'Gentleman's Guide,' McDonald have magic touch at Tony Awards

Broadway's newest darling is a killer of a musical comedy. "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder," the tuneful tale of a dastardly charmer clearing his path to a fortune, was proclaimed the winner of four Tony Awards, including best musical.

"The little engine that could, did," summed up producer Joey Parnes.

While "Gentleman" was declared top of the musical class, jumping to the head of the line of Broadway's best Sunday night was Audra McDonald, who made Tonys history by becoming the first performer to win Tonys in all four acting categories. The Divine Ms. D won her sixth award, this time as best actress in a play, and found new ways to impress as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill." She topped a category that included two-time Tony winner and CMU alum Cherry Jones ("The Glass Menagerie").

Ms. McDonald thanked "the women whose shoulders I stand on," and her parents for not overmedicating their hyperactive little girl.

Mark Rylance won his third Tony, this time as a featured actor in the all-male "Twelfth Night." The actor won for playing Olivia, a role he played in a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust presentation 10 years ago. Lena Hall won the Tony for best featured actress in a musical, playing a drag king in "Hedwig," which took home four awards.

Bryan Cranston denied Mr. Rylance a fourth Tony in the best actor in a play category, earning a win in 2014's winner of best play, "All the Way." Mr. Cranston rebooted from his Emmy-winning turn in "Breaking Bad" to portray LBJ circa 1964, during the fight for the landmark civil rights bill and at a time when America became entrenched in Vietnam.

"Gentleman's Guide" had a leading 10 nominations entering the night, and won for director Darko Tresnjak. But best actor nominees Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham were up against the unstoppable Neil Patrick Harris. The "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" star made it two in a row for guys in high heels scoring a best actor in a musical victory -- Pittsburgh's Billy Porter won last year for "Kinky Boots."

Mr. Harris rocked Radio City and smooched his husband during the number "Sugar Daddy" from "Hedwig," the winner of best musical revival and four Tonys, including for lighting design. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Harris opened by saying, "A year ago I was hosting the Tonys. This is crazy pants" and ended by thanking the teachers who inspired him.

Best actress in a musical went to Jessie Mueller for her spot-on portrayal of Carole King in "Beautiful." Singer-songwriter King was there to root her on in a category that saw Kelli O'Hara ("The Bridges of Madison County") become a five-time nominee with nothing to show for it. "Bridges" has closed, but composer Jason Robert Brown earned two of the night's off-camera awards, for score and orchestrations.

Kenny Leon, who won a Tony as director of best play revival "A Raisin in the Sun," thanked "Denzel, Denzel, Denzel," and reminded people to go see "the next great musical, 'Holler If Ya Hear Me,' " his next directorial assignment that's in Broadway previews now. Sophie Okonedo, a winner as best featured actress in a play for "Raisin in the Sun," thanked producer Scott Rudin for having the vision that a "Jewish Nigerian Brit could play such an iconic American role."

Best featured actor in a musical James Monroe Inglehart, the Genie from "Aladdin," ended his long list of thank-yous with a spirited dance. The Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical "Rocky" celebrated its 100th performance this weekend, and Christopher Barreca represented the musical with an award for scenic design that included a boxing ring that moves into the audience and revolves 180 degrees. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt won the award for his "Act One" sets.

The Creative Arts Tony Awards were presented by Mr. Porter and Karen Ziemba before and during the show at Radio City Music Hall. They also handed out previously announced achievement awards, including the Isabelle Stevenson Award that went to Rosie O'Donnell for her philanthropic efforts. Photographer Joan Marcus, a Pittsburgh native who has taken production shots for more than 300 Broadway shows, received a special Tony Award.

Among presenters, Zachary Quinto ("The Glass Menagerie" revival) and Matt Bomer (HBO's "The Normal Heart") honored their college roots by introducing the new Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre Education presented by Carnegie Mellon University, a collaboration to honor K-12 theater educators.

Hugh Jackman -- "Wolverine in tap shoes" -- returned to the stage spotlight for his fourth go-round as Tonys host. To open the performance-studded show, we followed the bouncing Hugh from the street, past stars prepping behind the scenes and onto the Radio City stage, to give way to a number from best musical nominee "After Midnight."

Mr. Jackman, a 2004 Tony winner for "The Boy From Oz" and an honorary award recipient, sang several introductions and rapped with T.I., LL Cool J and the Roots to "The Music Man."

The live broadcast on CBS included performances from "Wicked," marking its 10th anniversary on Broadway," and Sting, singing a song from his new musical, "The Last Ship."

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.

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