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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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