June 16, 2008

Heady ‘Heights’ for Tony Awards Night – Especially for Folks With Dallas Connections

By Lawson Taitte, The Dallas Morning News

Jun. 16--There was nary a surprise in sight at the 2008 Tony Awards -- which was great news for the six favored nominees with Dallas connections, all of whom won handily.

It was an enchanted evening for the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific. It picked up the most prizes -- seven, including best musical revival -- in Broadway's annual celebration of the best on the Great White Way, held Sunday at Radio City Music Hall.

Dallas native Michael Yeargan took home the award for set design; he also designed the same Rodgers and Hammerstein classic for Dallas Theater Center in 1999. Director Bartlett Sher and the show's leading man, opera star Paulo Szot, also turned up winners.

The victors in the other three top races all had producers based in North Texas. August: Osage County won five Tonys, including best play. That picked up honors for the playwright, former Dallas actor Tracy Letts, and for Dallas producer Jerry Frankel. Former Dallas Theater Center company member Deanna Dunagan also won best actress in a play as the pill-addicted matriarch in Mr. Letts' dysfunctional -- fictional -- Oklahoma family.

Best musical In the Heights came in next in the tally, with four awards. Fort Worth's Mike Skipper is one of nine producers of that feel-good musical about a neighborhood in transition in Manhattan's Washington Heights. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda -- himself a nominee for best actor -- rapped his acceptance speech for best score.

The French farce Boeing-Boeing managed only 23 performances when it first played Broadway in 1965. On Sunday it won the nod for best revival for its producers, including Michael Jenkins and the Dallas Summer Musicals. Mark Rylance, the American-born actor who served as the first artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, won best actor in a play for this, his Broadway debut.

The stellar revival of Gypsy won only three awards, but they were all big ones. Patti LuPone won her previous Tony 28 years ago as the lead in Evita. Her performance as Gypsy Rose Lee's pushy mother, Rose, brings the house down nightly -- and brought her a second Tony after five nominations. Her co-stars, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines, also snagged the featured actress and actor awards.

Many observers thought the race for best musical would prove the closest, pitting the people-pleasing In the Heights against the edgier art-rock autobiography Passing Strange.

In the event, Passing Strange racked up only one win. West-coast rocker Stew -- who told his life story via songs he co-wrote, and who stars in the piece himself -- won one of the three Tonys he was up for, best book of a musical.

The three-hour CBS broadcast consigned about half the awards to a Web-only preshow to make room for an unprecedented number of musical excerpts.

Not only did all eight nominated musicals and revivals get full numbers for the nation to see on TV, two long-running hits -- Rent and The Lion King -- received deluxe treatment as well.

Several big-budget musicals didn't get nominated at all, such as The Little Mermaid and Young Frankenstein, but they got their moments in the spotlight anyhow.

Almost every show on Broadway got some sort of attention, if only in the many parodies that featured the evening's host, Whoopi Goldberg.


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