The 44th annual Tony Awards were on the side of the angels last night -- "City of Angels," that is.

The snappy musical about the making of a 1940s detective film in Hollywood scooped up six Tonys, including the one that counts the most at the box office: Best Musical.

It wasn't quite the clean sweep that some had predicted, however. "City of Angels's" chief competition, "Grand Hotel: The Musical," came in a respectable second with five Tonys -- most of which reflected the elegance of the production, set in Berlin in 1928.

In the evening's major upset, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of "The Grapes of Wrath" got the Tony for Best Play -- edging aside "The Piano Lesson," which won the Pulitzer Prize this spring, along with most of the major New York drama awards. Frank Galati, who adapted and directed John Steinbeck's novel for the stage, was also acknowledged with the Tony for Best Direction of a Play.

James Naughton, the hard-boiled private eye in "City of Angels," took the Tony as Best Leading Actor in a Musical, while Randy Graff, who plays his gal Friday, won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

"I've got to make a quick change," she told the audience. "So look for me in the next scene. I'm the blonde."

Tonys were also bestowed on the show's book (Larry Gelbart), its score (Cy Coleman and David Zippel) and its scenic design (Robin Wagner).

But fans of "Grand Hotel" didn't go away disappointed. Early in the evening, Tommy Tune, the show's choreographer and director, was cited for Best Choreography. An hour later, he was back on the stage to pick up the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical. Michael Jeter, who stops the show as a drunken accountant out for one last fling, was named Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Santo Loquasto's luxurious costumes and Jules Fisher's moody lighting for the musical were also winners.

As was widely predicted, Tyne Daly picked up the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance as Mama Rose in "Gypsy." The audience gave her a standing ovation. "Gypsy" was also voted Best Revival.

Daly is the second actress to win a Tony in the role of the hard-driving stage mother. Angela Lansbury's performance in the 1975 revival was also rewarded with a Tony. Ironically, though, Ethel Merman, who created the part in 1959, was passed over by the Tony voters, who gave the nod instead to Mary Martin in "The Sound of Music."

The big shutout was "Aspects of Love," Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about continental affairs. Often hailed as the savior of the musical because of such smashes as "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats," both of which are still running on Broadway, Lloyd Webber was almost a nonperson last night. "Aspects of Love's" big number, "Love Changes Everything," was presented at one point in the telecast, but it didn't exactly set the house on fire.

The British could look with pride, however, to Maggie Smith, who carried away the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Play. In "Lettice & Lovage," she gives a flamboyantly comic performance as an eccentric tour guide. Smith's costar, Margaret Tyzack, was named Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance as a dour advocate of historic preservation.

Sentimental favorite Robert Morse, who brings the late writer Truman Capote to astonishing life in "Tru," was handed the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Play. A geyser of words, he expressed his unbounded love for everyone who had ever acted in a play anywhere before finally managing to say, "I'm just so grateful to be back here." Morse, still surprisingly boyish, won his first Tony in 1962 for "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." In recent years, his career had gone into a tailspin that "Tru" brought to a happy end.

Charles Durning, who plays Big Daddy in the revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," took home the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play. "I don't deserve this honor," Durning said. "But I've got arthritis and I don't deserve that!"

Kathleen Turner, the star of "Cat" and also the hostess of the awards ceremony, was overlooked as Best Leading Actress. She proved gracious about the loss, however. Getting nominated, she said, was the real honor. At the prompting of Dustin Hoffman (also one of the evening's losers), she said so three times. "Now that's acting," Hoffman quipped.

The most personal acceptance speech came at the top of the show when Jeter received his Tony for "Grand Hotel." He had just finished performing his big number in the show, a loose-limbed, drunken Charleston, and was still glistening with sweat, when emotion overtook him. Addressing viewers who have "a problem with alcohol and drugs," he urged them to kick the habit and cited himself as the example of one who had.

"It changes a day at a time," he said in a quivering voice, "and dreams come true."

The thanks were profuse, as always. Even President Bush merited a clap on the back for his support of the National Endowment for the Arts, which has been under political attack recently for funding what some have dubbed obscene art. Actor Ron Silver pointed out that the last 11 Pulitzer Prize-winning plays all received early support from the NEA and that three of the four nominated plays this year were forged in not-for-profit theaters, which depend on NEA grants.

If it was lobbying, it was lobbying for a worthy cause. Silver was not about to leave it at that, though, and also felt obliged to assure the Chinese who took to Tiananmen Square a year ago that their struggle for freedom was not forgotten.

Mostly, though, the telecast was splashy, the tone upbeat. Turner, smashing in a strapless gown that revealed a generous portion of thigh, left no doubts about her star power. The theme was "the year of the actor," and celebrated actors were everywhere -- on stage and in the audience. Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman and Philip Bosco recited Shakespeare. Len Cariou performed an excerpt from O'Neill.

Matthew Broderick charmingly bridged a generation gap by calling Jessica Tandy "a national treasure," and she, just as charmingly, told him his father (the late actor James Broderick) would have been proud of him.

James Earl Jones presented the Tony for Outstanding Regional Theater to the Seattle Repertory Theater. In years past, the award has been quickly dispensed with. However, last night -- in recognition, perhaps, of the increasing role regional theaters play in Broadway's fate -- it was prominently featured in the telecast.

That the 1989-90 Broadway season has been a particularly strong one was evident from the scenes and production numbers that dotted the evening. "Grand Hotel" looked ravishing, and even the terminally clean-cut "Meet Me in St. Louis" appeared to have its pastel charms.

There were, of course, far too many speeches (although not as many as at the Oscars), and Joan Rivers, wearing a dress that looked as if it was going to swallow her up, struck that note of bad taste without which no award ceremony is complete.

Still, a viewer could come away thinking that Broadway, for all its reputed woes, is not so badly off. Unlike in years past, when some Tonys have been won, seemingly, by default, the competition was lively. The winners, strange to tell, actually deserved to win.

The Tony Winners

Best Musical: "City of Angels"

Best Play: "The Grapes of Wrath"

Best Revival: "Gypsy"

Actor, Play: Robert Morse, "Tru"

Actor, Musical: James Naughton, "City of Angels"

Actress, Play: Maggie Smith, "Lettice & Lovage"

Actress, Musical: Tyne Daly, "Gypsy"

Director, Play: Frank Galati, "The Grapes of Wrath"

Director, Musical: Tommy Tune, "Grand Hotel"

Featured Actor, Play: Charles Durning, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

Featured Actor, Musical: Michael Jeter, "Grand Hotel"

Featured Actress, Play: Margaret Tyczak, "Lettice & Lovage"

Featured Actress, Musical: Randy Graff, "City of Angels"

Book, Musical: Larry Gelbart, "City of Angels"

Score, Musical: Cy Coleman (music) and David Zippel (lyrics), "City of Angels"

Choreography: Tommy Tune, "Grand Hotel"

Scenic Design: Robin Wagner, "City of Angels"

Costume Design: Santo Loquasto, "Grand Hotel"

Lighting Design: Jules Bishop, "Grand Hotel"

Outstanding Regional Theater (honorary award): Seattle Repertory Theater

Excellence in Theater (honorary award): Alfred Drake