Tony Awards 2015: The Winners' Reactions

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Kelli O'Hara

Helen Mirren, Kelli O'Hara, Alex Sharp, Michael Cerveris, Ruthie Ann Miles, Christian Borle, Annaleigh Ashford, Richard McCabe and directors Sam Gold and Marianne Elliott celebrated their wins.

After they took the stage to receive their Broadway-lauding honor and gushed their happy thanks onstage, the winners of the 2015 Tony Awards spoke to the press backstage.

Here's what Sunday's winners had to say:

Kelli O'Hara, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, The King and I

"I've never been to one of these — what do I do?" the first-time winner, nominated six times, asked reporters. "[My character] Anna is a trailblazer and I want to be like her." When her name was called, "I completely lost my mind. I don't know if that was obvious! … I just wanted to be able to say thank you to a lot of important people, and that's the most important part, to be grateful. I am grateful, so in being grateful, I find great joy." The actress, who often plays roles in Rodgers & Hammerstein stagings, said of the duo, "I want to do lots of new things, but they are running through my veins. They're in my blood." And of that acceptance-speech dance: "That was the 'Shuffle Off to Buffalo.' Very poorly done in Jimmy Choo shoes! … I thought they were gonna tap me off, so I wanted to beat them to it."

Alex Sharp, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

"I feel like I've won it for my character, Christopher, and people like Christopher and people he represents. I feel like that's where my victory lies, not over my competitors. … It was honestly one of the highest-adrenaline moments in my life. It was very, very overwhelming," Sharp told reporters. Beyond the Tony, the most rewarding part of playing a character on the autistic spectrum is that "people like Christopher, and there are a lot of people like Christopher in a lot of different ways … feel that the production works to create compassion and empathy, which is something I think is missing form society for people like that." And when asked how he will avoid the pitfalls of fame, he joked, "I think it's too late — I'm already stuck-up!"

Helen Mirren, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, The Audience

"Trains, heels, drinks — lethal combination," she said while stepping into the press room with her vodka gimlet. After winning her first Tony for playing Queen Elizabeth II in the play that spans six decades. She's now one award away from joining the EGOT club. "I really want a Grammy! It's terrible, isn't it? I have to do an audio book of some sort!" Are there plans to do so? "Not at the moment, no. But you know what, I'm thinking about it." When asked about sound advice, she told reporters, "Overcome fear.' I think it was absolutely the wisest thing that anyone ever said to me — apart from my husband telling me that I should do this play on Broadway!" And will she play the Queen again? "I don't think I'll do it again. I think Her Majesty is sick to her teeth with me. … But it's such a clever play, and an incredible challenge."

Michael Cerveris, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, Fun Home

"At first, I have to admit that I didn't see my way into it. … But in addition to his struggles with his sexuality, at base, he was also a father," he told reporters of the complicated character. "I think it's extraordinary this year, the two shows that have been so celebrated — Curious Incident and our show — they're both about people who, at first glance, are not accepted and people who have not been able to see themselves as part of the culture we all share. If this is some indication that the world is ready to start looking at each other, not as the other, I think that would be an extraordinary result from this season." He admitted that the role has "made me a much more open-hearted person, I think. It's made me look at prejudices and assumptions of my own, even with people I feel very close to. ... My investment in the world is greater."

Best Play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The creative team behind the hit play were beaming over their win, but when asked about the production's performances specifically tailored for autistic audience members, author Simon Stephens told reporters, "It's been one of the most remarkable experiences I've ever had in the theater. These relaxed performances, which is performances where they … keep the doors open so people are allowed to leave if they find it stressful or unsettling, they can come and go as they want to. It's targeted to autistic audiences and their families — they're extraordinarily moving. … They recognize their experience or their family's experiences." And when asked about the possibility of a film adaptation, he said, "I don't write screenplays, I write stage plays."

Best Musical, Fun Home

The small-scale musical took home the big prize. "Quality is what matters, and if you do a quality show, audiences will respond to it" regardless of size, said producer Barbara Whitman. Kristin Caskey added, "Everyone comes from a family, so everyone can relate to Fun Home in some way." The show is set to tour next year, and producers are "absolutely not" worried about the national reaction to the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. "This musical is of its time, and something is going on," said Mike Isaacson. "The reaction we're getting in Circle in the Square is beyond politics. … [And] we're in the age of Netflix. We're in the age of being used to, not everything is the same." And graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, whose parents were in theater, said, "I wish my parents could've seen it. … In some weird other level of reality, my parents are ecstatic about this play."

Best Revival of a Musical, The King and I

"The competition this year was positive and healthy. You get in this race, but if you're surrounded by productions that are wonderful, productions of enormous quality, all the negatives about being competitive go away," Andre Bishop told reporters, also praising the season's snubbed revivals like Side Show. In choosing to have the Rogers & Hammerstein classic restaged at Lincoln Center, it's because "I had this vision of Kelli in the large ballgown, dancing in the Beaumont. … I felt it was a show that speaks to the world again today."

Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre, Fun Home
Lisa Kron, Best Book of a Musical, Fun Home

The honor marked the first time an all-female writing team has won the Tony for best score. "That's a big deal, y'all, it's 2015 — it's time," Tesori smiled backstage. "If we can be the image for young girls to say, 'What did they win for? Who is that?' like I did, that will start it." Kron added, "When producers and directors look at young artists, … I think people take chances on men based on their potential, and they take chances on women based on their accomplishments." Why should people see Fun Home? "It's a really well-made musical, and I've made some musicals that are shitty. … They should be able to see this and recognize themselves inside this musical."

Sam Gold, Best Direction of a Musical, Fun Home

"I took what was supposed to be my year at home and turned it into a year of a lot of work," said the director of the intimately staged musical, which has become a hit. "I knew I connected with the material in a very, very deep way, and I knew Jeanine and Lisa were doing something very ambitious. … And in a certain way, that made me feel like, absolutely not, it wouldn't have commercial success; it was too ambitious. The thing about this night that is so moving is it's a rare moment when something can be artistically ambitious and commercially successful, and I think, knock on wood, that we have that in this show. And it's a very rare thing."

Marianne Elliott, Best Direction of a Play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

"I just found it very profound and very moving — I actually saw it as a film at first," she said after her win. Is a big-screen adaptation in the works of the hit play? "Warner Bros. has the [film] rights, so that's up to them!" However, she's proud of her moment for the theater industry and her home country. "When I was growing up, I didn't know any female directors. I assumed you had to be a man. … It's getting better in Britain now, but it's still quite unusual. But I feel pretty good about it."

Ruthie Ann Miles, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, The King and I

For Asian-American theater actors, "I think the future is so bright, and it's very rewarding for us to have worked and practiced and auditioned, and gone into audition after audition. … We have a chance to put out what we've been dreaming for our whole lives." Who inspires her most? Miles tearfully told reporters, "Growing up, it was just me and my mom. And when you have no one else in the family to really go to or to vent at, your mom becomes your worst enemy, but that same time I knew she was all I had. In hindsight, my mom is my everything. She's a single mom, she worked three jobs. … She was sacrificing her life so I could go to college." Her advice to her teenage self: "Don't be a dentist! … I was studying be a dentist."

Richard McCabe, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, The Audience

"I was offered the part of Cromwell in Wolf Hall, but I had to make a very quick decision about it. ... I decided to stay with [The Audience]," McCabe said of playing Harold Wilson in London and on Broadway. "I would've been in direct competition with myself!" He added that British candidates can learn from his character about "at least trying to come across as if you mean what you say! I think they have an impossible job, politicians, and having played four prime ministers in the past three years, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Because whatever you say is going to be taken out of context, turned around and used against you. It really is very hard for any politician to speak the truth in this media age."

Christian Borle, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Something Rotten!

What did the Shakespeare-playing winner mean by not needing to "catch every mouse" in his acceptance speech? "Roger is my director in Peter and the Starcatcher and he knew I was a little ambitious in trying to land every single joke and gag in that show. … It was a note about restraint, which I wasn't particularly good at the time." He called his second win "obviously unreal — having one is enough. And this truly is an embarrassment of riches." Now that the show's schedule has swapped to giving the cast Wednesday nights off, he's most excited to see Fun Home, An American in Paris and Hand to God.

Annaleigh Ashford, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, You Can't Take It With You

"People told me I went too far all the time," she told reporters of playing the production's funny girl. Ashford was ecstatic for fellow winner Borle, with whom she co-starred in Legally Blonde: The Musical, and who was recently on Masters of Sex as well. "He played Michael Sheen's brother!" Of women climbing the creative ranks in the theater world, she recalled when, two years ago, Cyndi Lauper won the Tony for Kinky Boots' original score. "I remember that being such a milestone, and it's great to see women continuing the trend." Next, she's in the fall revival of Sylvia. "My dog and I have enrolled in obedience and speed and agility classes this summer. … We will be learning the finer points of dog behavior!"

John Cameron Mitchell, Special Tony Award

"My mother — at first when Hedwig came out, it was a little too much to handle, but she's seen over the years reflected in the faces of the people who've seen it, she's seen it's not so scary. And that's what happened with Broadway too," he said of the revived musical. "The world's changed, but we haven't that much." And of his starring run, "I had more fun doing it this year than I did back then! … I quit acting before, but I want to act again." The advice he gives to the lead actors who rotate in? "That the character is there by accident, because of tragedy, and to keep the undercurrent of emotion throughout. There's a lot of jokes, there's a lot of surface fun, but to keep the through line of someone who has been damaged, and triumphs and finds themselves in the end. … That's why we're so excited so many people can relate to it and play Hedwig. Everyone is Hedwig now." While the show is headed for the West End — "We're trying to get the right person; I can't say who it is yet" — the sequel is "still bubbling, but I'm doing a film, Stephen Trask is working on another musical, so it's gonna be a little while."

Twitter: @cashleelee

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