awards; 'God of Carnage' Is Best New Play

"Billy Elliot" and "God of Carnage" take home top honors at this year's Tony Awards, held at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 8, 2009

NEW YORK, June 7 "Billy Elliot," the story of a working-class English lad who yearns for the higher-brow life of a ballet star, danced away with the Tony Award for best musical last night, during a ceremony in which it swept 10 of the coveted trophies.

The London import, with music by Elton John, was the big winner at the 63rd annual awards show, which also celebrated the crowning of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage" as the Broadway season's best new play.

In the most authentically endearing moment of the evening, the three young dancer-actors who rotate in and out of the role of Billy -- David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish and Trent Kowalik -- awkwardly tried to express their joy as they shared the award for best actor in a musical. It was a three-way division of the trophy unprecedented in Tony history.

"God of Carnage," about warring yuppie parents in Brooklyn, also won for director Matthew Warchus and Marcia Gay Harden, cited as best actress in a play. Geoffrey Rush, an Oscar winner for "Shine," took away the statuette for best actor in a play for his performance as a monarch coming to grips with mortality in "Exit the King." And a sentimental favorite, Angela Lansbury, won best featured actress in a play for her role as a daffy psychic in "Blithe Spirit."

"Who would have thought?" a breathless Lansbury said on winning her fifth Tony, tying Julie Harris's record. "Who knew at this time of my life that I should be presented with this lovely, lovely award?"

But it was "Billy Elliot" that, as widely predicted, dominated the proceedings. It vacuumed up a slew of awards, including those for choreography, sets, lighting, sound, director, book of a musical, featured musical actor, lead actor and orchestrations, the last a tie with "Next to Normal."

The prize for best revival of a play went to the London-born production of the Alan Ayckbourn trilogy, "The Norman Conquests," while director Diane Paulus's remounting of flower-powered "Hair" was named best revival of a musical. And for her universally heralded portrayal of the mentally debilitated mother in "Next to Normal," Alice Ripley garnered the Tony for best actress in a musical.

Washington theater got a rare shot at the Tony spotlight early in the evening at Radio City Music Hall, when the leaders of Arlington's Signature Theatre -- Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and Managing Director Maggie Boland -- stepped up to receive the special Tony awarded each year to an outstanding regional theater.

Other shows with a D.C. pedigree did well: Set designer Derek McLane won for "33 Variations" which originated at Arena Stage. "Next to Normal" also won in the categories of orchestrations and score of a musical. And Karen Olivo won best featured actress in a musical for "West Side Story," which tried out at the National Theatre.

"The most rewarding thing for me is that I've become a dancer," Olivo told reporters after winning. "I've really had to stretch myself."

As for Signature's award, it was only the second time a theater in the nation's capital had been singled out for the honor; in 1976 Arena Stage was given the first regional theater Tony.

"Our last world premiere ran four hours long, had 21 actors, 15 in the orchestra and 276 [people] in the audience," Schaeffer said. ". . . It sounds crazy but that's why Signature is Signature."

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