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`Spring' shout-out

Alt-rock show tops the night with eight awards; `Coast of Utopia' has seven.

June 11, 2007|Mike Boehm and Patrick Pacheco | Special to The Times

New York — "SPRING Awakening," the musical lauded for giving Broadway fresh impetus by using rock songs to intensify its tale of teenagers wrestling with their libidos in 19th century Germany, racked up eight Tony Awards on Sunday night.

Its haul during the Tonys' 61st annual ceremonies, televised by CBS from Radio City Music Hall, included best musical, score -- by composer Duncan Sheik and librettist Steven Sater -- book and direction of a musical, by Michael Mayer, who deployed a cast of young unknowns in a show drawn faithfully from Frank Wedekind's 1891 play. The choreographer, modern dance notable Bill T. Jones, also won a Tony in his first Broadway outing.

"Musical theater rocks," proclaimed Sheik, a staple on the alternative-rock touring and recording circuit since his 1996 hit "Barely Breathing." He and Elton John ("Aida") are the only rockers to win Tonys for music written expressly for the stage.

"The Coast of Utopia" won seven Tonys, setting a record for a straight play. The previous record holders, "Death of a Salesman" (1949) and "The History Boys" (2006), received six apiece. Tom Stoppard's three-part epic account of a group of 19th century Russian reformers who confined themselves to ideas rather than the violent upheaval later fomented by the Bolsheviks, their 20th century successors. It was Stoppard's fourth Tony for best play in nearly four decades, beginning with "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" in 1968; Arthur Miller and Neil Simon each won three Tonys.

"I feel a bit nostalgic," Stoppard said as he accepted the award, noting that it had been 40 years since "Rosencrantz" opened on Broadway. "It was a different planet in 1967. They had little ashtrays clamped to the backs of the seats, and the author got 10% of the gross."

Among the awards for "The Coast of Utopia" was Jack O'Brien's for best direction of a play -- the third Tony in five years for the artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

The two shows' dominance was no surprise. Pundits and theater insiders had predicted there would be little suspense in an evening of clear-cut favorites, and that's how it played out.

The best musical revival was "Company," the 1970 Stephen Sondheim-George Furth show that was retooled with the actors doubling as the show's onstage band -- the same device director John Doyle previously used for another Sondheim standard, "Sweeney Todd."

"Journey's End," R.C. Sherriff's 1920s drama about British soldiers in the trenches of World War I, won an expected Tony as best revival of a play.

The offbeat musical "Grey Gardens" and the drama "Frost/Nixon" had been considered worthy but doomed rivals to "Spring Awakening" and "The Coast of Utopia," but -- also as expected -- they broke through in the acting categories. Frank Langella's portrayal of Richard Nixon, praised for its poignancy, earned him the award for best actor in a play, his third career Tony after two as a featured actor. He prevailed in a stellar field that included Liev Schreiber ("Talk Radio"), Brian F. O'Byrne ("The Coast of Utopia"), Christopher Plummer ("Inherit the Wind") and Boyd Gaines ("Journey's End"), past Tony winners all.

In what was clearly the evening's most popular award with the Radio City audience, Christine Ebersole won as best actress in a musical for doing double duty in "Grey Gardens" as Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie, two eccentric New York relatives of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Mary Louise Wilson, playing the aged Edith, won for best featured actress in a musical. It was Ebersole's second Tony for best musical actress; she won six years ago for "42nd Street."

Only one traditional musical, "Curtains," managed a major award: David Hyde Pierce's for best actor in his comic turn as a stage-struck detective investigating the death of the leading lady of a 1950s musical.

One of the few tossup categories was best actress in a play. Julie White, a relatively unknown stage veteran, won for her satiric portrayal of a manipulative Hollywood agent trying to keep her gay client closeted to protect his chances for stardom in "The Little Dog Laughed."

Other nominees in the category were Vanessa Redgrave ("The Year of Magical Thinking"), Angela Lansbury ("Deuce"), Eve Best ("A Moon for the Misbegotten") and Swoosie Kurtz ("Heartbreak House"). "I never imagined I would be on a list like this, unless it was for dinner reservations," whooped the exultant White. "And then to get the tchotchke!"

Playing a young suicide in "Spring Awakening," John Gallagher Jr. won the Tony for featured actor in a musical. "The Coast of Utopia" conquered in the dramatic featured acting categories: Billy Crudup as a literary critic railing against czarist oppression and Jennifer Ehle for three roles. Ehle won the 2000 Tony for best actress in Stoppard's "The Real Thing."

The ventriloquism show "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" won for special theatrical event.

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