NEW YORK — “Fun Home,” an emotionally searing musical about a gay woman’s sexual awakening in a troubled Pennsylvania family, walked away with Sunday night’s most coveted award, best musical, at the 69th Tony Awards.
The musical, by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, scooped up a total of five awards, including those for book, score, and direction of a musical. For his work in the show — based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel — veteran Michael Cerveris also was named best actor in a musical.
The Tony for best musical is a marketing bonanza for the winner, especially on a Broadway ever more driven by the dollars of highly brand-conscious tourists. To secure the top prize, “Fun Home,” which transferred from off-Broadway’s Public Theater, beat “An American in Paris,” “Something Rotten!” and “The Visit.” An earlier version of “The Visit,” with Chita Rivera, ran at Signature Theatre in Arlington in 2008.
As widely predicted, the 700 Tony voters chose playwright Simon Stephens’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” as best play. Originally staged in London, the visually arresting piece follows the tumultuous events in the life of a boy on the autism spectrum. In triumphing over “Hand to God,” “Wolf Hall Parts One & Two” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Disgraced,” the play collected trophies for best direction (Marianne Elliott), sets (Bunny Christie and Finn Ross), lighting (Paule Constable) and best actor in a play (Alex Sharp).
“I want to dedicate this to any young person who feels misunderstood,” Sharp said.
In the revival categories, statuettes were collected by David Hare’s “Skylight,” a play starring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan as erstwhile lovers meeting again under changed circumstances, and Lincoln Center’s remounting of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s eternal “The King and I.” The lavish production features Ken Watanabe as the king of Siam and Kelli O’Hara as the headstrong English teacher with whom he falls in love.
Some of the eight acting trophies were awarded to clear favorites, such as Helen Mirren, a winner as best actress in a play for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in “The Audience.” (She earned an Oscar playing the same monarch in 2008’s “The Queen.”) Sharp’s win as best actor in a play was for his Broadway debut. Cerveris’s victory for “Fun Home" was his second Tony. He won his first as featured actor for a 2004 revival of the musical “Assassins.”
“The foundation upon which I stand is beautifully built on an elegant, fleet play by Peter Morgan,” Mirren said in her acceptance speech.
In the most hotly contested of the acting categories, O’Hara took the prize for her silky-voiced rendition of Anna Leonowens in “The King and I.” She won in a category that also included Kristin Chenoweth (“On the Twentieth Century”), Leanne Cope (“An American in Paris”), Beth Malone (“Fun Home”) and Chita Rivera (“The Visit”).
O’Hara, who won in her sixth try, said: “My parents, who are sitting next to me for the sixth time: You don’t have to pretend it’s okay this time!”
The awards in 24 categories were doled out in a three-hour ceremony at Radio City Music Hall, broadcast by CBS and presided over by first-time co-hosts Alan Cumming and Chenoweth. The presenters and featured performers included a few, like Sutton Foster, known mostly for their stage work. However, reflecting a desire to make the awards relevant to as wide a viewership as possible, the majority were actors with some stage experience who made their names in film and TV. Among them: Amanda Seyfried, Nick Jonas, Bryan Cranston, Jim Parsons, Jason Alexander, Debra Messing and Taye Diggs. Larry David, whose poorly reviewed comedy “Fish In the Dark” was ignored by the Tony nominators, nevertheless presented the Tony for best musical along with Alexander, a fellow “Seinfeld” alum.
In one of the evening’s most stirring interludes, 175 performers from some of the season’s three dozen new productions joined singer Josh Groban onstage, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from “Carousel,” for the “In Memoriam” sequence. The sheer volume of faces and voices injected this pro forma awards show segment with some authentic gravity.
Though the Tonys were established in 1947 as a platform to honor excellence on Broadway — at the time an avenue synonymous with the best of American theater — the ceremony has become far more significant as a veritable infomercial for shows still running. The statistics bear out this assertion: Of 107 individual Tony nominations for the 2014-15 season, only 24 went to shows opening prior to Jan. 1. In fact, 69 percent of nominations went to productions that opened in just the four weeks before the nods were announced on April 28.
As a result, the showcase during the ceremony for a number from a current musical is one of the most sought-after promotional opportunities in the theater business. (Producers of the musicals pay a fee to be on the broadcast.) In addition to slots traditionally reserved on the telecast for the nominated musicals, three musicals that did not garner best original musical or best revival recognition were featured on the program: “It Shoulda Been You,” “Gigi” and “Finding Neverland.” The cast of the long-running “Jersey Boys” also performed on the program, on the occasion of the show’s 10th anniversary.
In its effort to generate some of the glitz and social-media buzz of other, higher-profile celebrity fests, the Tonys this year ratcheted up the fashion quotient. It created a more lavish red carpet segment that was streamed online and hosted by actors Darren Criss, Sierra Boggess and Laura Osnes. Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour picked a few stars for “Devil Wears Prada”-level makeovers.
Special Tony awards were given to Stephen Schwartz, composer of “Wicked” and “Godspell” and John Cameron Mitchell, who with Stephen Trask wrote the current Broadway hit “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Among the few significant homages to the Broadway of yore was a lifetime achievement award given to the ever-youthful dancer, actor and director Tommy Tune.