ANALYSIS: 'Kinky Boots' Kicks Aside Tony Awards Competition

8:54 PM PST 06/09/2013 by David Rooney
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Matthew Murphy
Tony winner Billy Porter in "Kinky Boots"

Other major winners at Broadway's 67th annual honors ceremony included "Pippin," "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

The major upset of the night was a win for lead actor in a play for Letts for his indelible reassessment of henpecked academic George in the Virginia Woolf revival. Letts previously won a Tony as the author of 2008 best play August: Osage County, which has been adapted for the screen in an upcoming Weinstein Co. release starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

“I feel very much like an ambassador from Chicago,” said Letts in the Radio City press room. “I am a Chicago artist who occasionally exhibits in New York.”

Despite overwhelming critical support for Letts, Tom Hanks had been widely tipped to take the lead actor trophy for his warmly received Broadway debut in Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy. That smash-hit production instead won for featured actor Courtney B. Vance and for lighting.

In the evening’s most sentimental yet not undeserved award, Cicely Tyson won for lead actress in a play for her heart-melting turn as an elderly Texan widow desperate to go back one last time to her small-town home in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful. The revival marked the 88-year-old stage and screen veteran’s first time on Broadway in three decades. The win also gives her the distinction of becoming the oldest performer ever to take home a Tony Award.

“When I think of the moment where I stand before you, this moment, I cannot help but remember all of the thumbprints that have touched this being along the course of her career,” said a regal Tyson. “I’m the sole surviving member of my immediate family, and I’ve asked over and over again why. I now know why.”

Lead actress in a play was arguably the year’s most competitive category, with stellar work from other nominees Morton, Nielsen, Laurie Metcalf in The Other Place and Holland Taylor in Ann, as well as from shutouts including Jessica Hecht in The Assembled Parties and Bette Midler in I’ll Eat You Last.

In addition to being a banner Tony Awards edition for women directors, the wins for Tyson, Porter, Miller and Vance made for a remarkably strong showing by black actors.

In other acting honors, Judith Light won featured actress in a play for her acerbic role in Richard Greenberg’s reflection on the sorrows and rewards of time for an Upper West Side secular Jewish family, The Assembled Parties. That makes two in a row for Light, having won in the same category last year for Other Desert Cities.

Many theater pundits expressed disappointment that The Nance, Douglas Carter Beane’s seriocomedy starring Nathan Lane as a gay burlesque performer in 1930s New York, was excluded from the best play nominations. But that production was compensated to some degree by scoring three Tonys, for sets, costumes (the first for Oscar winner Ann Roth), and sound.

Having won Emmys for two of his previous turns as emcee and producer of the Tony telecast, Harris pumped it up for his return to Radio City following two editions at the more intimate Beacon Theatre.

He underlined that supersized shift by opening with a song called “It’s Bigger” (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt), in which he literally jumped through a hoop in a nod to Pippin, paired with unlikely song-and-dance partner Mike Tyson (butt of several jokes through the evening), and shared the stage with hordes of kids from the casts of Annie, Matilda and A Christmas Story. In a rap break mid-song, Harris took a dig at Tom Hooper’s screen version of Les Miserables, saying, “On Broadway we don’t need extreme closeups to prove we’re singing live.”

Harris also roped in good sports Andrew Rannells (The New Normal), Megan Hilty (Smash) and Laura Benanti (The Playboy Club) for a funny musical routine on stage actors bruised by their canceled TV shows, rubbing salt in their wounds by referencing his own long-running series.

Selling tickets to Broadway shows is as much a function of the Tony Awards as honoring theater artists. On that score, the telecast delivered, with numbers from Matilda, Cinderella, Annie (featuring new cast member Jane Lynch), Pippin, Kinky Boots and A Christmas Story (returning next holiday season) all making winning impressions that are sure to bump box office. Perhaps even more so the medley from Motown: The Musical, which featured pint-size dynamo Raymond Luke Jr. as the young Michael Jackson.

The telecast’s undisputed class act was Lauper doing a lovely rendition of “True Colors” during the In Memoriam segment.

Harris wrapped things up with another rap recapping the ceremony, this one modeled on Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” with multiple Tony winner Audra McDonald standing in for Alicia Keys. But arguably, Harris’ most out-there touch during the show – unless fashionistas count the gray tux with burgundy bow tie and pocket square – was tongue-kissing Sandy, the four-legged featured star of Annie, on national television.

A complete list of 2013 Tony Award winners can be found on the next page.

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