The lethal romp "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" got a lot of love at Sunday night's Tony Awards, nabbing the best new musical trophy on a night that also saw Audra McDonald make Broadway history, Bryan Cranston win as a rookie and four-time host Neil Patrick Harris get his own award.
"A Gentlemen's Guide," in which a poor man comically eliminates the eight heirs ahead of him for a title, opened rather quietly and has had a steady increase in interest, peaking with its huge win over Disney's "Aladdin" and the built-in love of Carole King songs from "Beautiful — The Carole King Musical."
"The little engine that could, did," said an ecstatic lead producer Joey Parnes. The show nabbed a total of four wins, including best book of a musical. It was tied for the most decorated show of the night with "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," an unlikely Broadway hit about obsession, glam rock and a botched sex-change operation.
McDonald, at 43, won her sixth Tony for portraying Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," putting her ahead of five-time winners Angela Lansbury and the late Julie Harris for the most competitive wins by an actress. (Harris has six if her special lifetime achievement award is included.) McDonald got a prolonged standing ovation and among those she thanked were her parents for not medicating their hyperactive child.
The latest win — for best lead actress in a play — also makes McDonald the only woman to win a Tony in all four acting categories. She previously won as best featured actress in a play ("A Raisin in the Sun" and "Master Class"), best lead actress in a musical ("The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess") and best featured actress in a musical ("Ragtime" and "Carousel").
"Hedwig" was led by Neil Patrick Harris, and the former Tony host got his first award — best actor in a musical — after performing a song from the show, looking unrecognizable in a miniskirt and blond feathered wig. He gave audience member Sting a lap dance and took Samuel L. Jackson's glasses away and licked them.
"A year ago I was hosting the Tonys. This is crazy pants," he said after donning pants. His co-star Lena Hall won best featured actress in a musical and the show also won for best musical revival and lighting.
Cranston — in a role far from TV's chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White in "Breaking Bad" — won the best lead actor in a play Tony for playing former President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way," which also was crowned best play. It was Cranston's first time on Broadway.
A hopping host, music and other moments
Hugh Jackman hopping his way into the theater, Neil Patrick Harris licking the eyeglasses of Samuel L. Jackson. A little history, and a slew of genuinely heartfelt speeches. The Tonys are often the most entertaining awards show of the year, and this year, again, they didn't disappoint. A look at some of the evening's most memorable moments, including some you didn't see on TV:
Was he a bunny or a kangaroo? He never really said. But Jackman's entrance, bouncing like an indefatigable doll into the theater, down the aisles, up to the stage and off to various other places, epitomized the spirit of this winning host, who was in good shape and game for anything. When, at the end, he asked all the Tony winners to come onstage and bounce along with him, not all had the energy. We can't all be Hugh Jackman.
More love for NPH: Well, maybe only Neil Patrick Harris can be Hugh Jackman. The frequent (and much-admired) Tonyhost wasn't performing those duties this year, but he still gave the show one of its most memorable moments, performing "Sugar Daddy" from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." As Hedwig, a transgender East German singer, Harris sauntered around the stage in his giant blonde wig, then ventured into the crowd, giving a lap dance to Sting and licking Jackson's glasses. Later NPH was awarded the Tony for best actor in a musical. The orchestra starting to play him off wasn't the best move.
And more glory for Audra: Her win for playing Billie Holliday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" gave Audra McDonald six Tonys, a record; She's now won in all four acting categories. She got the biggest ovation of the night — the entire theater was on its feet — with a tearful speech in which she thanked her parents for ignoring doctors' orders to medicate her as a hyperactive child, and instead encouraging her to try the theater. Even more touching was McDonald's shout out to her daughter: "Do you understand, Mommy is nothing without you!"
A happy genie: James Monroe Iglehart was one happy genie, and it was hard not to catch the happy bug as the ebullient, portly-yet-graceful actor broke into a "praise shout" and a glorious, well, happy dance while accepting his award for featured actor in a musical for "Aladdin." Iglehart said later at the Tony after-party that he is "having the best time doing 'Aladdin' — I'm a big kid in a Disney show!"
What's the score? Though this was a theater crowd, Jackman made sure to update the audience during several commercial breaks on the score of the NBA Finals game between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. Of course, Jackman noted that virtually everyone in the theater had a mobile device, and that he probably wasn't telling anyone anything they didn't know. In fact, he asked people to raise their hands if they HADN'T been using a mobile device during the show; only a scattered few replied in the affirmative.
Speaking of the NBA: At least one actor used an NBA reference to describe the joy of winning at the Tonys: "It's like winning Game 7," said Bryce Pinkham, whose "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" won best musical over some flashier, bigger shows. "When we opened in November, we were just hoping to get to the new year," Pinkham said at the after-party in the Plaza Hotel. "And now we win best musical. I'm so thrilled because this means more people will come and see this show — and I'll get to do it more. I would root for this show even if I weren't involved with it."
You can bring children, but they may not stay awake: "Les Miz" star Ramin Karimloo, who plays Jean Valjean, brought his two young sons to the Tonys, but before his category — leading actor in a musical — was announced, the kids were dozing. Karimloo said he didn't wake them, figuring he wouldn't win (Harris won the category.) But they'll be able to see themselves when they watch a repeat of the telecast.
Rosie's wisdom: Rosie O'Donnell came on early in the show to accept an award for her philanthropy. She made a touching speech about how, growing up on Long Island, she became fascinated with theater. "Hollywood was vague and an illusion, but Broadway was real and tangible," she said, speaking of how she would wait outside stage doors, holding her "waxy program." In remarks that doubtless warmed the hearts of many theatergoers, she added: "To this day for me, sitting in a velvet seat and watching the orchestra warm up is better than Prozac."
Two Carole Kings: It's pretty hard to resist Carole King — the real one, and also the way Jessie Mueller plays her in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," for which she won leading actress in a musical at the end of the night. Earlier, performing from her show, Mueller began to sing "I Feel the Earth Move," and King appeared onstage to sing it with her. It was the second time the two had sung together — the first was at a curtain call of the show when King finally came to see it. King told the crowd that once she'd summoned up the courage to see "Beautiful," it became her favorite show on Broadway.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play: Mark Rylance, "Twelfth Night."
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical: Lena Hall, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Best Direction of a Musical: Darko Tresnjak, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder."
Best Direction of a Play: Kenny Leon, "A Raisin in the Sun."
Best Score: Jason Robert Brown, "The Bridges of Madison County."
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical: James Monroe Iglehart "Aladdin."
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play: Sophie Okonedo, "A Raisin in the Sun."
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Audra McDonald, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill."
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Bryan Cranston, "All the Way."
Best Play: "All The Way."
Best Revival of a Play: "A Raisin in the Sun."
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Neil Patrick Harris, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Best Revival of a Musical: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Jessie Mueller, "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."
Best Musical: "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder."