June 11, 2006

Alan Bennett, “Jersey Boys” win big at Tonys

By Claudia Parsons and Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Alan Bennett's "The History Boys" won
six Tony Awards including best play on Sunday, and the 1960s
Four Seasons biographical show "Jersey Boys" overcame the
stigma against "jukebox musicals" to win best musical.

"The History Boys" dominated the drama category, winning
best director, actor and supporting actress, as well as best
play, adding to a clutch of awards it picked up in London where
it started life at the National Theater.

The honors for musicals were more evenly divided, with
"Jersey Boys" winning four, including best actor for John Lloyd
Young, and supporting actor, Christian Hoff.

Its main rival, "The Drowsy Chaperone," a parody of 1920s
musicals, won five awards, including best book and best score,
as well as best supporting actress for Beth Leavel.

Best actress in a musical went to LaChanze, the star of
"The Color Purple," a show based on Alice Walker's novel that
ended up with just one award despite 11 nominations.

A new production of "Sweeney Todd" first seen in London won
best director of a musical, for John Doyle.

Three of the original members of the Four Seasons were in
the audience as "Jersey Boys" picked up the award for best
musical, overcoming what director Des McAnuff said was a deep
prejudice against musicals based on existing popular music.

"I think we were a little bit tainted by this 'jukebox
musical' term," McAnuff told reporters backstage. He said he
preferred to think of "Jersey Boys" as a history play along the
lines of Shakespeare, with celebrities as the new royalty.

Featuring hits such as "Sherry" and "Oh What a Night," the
show is the story of how four boys from New Jersey came from
nowhere to be among the biggest pop stars of the 1960s.

"People don't really know we're a rock-and-roll biography,"
Young told reporters after winning the award for best actor for
his role as Four Seasons frontman Frankie Valli, adding that
just 18 months ago he was working as an usher on Broadway.


On the dramatic side, it was a good night for the British.

Set in a boys' school, "The History Boys" stars Richard
Griffiths as an eccentric teacher preparing teen-agers for
university entrance exams.

"When we were told we were coming to Broadway we were a bit
nervous about the response and whether the play would mean
anything really over here," Bennett said, accepting the award.

Griffiths won the award for best actor, Frances de la Tour
won for best supporting actress and Nicholas Hytner won best
director. The show also won awards for lighting and scenery.

Another Briton, Ian McDiarmid, was named best supporting
actor in a play for "Faith Healer," one of a clutch of Irish
works nominated for awards.

"Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon, who won best actress
in a play for playing a bereaved mother in "Rabbit Hole," paid
tribute to the foreign imports. "Other countries, particularly
Britain, invest in their theaters in the way our government
doesn't," she said.

Two classic American shows won the awards for best revivals
-- Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing!" in the play category and
"The Pajama Game" on the musical side.

The Tonys had been seen as what one critic called a
"two-way referendum" on the American musical -- pitting "Jersey
Boys" with its well-known hits against "The Drowsy Chaperone,"
an entirely original show paying tribute to the genre's
traditions and absurdities.

Although it missed out on the big awards, "Drowsy" picked
up five trophies, capping a fairy tale success story for its
Canadian creators, who first wrote it as a skit to be performed
at writer and lead actor Bob Martin's bachelor party.

"This started as such a small thing and has grown to this
marvelous creation," Martin said, adding that the musical had
retained its "quirky" Canadian character from fringe theaters
to Broadway.

The 60th Tony Awards were presented at Radio City Music
Hall by a string of Broadway stars, from Julie Andrews to Glenn
Close, as well as Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts, and Oprah
Winfrey, a producer of "The Color Purple."