A play about a priest's suspicious fondness for boys and a musical in which adults behave like overgrown kids carried off the top prizes last night at the 59th Tony Awards, Broadway's annual celebration of the season's best.
"Doubt," John Patrick Shanley's widely admired drama dealing with intimations of pedophilia at a Bronx Catholic school, won for best play and also claimed the Tonys for best actress (Cherry Jones) and featured actress (Adriane Lenox), as well as one for director Doug Hughes. Having previously secured the Pulitzer Prize, the work has received a degree of acclaim rarely achieved in the theater world.
Speaking to Shanley from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, a radiant Jones declared, "You've written a great American play that's going to be performed around the world."
In the more vigorously contested race for best musical, "Monty Python's Spamalot" proved the most popular choice among the 750 producers, theater professionals and journalists who vote for the Tonys. Eric Idle's lively adaptation of the British comedy group's 1975 movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," also won Tonys for Mike Nichols's direction and Sara Ramirez's supporting performance as an operatically comic Lady of the Lake. The other musicals in contention were "The Light in the Piazza," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
The wry Nichols addressed the losers in his and other categories with what he called his motto. "Cheer up," he said. "Life isn't everything."
Reflecting, however, the absence this season of a critical hit on the order of "The Producers" or "Hairspray," other awards that typically flow to the best-musical recipient were divided among other productions. Adam Guettel, for instance, was given the Tony for his score of "The Light in the Piazza," while Rachel Sheinkin's script for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" won for best book of a musical. Norbert Leo Butz, playing a blue-collar con man in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," was named best actor in a musical. Victoria Clark received leading-lady honors for "Piazza," the show that won more Tonys -- six -- than any other, though most were in technical categories such as lighting and orchestration.
The near-equitable distribution of awards -- "Spamalot" garnered only three -- came in a three-hour CBS broadcast hosted by Hugh Jackman. The spreading out of accolades may have been a function of a decent variety of choices for Tony voters. Though "Doubt" was generally acknowledged to have been the favorite going into the proceedings, Martin McDonagh's "Pillowman" was regarded as a particularly worthy rival. The production, which won awards for set design and lighting of a play, features Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum in a macabre fable about a writer accused of murdering children. The other plays vying for the top award were Michael Frayn's "Democracy" and August Wilson's "Gem of the Ocean."
There were few surprises in the major categories. Bill Irwin's Tony as best actor for his work in the revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was the only minor upset.
Old plays were represented in droves this season, from "Julius Caesar" with Denzel Washington to "The Glass Menagerie" starring Jessica Lange. So many shows, in fact, that neither of these was even nominated. On Tony night, the winner for revival of a play was David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," with Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber, the latter winning the trophy for featured actor in a play.
It was not a healthy year, though, for musical revivals. The Tony for the mediocre remounting of "La Cage aux Folles" illustrated the paucity of strong entries. It beat out a wan version of "Pacific Overtures" and a weakly conceived "Sweet Charity" starring Christina Applegate. Choreography was a lackluster category as well, with the Tony going to Jerry Mitchell for "La Cage aux Folles."
The least surprising result was the award for special theatrical event, which was won by Billy Crystal for "700 Sundays," his comic solo show looking back at growing up on Long Island. "I want to thank everybody on behalf of the entire cast," Crystal joked, then added the production has been "the greatest thrill of my life."
The Tonys as a rule do not earn high ratings for CBS, but the broadcast is nevertheless considered a prestige event. It rarely attracts the star power of the Oscars or the Emmys. Still, Broadway has increasingly become a magnet for Hollywood actors taking breaks from movies and television, and many of those stars attended the proceedings, among them Applegate, Goldblum, Hank Azaria and David Hyde Pierce. Some personalities with more dubious claims were there as well: Marcia Cross, for example, a star of "Desperate Housewives," was a presenter, and CBS newsman Harry Smith introduced a segment on the best-play nominees.
Jackman, returning as host for the third time, showed off his dancing skills in a number built around the standard "I Won't Dance," but he was also called on to perform what came across as an awkward duet with Aretha Franklin. They sang "Somewhere," with a lyric by Stephen Sondheim, to celebrate the composer's 75th birthday. Laura Linney delivered a brief tribute to Arthur Miller, who died this year.
And Applegate proved to be a good sport, introducing the choreography award by performing a pratfall. She had a bona fide mishap a few months ago, one that resulted in a broken foot and a near-scuttling of "Sweet Charity."
A complete list of last night's winners:
Best Play: "Doubt."
Musical: "Monty Python's Spamalot."
Book of a musical: Rachel Sheinkin, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
Original score: Adam Guettel, "The Light in the Piazza."
Revival, play: "Glengarry Glen Ross."
Revival, musical: "La Cage aux Folles."
Special theatrical event: Billy Crystal, "700 Sundays."
Actor, play: Bill Irwin, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Actress, play: Cherry Jones, "Doubt."
Actor, musical: Norbert Leo Butz, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
Actress, musical: Victoria Clark, "The Light in the Piazza."
Featured actor, play: Liev Schreiber, "Glengarry Glen Ross."
Featured actress, play: Adriane Lenox, "Doubt."
Featured actor, musical: Dan Fogler, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
Featured actress, musical: Sara Ramirez, "Monty Python's Spamalot."
Scenic design, play: Scott Pask, "The Pillowman."
Scenic design, musical: Michael Yeargan, "The Light in the Piazza."
Costume design, play: Jess Goldstein, "The Rivals."
Costume design, musical: Catherine Zuber, "The Light in the Piazza."
Lighting design, play: Brian MacDevitt, "The Pillowman."
Lighting design, musical: Christopher Akerlind, "The Light in the Piazza."
Direction, play: Doug Hughes, "Doubt."
Direction, musical: Mike Nichols, "Monty Python's Spamalot."
Choreography: Jerry Mitchell, "La Cage aux Folles."
Orchestrations: Ted Sperling, Adam Guettel and Bruce Coughlin, "The Light in the Piazza.
Regional theater: Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis.
Special Tony Award for lifetime achievement: Edward Albee.