In the end, everyone had reason to celebrate Sunday night as nearly every nominated play or musical walked away with at least one Tony.
The megahit "Monty Python’s Spamalot" may have only won three awards out of its 14 nominations, but the show grabbed the one that really counts, the award for Best Musical.
Not that the show needed the award for any box-office push because it’s been sold out for months. Now it will be even harder to get a ticket.
But even though "Spamalot" took home the top award, it was not an easy night for the "Spamalot" team, which had hoped to win more. It was, in fact, downright nerve-wracking for Mike Nichols. Nichols, who won the Best Director Tony for "Spamalot," admitted backstage that he “started to get nervous early-on. I sat there thinking ‘We're in the toilet, this is backlash big time’ ... but then it turned out OK.”
The only real surprise of the evening — if you can even call it that — was Bill Irwin’s win for Best Actor in a Play for his role as George in “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
This particular Best Actor race had been a hotly contested one from the get-go, with all the nominees giving superb performances. “Doubt” star Brian O'Byrne seemed to be the frontrunner, though, as he had won all the other major theatre awards in the month leading up to the Tonys. In fact, many Broadway pundits and the Tony voters I spoke to last week had predicted that O’Byrne would win, but — and it’s a big but — those same people had also said they loved Irwin’s performance and would not be surprised if he went home a winner.
Backstage, the humbled Irwin talked about his life as a clown (he won a Tony for "Fool Moon") as opposed to his life as a serious actor: “Except for the baggy pants, I feel like I’m right where I’ve always been.”
Some other highlights:
- “Doubt” star Cherry Jones, who won her second Tony for Best Actress in a Play, acknowledged fellow nominee Kathleen Turner in her acceptance speech and urged theatergoers not to miss Turner’s performance in "Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf." When asked backstage why she singled out only Turner, Jones said that Turner’s performance had “blown her away.”
- Christina Applegate’s entrance was a laugh-out-loud moment. The actress, poking fun at herself after her much-publicized foot injury, walked onstage after her name was announced and promptly tripped and fell through a trap door in a perfectly timed pratfall. It was without a doubt one of the funniest moments of the evening.
- Al Sharpton’s cameo as one of the contestants in “The 25th Annual County Spelling Bee” scene was a stroke of genius on the “Spelling Bee” producers' part. For those who have not seen the show, random audience members are chosen nightly to participate in the spelling bee contest, sitting alongside other cast members up on the stage. Watching Sharpton sit on the bleachers with the other ‘kids’ and being asked to spell the word ‘dengue’ in front of the Tony audience as well as millions of television viewers was priceless and also proved that Mr. Sharpton is indeed a good sport. Dengue?
Lee Abrahamian, an executive producer for MSNBC TV and a former Tony voter, has covered New York theater extensively.