The 2009 Tony Awards were held on June 7 at Radio City Music Hall. Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, the evening was a festive celebration of the best theatrical accomplishments of the past season. The winners included seasoned veterans of the theater as well as some newcomers and a few very young winners.
The awards began with a montage of scenes from the nominated musicals, including Billy Elliot, West Side Story and Hair, as well as an appearance by Dolly Parton and a solo performance by Liza Minelli.
Angela Lansbury, who won her fifth Tony as Best Featured Actress for her role in Blithe Spirit, said, “Who knew at this time in my life that I should be presented with this lovely, lovely award? I can’t believe that I’m standing here…I am the essence of gratitude and happiness and joy.”
Roger Robinson, who won Best Featured Actor for his role in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, mentioned the irony of winning for that play shortly after the inauguration of the first black President. It is also ironic that August Wilson’s work has been performed in the Belasco Theater, which is the second oldest theater in use in Times Square, and the only one with a separate balcony that black people used to enter and leave.
Brian Yorkey and Tom Kit, who won Best Original Score for the show Next to Normal, said they were greatly humbled to be in the same category as Dolly Parton and Elton John, who they cited as two of their heroes.
Mathew Warkus, who was nominated as Best Director twice, for God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests, said he was surprised to win for God of Carnage, as he thought his two nominations would cancel each other out.
Karen Olivo, who on Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Anita in West Side Story admitted to having read the polls online and thinking she would not win the award. “The most rewarding thing [about the role] is that I’ve become a dancer. I was an actor who sang…it was hard and I wanted to quit all the time, and because of it, it made the entire experience richer.”
The winner of Best Featured Actor in a Musical was Gregory Jbara, for his role in Billy Elliot. “I’ve never had a role this emotional before,” he said. “I found the emotional journey is really quite healing and rejuvenating. I can show up absolutely wiped and tired and not ready to work and when I come out of the show three hours later, I’m ready to run a mile.”
Jerry Herman, who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, thanked his mother, who had arranged a meeting for him with Frank Loesser through a friend of a friend of a hairdresser. “That afternoon changed my life,” he said. “That’s why I’m here – because of Mom and Frank Loesser.”
Diane Paulus, director of the Best Revival of a Musical, Hair, said she was grateful to take a piece from the sixties and breathe new life into it in 2009. The show faced some financial challenges during its transfer to Broadway from the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park, and producer Andy Harrison said its current success felt, “very, very good.”
Geoffrey Rush, who won Best Actor in a Play, for his role in Exit the King, stated simply, “French existential absurdist comedy ROCKS!”
Best Actress in a Play went to Marcia Gay Harden for her role in The Norman Conquests. Harden, who began her career as a theater actress before moving to television and film, said, “Coming back to the theater for me feels like home. When I think about tonight, the ore of what this means to me is about 25 years old. In the process of the nomination, I had forgotten the core. And the core was a kid who came to New York and wanted to be an actor and worked and worked and worked, and it feel so far away. The girl who got off the bus and thought, ‘Maybe I can join in,’ seemed so far away until tonight.’”
Yasmin Reza, author of God of Carnage, said, “The Tony, for me, is the very best award. Nothing compares to the Tony.”
Best Revival of a Play went to The Norman Conquests, a series of three plays transferred from London.
Elton John, who accepted the award for Best Musical for Billy Elliot,, which also won Best Choreography, said, “this is the icing on the cake with us, and it’s the acceptance we wanted. We’ve been so welcomed on Broadway…you opened your hearts and your wallets to us, and we thank you.” He credited the show’s success to its timeliness, saying, “It opened in a really tough time last November, and it’s a story about winners and survivors. It’s about a boy who gets to be what he wants to be.”
Best Actress in a Musical went to Alice Ripley who stars in Next to Normal. “I am stunned and honored beyond belief to be here,” she said of her award. “I feel different in that I feel complete. It feels natural to be here because the aim that I had in my heart when I was a child would have led me through this and beyond to something else as well. To me, it makes sense that I have it and I know I’m very, very fortunate to play a role that is recognized by a Tony. It feels completely otherworldy and like a dream come true but at the same time it feels completely natural like I knew it would arrive at some point if I had the role where I could reveal myself to the audience.”
In a historic move, for the first time Best Actor in a Musical went to three actors who share the title role of Billy Elliot : David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish and Trent Kowalik. All three were very surprised, saying they never expected to win the award at such a young age. “We want to say to all the kids out there who might want to dance, never give up.”
Minelli, who won for Best Special Theatrical Event for her one-woman show Liza’s at the Palace, said of her show’s development, “We started out nowhere and we were horrible. We were the pits. But we were trying!” She thanked her parents for introducing her to musical theater, which she said was “the greatest gift they ever gave me.” When asked how she enjoyed being an icon, she laughed and said, “To me, I’m just a gypsy. The thing I love to do is rehearse and get up and work and go to dance class. Every time people say that I’m startled and thrilled and grateful, and all that jazz.”
Tony Awards 2009 winners
PLAY: “God of Carnage.”
MUSICAL: “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL: “Hair.”
BOOK OF A MUSICAL: Lee Hall, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE: “Next to Normal.”
REVIVAL OF A PLAY: “The Norman Conquests.”
SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT: “Liza’s at The Palace.”
PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY: Geoffrey Rush, “Exit the King.”
PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Marcia Gay Harden, “God of Carnage.”
PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Alice Ripley, “Next to Normal.”
PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: Roger Robinson, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Angela Lansbury, “Blithe Spirit.”
PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Gregory Jbara, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Karen Olivo, “West Side Story.”
SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY: Derek McLane, “33 Variations.”
SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Ian MacNeil, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY: Anthony Ward, “Mary Stuart.”
COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Tim Hatley, “Shrek The Musical.”
LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY: Brian MacDevitt, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Rick Fisher, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY: Gregory Clarke, “Equus.”
SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL: Paul Arditti, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
DIRECTION OF A PLAY: Matthew Warchus, “God of Carnage.”
DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL: Stephen Daldry, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
CHOREOGRAPHY: Peter Darling, “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”
ORCHESTRATIONS: Martin Koch, “Billy Elliot, The Musical”; Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, “Next to Normal.”
SPECIAL TONY AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN THE THEATRE: Jerry Herman.
REGIONAL THEATRE TONY AWARD: Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.
ISABELLE STEVENSON AWARD: Phyllis Newman.
TONY HONOR FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE THEATRE: Shirley Herz.