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Walking on aerosol

'Hairspray' wins eight awards. 'Take Me Out' is named best play.

June 09, 2003|Mike Boehm and Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Sunday was a night for comedy and tragedy to score big at the Tony Awards, via a hit new musical and a revived American stage classic, and for the two other leading best-production awards to be conferred on shows about a womanizing film director and a star centerfielder who touches off a tumult in the locker room by announcing he is gay.

It was a night when "Hairspray," a boisterous, happy show in the old-fashioned Broadway mold, easily led the pack at Radio City Music Hall with eight awards, including best musical, and when Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," a tragedy so dark and revealing that the author requested that it never be staged, won a best-revival Tony and joined "Hairspray" in monopolizing the awards for best leading actor and actress.

Marissa Jaret Winokur won best actress in a musical for her "Hairspray" turn as Tracy Turnblad, a plump teen who dances her way to glory on an "American Bandstand"-like local TV show in 1962 Baltimore, winning the cutest boy and breaking down the segregated program's racial barriers along the way.

"If a 4-foot-11 chubby New York girl can be a leading lady in a Broadway show and win a Tony, then anything is possible," said Winokur, soaring in her first big role.

Harvey Fierstein, playing her loving mom, Edna, won for best actor -- repeating his 1983 "Torch Song Trilogy" feat of winning a best actor Tony in drag. "We get letters all the time from plus-size women," he said afterward, "and they say, 'We never thought we'd see somebody so zaftig in a lead role.' "

"Hairspray" also won for best score, best book, best director (Jack O'Brien, longtime artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe Theatre) and best featured actor (Dick Latessa as Fierstein's doting husband). William Ivey Long's costume design award was the fourth Tony of his career.

Vanessa Redgrave, at 66, received her first Tony, for best actress in a play, for her celebrated performance as Mary Tyrone, the morphine-addicted mother in "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Brian Dennehy won the best actor Tony as James Tyrone, the eminent actor whose miserliness dooms his wife and their two sons. It was Dennehy's second best actor Tony, following his 1999 turn as Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman."

"Take Me Out," the Richard Greenberg play noted for full-frontal locker-room nudity among its all-male cast, and for its confrontation with issues of homophobia and racism, won for best play and earned Tonys for director Joe Mantello and actor Denis O'Hare. First-time winner O'Hare's monologue celebrating the joys of baseball was acclaimed as one of the Broadway season's most memorable scenes.

"Nine," a revival of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's 1982 Tony-winning musical based on Federico Fellini's classic "8 1/2," won for best revival of a musical and best featured actress -- Jane Krakowski in a sizzlingly sexy turn as the mistress of creatively blocked filmmaker Guido Contini. Antonio Banderas, a film star making his Broadway debut as the Don Juan-like Guido, couldn't best Fierstein for best actor. Bernadette Peters, long a Broadway staple, was nominated for best musical actress as Mama Rose in "Gypsy," losing to Winokur in a race that had been considered a dead heat.

Russell Simmons, one of the pioneering producers in rap music, accepted the award for best special theatrical event on behalf of the young crew of writer-performers of "Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on Broadway," grounded in the assertive and kinetic performance traditions of poetry slams.

Afterward, Simmons told reporters he hoped the current of diversity and mold-breaking reflected in his show's victory would continue on Broadway. "I hope it's more than a flash in the pan. A lot of people came to see our play who never did see a Broadway play before," he said. "It's a good sign."

Others applauded the diverse array of themes, genres and physical appearances that succeeded in the 57th Tony Awards.

"Men kissing each other on stage, drag queens, children. It's a perfect world," proclaimed Michele Pawk as she accepted her award for best featured actress in a play for her part in "Hollywood Arms," a short-lived play based on Carol Burnett's girlhood memoirs. She was the only winner in a show that has already closed. Pawk was referring to the affectionate display of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the creative and domestic partners who wrote the score for "Hairspray."

Greenberg, writer of "Take Me Out," is a favorite son at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa (his next Broadway-bound show, "The Violet Hour," is one of several dramas South Coast has commissioned and premiered). Asked whether his show's victory reflects a growing mainstream acceptance of gay life, he said, "I think America has reacted to show business gayness very well for several years now. Maybe it's that they think we're funny."

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