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Big bucks reign at the Tonys

The made-for-tour “Jersey Boys” beats out its more lauded competition, a sign that voters were thinking with their wallets.
/ Source: msnbc.com

Are the Tony Awards about artistry or entertainment value?  Judging by last night's awards show, big bucks rule the roost.

The British import “The History Boys” took home the most awards, six in all, including best play. Broadway crowd-pleaser “The Drowsy Chaperone” took home five but lost the top of honor of Best Musical to “The Jersey Boys.”

Huh? How does the show that wins best book, best score, best scenic design, best costumes then not win as best musical?  If voters like the story, the music, the lyrics and the sets, why wouldn't that show also get the top prize. Who are these Tony voters anyway?

That's right, the highly successful jukebox but oh-so-fun (with “tour” written all over it) “Jersey Boys” beat the “Chaperone” even though the Frankie Valli tuner has no original book and not one original song in it.  But just think of all the money it will make on the road. Cha-ching.

I actually screamed out loud and I'm sure other people did too when “Sweeney Todd” lost out to “The Pajama Game” for best revival of a musical.  Yes, “Pajama Game” is a terrific show; it's fun and entertaining. But a revival should be a brilliant new approach to a classic and of the two shows, “Sweeney Todd” is artistically superior. Even Todd Haimes, whose Roundabout Theatre Company produced “Pajama Game,” said, “I have to honestly say that I was surprised.” Is anyone mentioning that “Pajama Game” would do well on tour?  Cha-ching.

In a stunning upset, “The Color Purple's” LaChanze beat Patti LuPone in the race for best actress in a musical.  I'm not sure what Patti LuPone is doing today, but she is probably trying to figure it out like the rest of us. LuPone did nearly the impossible by shattering visions of Angela Lansbury's immortal Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” and while LaChanze is well-liked and a great performer, “Purple” is not the show that really showcases her talents. Even LaChanze was shocked. “I still can't believe it, because I am a huge fan of Patti LuPone, Kelli O'Hara, Sutton Foster and Chita Rivera. We are all deserving, but I am happy I got it!” LaChanze's award was “Purple's” sole win.

Newcomer “Jersey Boy” John Lloyd Young eked out a win over “Sweeney's” Michael Cerveris and “Pajama Game's” Harry Connick Jr. Young, who has been politicking for the Tony all over town this last month, backstage defended “Jersey Boys” as a biography of a singing group rather than a so-called jukebox musical: “The reason for the story is the music we all know.” After the awards party, the cast was heading to Washington to perform at a White House luncheon.  Those Jersey Boys sure do get around. (Sorry, that was the Beach Boys.)

In a category with no clear frontrunner, the Tony for best actress in a play went to Cynthia Nixon, star of the now-closed “Rabbit Hole.” A self-proclaimed theater junkie, humbled and thrilled by her win, Nixon was ready to celebrate. “I am very much looking forward to the party!” she said. “I don't know a lot of people at the awards shows in California, but I know everyone here. I intend to be the last person to leave.”  Nixon will star in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” next season.

Best actor in a play went to Richard Griffiths for “History Boys,” which also took the honor of best play. No surprises there.

Enough with who did win and who should have won. It was a wonderful evening, the no-host idea was brilliant, providing more time for acceptance speeches and production numbers from all the nominated shows.

In the end, the voters voted for the shows they enjoyed, which is exactly why “Jersey Boys,” “The History Boys” and “The Pajama Game” all took home the top prizes.

Lee Abrahamian, an executive producer for MSNBC TV and a former Tony voter, has covered New York theater extensively.