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THE 2011 TONY AWARDS

'Mormon,' 'War Horse' ride high

Led by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, 'Book' wins nine awards, including best musical. 'War Horse' garners best play plus four other awards.

June 13, 2011|Reed Johnson

"The Book of Mormon," the exuberantly foul-mouthed hit show about comically mismatched missionaries in AIDS-ravaged Africa, won the award for best musical, along with eight other awards, and Nick Stafford's "War Horse," starring a life-size puppet of a noble steed, won five awards capped by the best play trophy at Sunday's Tony Awards ceremony in New York.

As was widely predicted, Sutton Foster won as actress in a musical award for Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," the best musical revival winner. Mark Rylance won the actor in a play award for "Jerusalem." Frances McDormand won the actress in a play award for "Good People." Norbert Leo Butz was named for actor in a musical, playing a dogged lawman tracking an elusive con artist in "Catch Me If You Can." It was the second Tony each for Rylance and Butz.

The steamroller showing by "Book of Mormon," whose artistic team was led by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in their first Broadway foray, came as no surprise to anyone, including presenter Chris Rock, who feigned shock! shock! as he announced the winner.

"Book of Mormon" had topped the list of nominees with 14, despite -- or perhaps because of -- its aggressively politically incorrect tone, which continued during the ceremony at the Beacon Theatre in New York. In accepting the award, Parker thanked "our co-writer, Joseph Smith," the founding father of the Mormon faith.

"Book of Mormon" fell short, however, of the record number of 12 Tonys won by "The Producers" a decade ago.

In contrast to Parker and Stone's irreverent entertainment, another of the evening's most-honored shows, the best play-winning revival of Larry Kramer's 1985 "The Normal Heart," treats its serious subject as anything but a laughing matter. Kramer's drama raised an impassioned warning cry about the AIDS crisis when it was first produced at the Public Theatre 26 years ago.

In accepting the award, Kramer gave a shout-out to gay men and women. "I could not have written it had not so many needlessly died," he said of his drama, which also won acting awards for Ellen Barkin (lead actress) and John Benjamin Hickey (featured actor). First-time nominee Barkin, in her acceptance speech, teared up as she thanked Kramer "for thinking you can make the world a better place."

Of the principal cast for "Book of Mormon," Nikki M. James won for performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical. The show also won trophies for original score and for book (to Parker, Stone and Robert Lopez), direction (Parker and Casey Nicholaw), orchestration (Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus), scenic design (Scott Pask), lighting design (Brian MacDevitt), and sound design (Brian Ronan).

"War Horse," which is based on a children's novel set during World War I, and is being adapted into a feature film by Steven Spielberg, won awards for its directors, Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris. It also won for best sound, scenic and lighting design.

McDormand, the star of the Coen brothers' "Fargo" and other films, scored with her portrayal of an embattled Boston single mother in David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People."

In one of the evening's most competitive categories, best actor Rylance won for his turn as a Falstaffian modern-day antihero in Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem." Fixing the audience with a mischievous look, Rylance turned his acceptance speech into a slyly absurdist, blank-verse ramble (courtesy of a Louis Jenkins poem) before concluding with a simple thank-you.

Echoing the honors bestowed on "The Normal Heart," the ceremony made a point several times of emphasizing sexual tolerance. That started with a comic opening number led by host Neil Patrick Harris on the theme that Broadway isn't "just for gays anymore," it's also "for fine upstanding Christians who know all the songs from 'Grease.' "

John Larroquette won the award for actor in a featured role in a musical for the revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." The actor, best known for his television roles, thanked the musical's star, "Harry Potter's" Daniel Radcliffe, "without whom I would be sitting at home watching this in my underwear."

Predictably, there were also a number of guffaws at the expense of the eternally postponed musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." The $70-million musical, scheduled to open Tuesday, has endured countless delays and earlier this year was halted for a creative makeover that included replacing its original director, Tony-winner Julie Taymor.

Cameras captured the show's songwriting duo, Bono and the Edge of the rock band U2, laughing during Harris' 30-second joke-a-thon about "Spider-Man." Later, as the band mates introduced a musical number from their show, they professed admiration and having been humbled by their Broadway experience.

As has been customary in recent years, the ceremony got an extra dose of celebrity cachet from a number of Hollywood stars, TV personalities and supermodels who turned up as presenters and performers: Brooke Shields (who got bleeped for an impromptu obscenity), Hugh Jackman, Stephen Colbert, a breathlessly effusive Christie Brinkley and a hirsute Robin Williams, who has been making his Broadway debut in the drama "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo."

Theatrical royalty was on hand, in the venerable personages of presenters Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, who spoke of theaters as magic places and "shrines." "The floorboards are worn down by generations of players," Jones intoned in his best Darth Vader bass-baritone. "The curtains are imbued with secrets of days gone by."

--

reed.johnson@latimes.com

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