On a stunning Tony Awards night for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, whose revival of “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” proved triumphant in more categories than expected, “Matilda,” the spunky, imported, heavily favored girl-power musical, could not kick the ebullient musical comedy of drag queens and shoes, “Kinky Boots,” off the runway.
“Kinky Boots,” which was first cobbled in Chicago, unexpectedly took the Tony Sunday night for best musical, even though “Matilda” earned British playwright Dennis Kelly an award for best book of a musical (and a trio of other Tonys). But at this year's Tonys, those boots were made for winning six Tonys.
Its director-choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, was a surprise winner for best choreography (beating out the heavy favorite Peter Darling of “Matilda”) and “Kinky Boots” composer, Cyndi Lauper, won the Tony for best score. This danceable, hummable song suite was the illustrious singer-songwriter's first musical composition for Broadway.
“I can't say I wasn't practicing in front of the shower curtain,” said Lauper, sporting a flame-red coif even as her famous voice choked with emotion. “I want to thank Harvey Fierstein for calling me,” she said, “I'm so glad I was done with the dishes.”
Diane Paulus beat out the directors of both “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda” to take the Tony, her first, for best director for her circus-infused revival of “Pippin,” which, as expected, also won the Tony for best revival of a musical. The veteran comedian Andrea Martin, whose trapeze act is one of the show's most remarkable moments, won for best supporting actress in a musical and waxed lyrical on the pleasures of being an older woman, caught and held every night by a much younger man, “and never dropped.”
The Steppenwolf production of Edward Albee's “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which premiered in Chicago and then became a critical hit on Broadway last fall, won the Tony for best revival of a play, and its director, Pam MacKinnon, won the Tony for best director of play. Steppenwolf artistic director, Martha Lavey, accepting the best revival Tony as the original nonprofit producing organization, thanked both her Broadway partner, Jeffrey Richards, and her town.
“A special nod,” Lavey said, seizing the moment on national television on a remarkable night for Steppenwolf, “to the Chicago community where Steppenwolf has had its home for the last 37 years.”
The 67th annual awards were presented by the American Theatre Wing at Radio City Music Hall in New York and televised live on CBS.
The star of “Virginia Woolf,” Tracy Letts, did not lose out to Tom Hanks in the category of best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play as was widely expected. Letts, describing his fellow actors as peers rather than competitors, took home the award to Chicago.
“I share this with the actors in Chicago and in storefronts,” he said. “We are the ones who say it to their faces and we have a unique responsibility.”
Cicely Tyson, who certainly says it to people's faces, won for her acting in “A Trip to Bountiful.” “Thou art the potter,” she said. “I'm only the clay.”
Hanks had starred in “Lucky Guy,” a big hit at the box office that nonetheless was beaten out in the best play category by Christopher Durang's warm comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
With the “Matilda” girls out of the running (they got their own special Tony), that opened the door for Patina Miller to win for best actress in a musical for her work in “Pippin.” In another surprise, Billy Porter, the pride of Pittsburgh, won for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical for his starring drag role in “Kinky Boots,” beating Bertie Carvel, the acclaimed onstage nemesis of those “Matilda” girls.
This year's Tonys benefited from the funniest and most entertaining opening number in living memory — a Mel Brooks-like ditty (penned by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda) that managed to name check virtually every current Broadway show without sounding egregiously promotional. The song, flawlessly performed by host Neil Patrick Harris, featured neophyte cheerleaders, contortionists, chirpy newsies, a scene-hogging Mike Tyson and, in a Broadway season notable for the number of children in its shows, enough pint-size performers to fill, as Harris aptly quipped, a Chuck-E-Cheese.
There was even a spot for “jaded former Billys,” a group of gruff, grown men who supposedly once played the leads in “Billy Elliot” but got fired for being too old. Harris, hosting for the fourth time, also got in some early licks at the movie version of “Les Miserables.” “On Broadway we don't need extreme close-ups to prove we're singing live,” said Harris, in extreme close-up.
A second, amusingly self-deprecating number (featuring Andrew Rannells, Megan Hilty and Laura Benanti and penned by Michael John LaChiusa) was dedicated to Broadway stars who had seen their TV shows canceled. “Kiss L.A. goodbye,” went the changed lyric to “What I Did for Love.” “It's back to four-show weekends.”
Songs from musicals currently playing on Broadway were especially numerous this year: Even “The Phantom of the Opera,” celebrating 25 years on Broadway and a stunning worldwide grosses of some $5.6 billion, got in on the act.
Other moments were more annoying (three commercials for the Royal Caribbean cruise line) or more weird (a shot of Alan Cumming and Scarlet Johansson playing pat-a-cake in the wings or the pairing of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sigourney Weaver as presenters). Stranger yet, the actors working on Broadway in shows like “The Lion King” got to make presentations, hyping their own show, but as their characters rather than themselves.
And any insomniac kid who thought there was only one “Spiderman” had his dreams shattered Sunday night by multiples. Then again, the Tonys would not be the Tonys without something to complain about, along with the ever-joyous spectacle of watching myriad wishes fulfilled.
Winners of the 2013 American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards
BEST PLAY: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang
BEST MUSICAL: “Kinky Boots”
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY: “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL: “Pippin”
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL: “Matilda the Musical” by Dennis Kelly
BEST LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY: Tracy Letts, “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Cicely Tyson, “The Trip to Bountiful”
BEST LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Billy Porter, “Kinky Boots”
BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Patina Miller, “Pippin”
BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: Courtney B. Vance, “Lucky Guy”
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Judith Light, “The Assembled Parties”
BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Gabriel Ebert, “Matilda the Musical”
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Andrea Martin, “Pippin”
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY: John Lee Beatty, “The Nance”
BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Rob Howell, “Matilda the Musical”
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY: Ann Roth, “The Nance”
BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: William Ivey Long, “Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella”
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY: Pam MacKinnon, “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL: Diane Paulus, “Pippin”
BEST CHOREOGRAPHY: Jerry Mitchell, “Kinky Boots”
BEST ORCHESTRATIONS: Stephen Oremus, “Kinky Boots”
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY: Leon Rothenberg, “The Nance”
BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: John Shivers, “Kinky Boots”
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE THEATRE: Bernard Gersten, Paul Libin and Ming Cho Lee
ISABELLE STEVENSON AWARD: Larry Kramer
REGIONAL THEATRE AWARD: Huntington Theatre Company of Boston
The 67th Annual Tony Awards were presented Sunday by the American Theatre Wing at Radio City Music Hall in New York. For more information, go to tonyawards.com