Broadway did what Broadway does best to open Sunday night’s 63rd annual Tony Awards – delivering an electrifying musical number that starred Dolly Parton, Elton John, Liza Minnelli, the casts of West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Pal Joey, Shrek, 9 to 5: The Musical, Next to Normal, Rock of Ages and Billy Elliot and finished off with a love-in: a rousing rendition of “Let the Sun Shine” from the new best-revival production of Hair that got all 6,000 attendees inside Radio City Music Hall dancing in their seats.
When the spectacle concluded, the evening’s host, How I Met Your Mother star Neal Patrick Harris, called it “the biggest and most expensive number in the history of the Tonys. That is why I am your host tonight.”
But not everything went smoothly during the elaborate number, which was broadcast live on CBS. Rock of Love reality star Bret Michaels – who hit the stage with his band Poison along with the cast of Broadway’s Rock of Ages – fell down after being hit by a piece of scenery following his performance of Poison’s hit “Nothin’ But a Good Time.” He was knocked to the ground, and fractured his nose. The singer also required three stitches in his lip.
A publicist later told PEOPLE that Michaels was hoping to hit some after-parties but was “getting X-rays.” Calling him “a trooper,” she added that Michaels “had a blast performing.”
Besides the singing and dancing, there were awards, with Billy Elliot, composer Elton John’s adaptation of director Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film about a boy who lives to dance, sweeping the night as best musical and winning 10 Tonys in all – while French dramatist Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage was named best play.
God of Carnage – an unmannered “comedy of manners” about two married couples in Brooklyn – was also honored for its direction and its leading actress, Marcia Gay Harden.
Angela Lansbury Wins
Oscar winner (for the 1996 film Shine) Geoffrey Rush added to his trophy case with the best actor Tony for the revival of the French existential absurdist tragic-comedy Exit the King, by Eugene Ionesco.
Sopranos star James Gandolfini, now starring in God of Carnage, served as a presenter and set the record straight. “Shrek and I are no relation,” he said. He and costar Jeff Daniels handed over the best featured actress Tony to Broadway favorite Angela Lansbury, for her role as spiritual medium Madame Arcati in the revival of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.
The win marked Mame and Murder, She Wrote star Lansbury’s fifth Tony, and the audience – which included Anne Hathaway – received her with a standing ovation.
“This is amazing,” said the veteran actress, 83. “Who would have thought? Who knew at this time of my life that I would be presented with this lovely, lovely award. I can’t believe I am standing here.”
Audience in Tears
West Side Story‘s Karen Olivo, who played the defiant Anita, was named best featured actress in a musical. In her acceptance speech, which brought tears to members of the audience, she stressed the importance of surrounding oneself “with people who love you.”
Liza Minnelli’s concert, Liza’s at the Palace, beat Will Ferrell’s one-man show, You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush, as best special theatrical event. The indomitable star thanked her parents, showbiz legend Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, for giving her her godmother, musical stylist Kay Thompson.
Next to Normal, an offbeat musical about a family’s coping with a bipolar mother, beat Dolly Parton (for 9 to 5) and Elton John (for Billy Elliot) in the best score category, with Tonys going to composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey – who acknowledged Parton and John’s inspiration. Its star, Alice Ripley, was named best leading actress in a musical.
• With additional reporting by JEFFREY SLONIM
• Bret dishes on his long locks