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ANALYSIS: 'Kinky Boots' Kicks Aside Tony Awards Competition

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?"

Tony winner Billy Porter in "Kinky Boots"
Matthew Murphy

NEW YORK -- These boots are made for walking.

Stomping all over early forecasts of a win for Matilda, Kinky Boots took the top prize for best musical at the 67th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday night, triumphing in six of the 13 categories in which it was nominated.

PHOTOS: Tony Awards 2013: Red Carpet Arrivals

Based on the 2005 Miramax movie of the same name, the show is about a struggling British shoe factory that escapes bankruptcy by diversifying into the niche market of manufacturing thigh-highs for drag queens. In addition to the main prize – the Tony Award generally perceived as translating into the biggest box office boost – it won for pop royalty Cyndi Lauper’s first original musical score.

“I can’t say I wasn’t practicin’ in front of the shower curtain for a couple of days for this speech,” confessed an emotional Lauper, sporting a brilliant flame-red faux-hawk.

The show also took the lead actor in a musical trophy for Billy Porter as Lola, a drag queen performer with a fierce strut, a load of daddy issues and extravagant taste in footwear. And director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell won his second Tony for his high-stepping dance moves.

Matilda arrived from London flush with a record seven Olivier Awards (Britain’s equivalent of the Tonys) and was initially considered a preordained winner. But the pendulum swung toward Kinky Boots in the weeks since the nominations were announced.

Chalk that up to a backlash against the perceived arrogance of Matilda producers the Royal Shakespeare Company, to far more aggressive campaigning during the voting period by the Kinky Boots contingent and to the different palates of Broadway theatergoers from their West End counterparts.

While critics bedecked Matilda with some of the best reviews of the season, Tony voters clearly found the show’s dark humor less of a turn-on than the feel-good emotional kick of Kinky Boots. Both musicals have been playing to capacity business, but Kinky Boots is considered to have stronger North American touring prospects, which may have been another factor in its victory. Lead producers on the winning show are Daryl Roth and Hal Luftig.

But let’s be honest. As entertaining as Kinky Boots is, it’s a rehash of familiar elements, right down to its generic message of acceptance. By far the more inventive musical in terms of its boldly imaginative storytelling, its clever score and its dazzling theater craft, Matilda was robbed.

Of its 12 nominations, the show won just four. That included a nod for Dennis Kelly’s book, adapted from the Roald Dahl novel about a 5-year-old genius beset by crass parents and a tyrannical headmistress; and featured actor honors for Gabriel Ebert as the title character’s proudly philistine father.

STORY: Tonys: Complete Winners List

The tight race for the main prize injected genuine nail-biting suspense into the ceremony at Radio City Music Hall, hosted for the fourth time by Neil Patrick Harris and aired live on CBS.

On the play side, top honors went, as expected, to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s witty and wise midlife reflection on Chekhovian themes through a contemporary lens. After bowing Off Broadway, the Lincoln Center Theater production, directed by Nicholas Martin, moved with its six-member original cast intact, including Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen. The award – Vanya’s lone win out of six nominations – served to honor an idiosyncratic playwright with a long and illustrious history on New York stages, despite limited success on Broadway.

“I wrote my first play in the second grade in 1958,” said Durang. “It is now 2013 – it’s been a long road.”

The failure of any original show this year to secure a major awards sweep along the lines of recent victors like The Book of Mormon, Billy Elliot or Once can be attributed to uncommonly strong contenders in the revival categories.

Following recent wins for her productions of Hair and Porgy and Bess, Diane Paulus again shepherded the show crowned as best musical revival to Broadway with her eye-popping circus-themed reimagining of the 1972 favorite Pippin. That production snagged four Tonys in all, including Paulus’ first win for direction of a musical after two previous nominations.

A long-gestating movie of the Stephen Schwartz-Roger O. Hirson show is being developed by The Weinstein Co.; Matthew Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) was recently attached as screenwriter. Tony attention and robust box office may help the open-ended Broadway revival stick around long enough to milk some cross-promotional bounty if the film version moves forward.

In an audacious gender flip on a role made famous by Ben Vereen in Bob Fosse’s original production, Patina Miller was named best lead actress in a musical for her seductively sinister turn in Pippin as the Leading Player. And in the ceremony’s closest thing to an absolute lock, Andrea Martin surprised no one by winning for featured actress in a musical as the title character’s indomitable exiled grandmother. Who’s going to deny a Tony to any actress in her mid-60s who can rock a leotard while doing trapeze work and leading a karaoke chorus upside-down? Martin previously won in the same category for My Favorite Year in 1993.

VIDEO: Neil Patrick Harris Mocks Shia LeBeouf, Mike Tyson Cameos in Tonys Opener

The award for revival of a play went to Pam MacKinnon’s penetrating take on Edward Albee’s 1962 drama of marital mud-slinging, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which originated at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and co-starred Tracy Letts and Amy Morton. That production also scored direction of a play honors for MacKinnon, who was nominated last year for her staging of 2012 best play Tony winner Clybourne Park.

The awards for Paulus and MacKinnon mark only the second time in Tony history that two women have been honored for directing in the same year.

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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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MUSICAL: Kinky Boots

PLAY: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christoper Durang

BOOK OF A MUSICAL: Dennis Kelly, Matilda

ORIGINAL SCORE: Kinky Boots, music & lyrics by Cyndi Lauper

MUSICAL REVIVAL: Pippin

PLAY REVIVAL: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

LEAD ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Billy Porter, Kinky Boots

LEAD ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Patina Miller, Pippin

LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY: Tracy Letts, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

LEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful

FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Gabriel Ebert, Matilda

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Andrea Martin, Pippin

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: Courtney B. Vance, Lucky Guy

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Judith Light, The Assembled Parties

DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL: Diane Paulus, Pippin

DIRECTION OF A PLAY: Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

CHOREOGRAPHY: Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots

ORCHESTRATIONS: Stephen Oremus, Kinky Boots

SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Rob Howell, Matilda

SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY: John Lee Beatty, The Nance

COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: William Ivey Long, Cinderella

COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY: Ann Roth, The Nance

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Hugh Vanstone, Matilda

LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Lucky Guy

SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: John Shivers, Kinky Boots

SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY: Leon Rothenberg, The Nance

SPECIAL LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS: Bernard Gersten, Paul Libin, Ming Cho Lee

REGIONAL THEATRE AWARD: Huntington Theatre Company, Boston

ISABELLE STEVENSON AWARD: Larry Kramer

TONY HONORS FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE THEATRE: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; Career Transition for Dancers; William Craver; Peter Lawrence; The Lost Colony; and the four actresses alternating in the title role in Matilda, Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon, Milly Shapiro

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