NEW YORK (AP) — A veteran and a newbie made history Sunday at the Tony Awards.
Audra McDonald became the show’s most decorated actress while Bryan Cranston won a best actor trophy for his Broadway debut.
McDonald 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.
The latest win – for best lead actress in a play – also makes McDonald the first grand-slam performance winner. 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”).
Cranston – in a role far from TV’s chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White – won the best lead actor in a play Tony on Sunday for playing former President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way.”
Hugh Jackman kicked off the Tony Awards with a bounce, hopping up and down like a kangaroo during his opening number Sunday. Big, high-kicking musical numbers from “After Midnight,” “Aladdin,” “Rocky” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” kept the energy level up during the Tonys’ first hour but no clear overall winning show had yet emerged.
The bearded Australian, back as host after a nine-year absence, greeted many of the night’s featured performers as he cheerfully bounded past them backstage. He then joined the cast of the musical “After Midnight” for a rousing rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing).”
The first award of the night was for best featured actor in a play and it went to Mark Rylance, who won his third Tony for playing the countess Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Rylance, who previously won for “Jerusalem” and “Boeing-Boeing,” is also nominated for best lead actor honors for his evil title character in “Richard III.”
The best featured actress in a musical Tony went to Lena Hall in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” playing a woman who dresses as a man and plays Neil Patrick Harris’ boyfriend. Hall wished her dad a happy birthday and gave a shout-out to her soon-to-be-born niece. “Friendship is magic,” she said.
Darko Tresnjak won for directing the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and thanked his mother, a skydiver during World War II now too frail to be there. The musical also won for best book of a musical and costumes for a musical. Away from the cameras, the now-closed musical “The Bridges of Madison County” won for best score and best orchestration.
Kenny Leon won his first Tony for directing the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” He thanked, among other, his star Denzel Washington, and the women in his life. He even managed to plug his next work, “Holler If Ya Hear Me.”
One of his “Raisin” stars, Sophie Okonedo, won for best featured actress in a play. “I am loving it on Broadway,” she said. She thanked producer Scott Rudin for believing that a “Jewish, Nigerian Brit” could play the iconic role of Ruth Younger.
James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the manic Genie in “Aladdin,” won for best featured actor in a musical and could barely contain his glee as he thanked a long list of people that included God and his wife.
Jackman has lost none of his style, affability and humor in the nine years since he last hosted. He will be singing several songs – including all the parts from the first song in “The Music Man” – and will tease the nominees goodheartedly.
Stars helping present awards included Bradley Cooper, Kevin Bacon, Clint Eastwood, Leighton Meester, Kenneth Branagh, Kate Mara, Emmy Rossum, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Zachary Quinto.
Some 870 Tony voters – members of professional groups such as the Wing, the League, Actors’ Equity Association, the Dramatists Guild and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society – decided the final 26 competitive awards. Only Broadway shows that opened in the 12 months ending April 24 are eligible.
A music-heavy lineup has been promised that includes all the best new musical nominees – “Aladdin,” `’After Midnight,” `’Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” – and some overlooked ones, including “Rocky,” `’Bullets Over Broadway,” and Idina Menzel’s show “If/Then.”
Three revivals – “Les Miserables,” `’Violet” and “Cabaret” – will be featured. “Wicked,” which is celebrating a decade on Broadway, will have its current Glinda and Elphaba sing “For Good,” and there will be songs from two shows that have yet to arrive: Sting will perform from his musical “The Last Ship” and Jennifer Hudson sings from “Finding Neverland,” the musical about Peter Pan.
For best play candidates, the playwrights of “Act One,” `’All The Way,” `’Casa Valentina,” `’Mothers and Sons” and “Outside Mullingar” will each take turns introducing video snippets of their works.
This year, Broadway producers have a reason to party. The season’s box offices hit a record total gross of $1.27 billion – up from $1.13 billion the previous season – and attendance was up 5.6 percent to 12.2 million.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits