Familiar names and stories triumph at Tony Awards

Tony Awards

Credit: Getty Images for Tony Awards Pro

Playwright Robert Schenkkan accepts the award for Best Play for "All The Way" during the 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

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by ELYSA GARDNER

USA TODAY

Posted on June 8, 2014 at 11:52 PM

NEW YORK -- Some big stars were honored, and others acknowledged, when this year's Tony Awards were handed out Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall.

As widely predicted, Neil Patrick Harris earned the Tony for performance by a leading actor in a musical, for his spellbinding portrait of an East German transgender rocker in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, also named best revival of a musical; and Bryan Cranston took the prize for leading actor in a play for his portrayal of LBJ in All The Way, which won best play. (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, the production that entered with the most nominations, took best musical.)

 

But an even more established star who was eligible for Broadway's biggest prize in Cranston's category was not forgotten, though he hadn't even been nominated.

An acclaimed staging of A Raisin in the Sun featuring that star, Denzel Washington, won best revival of a play, and also best direction, for Kenny Leon. Leon opened his acceptance speech with three words: "Denzel, Denzel, Denzel."

Leon was more blunt in the media room, telling reporters, "Yes, Denzel was snubbed" -- before stopping to watch Sophie Okonedo, who won featured actress in a play for portraying Washington's character's wife, accept on one of two screens showing the ceremony in progress. "Wow," Leon said, clearly moved.

 

Another member of Raisin's cast, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, lost leading actress to Audra McDonald, who earned her sixth Tony -- a record for a performer -- for playing Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. Jessie Mueller was awarded best leading actress in a musical for playing another music legend in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Both Mueller and McDonald gave emotional acceptance speeches that paid homage to, among others, the women they brought to life (or back to life, in McDonald's case) on stage. McDonald remarked that Holiday "deserved so much more than you were given on this planet."

 

Asked in the media room how she felt about setting a new record, McDonald replied, "I'm overwhelmed -- completely overwhelmed, and grateful."

Cranston was asked if he had done research to play an American president who championed civil rights after Holiday died, and responded, chuckling, "It feels like I'm still doing it." The actor added that he had wanted to capture traits that had also aimed to capture the "good ole boy, back-slapping, story telling s--- kicker" in Johnson.

 

Mueller and King arrived in the media room together, where the latter admitted that she had "learned a lot of new things about myself watching Jessie portray me." As a younger artist, the singer/songwriter said, "I had no idea who I was," and she added that "to myself as the woman I was then and actually like myself" was a "gift."

Harris told reporters that painting his nails a garish color for his role in Hewdig was no biggie: Having three-and-a-half year old twins at home, "we do nail color all the time."

Another prominent winner was Gentleman's Guide director Darko Tresnjak, who had faced stiff competition from Michael Mayer, who guided Harris in Hedwig. Tresnjak thanked his husband and his mother; the latter "literally taught me to jump out of airplanes," who fought during World War II and is still alive.

Robert L. Freedman's book for Guide also won. Accepting, Freedman acknowledged leading man (and leading actor nominee) Jefferson Mays, who "died so beautifully 64 times a week" in the romp, in which Mays juggled eight roles. (The award for original score went to The Bridges of Madison County composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown.)

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