Audra McDonald Makes Broadway History Amid Tears and Cheers

Host Hugh Jackman brings his usual mixture of sex appeal and charm to the theater's biggest night

Photo: Landov

With the Broadway box office enjoying a banner season – with $1.27 billion in ticket sales, despite the harshest winter in years – Sunday night brought the theater’s biggest night: the 68th annual Tony Awards.

And it was an especially good night for Broadway record setter Audra McDonald, winner of best dramatic actress for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – her sixth Tony.

McDonald’s historic win – at age 43 – topped Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris’s previous records of five acting Tonys each, and the Radio City Music Hall audience acknowledged the significance of the achievement with a prolonged standing ovation.

As the cheers continued, McDonald cried openly, and acknowledged Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou and Billie Holiday, whom she plays in the drama.

She also told her children and husband they are the most important thing in life to her, and thanked her late parents, up in heaven, for ignoring their doctor’s advice and not medicating their overactive daughter.

Instead, she said, they directed her toward the theater.

Bryan Cranston also brought down the formidable, 6,000-seat house with his win as best dramatic actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning best play All the Way, about the passage of the historic 1964 Civil Rights Bill.

Cranston admitted he was introduced to the theater when in 1967 he sneaked into Hair, for the nudity.

Immediately afterward, nominee Neil Patrick Harris stopped the show by performing a number in full regalia from his nominated role in the best-revival-winning gender-bending musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He milked his number by engaging the audience, getting particularly intimate with Sting.

A bit later, Harris was named best actor in a musical. Leaping to the stage after first kissing fiancé David Burtka, Harris, clutching his award, said, “A year ago I was hosting the Tonys. This is crazy pants.”

He also promised to go back to spending time with his kids once the show is over.

Winner of the best musical Tony went to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which also took home the award for best musical director Darko Tresnjak.

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In all, Gentleman’s Guide tied with Hedwig to win the most Tonys this year: four each.

Jessie Mueller won as best actress in the musical Beautiful for her portrayal of singer-songwriter Carole King. The show also won a Tony for sound design.

Returning for his fourth stint at host (after an absence of nine years), Hugh Jackman brought his usual mixture of sex appeal and charm to the Music Hall stage, and he was in good company.

Presenters this year included the most-star-studded roster in recent memory.

Names from stage, screen and TV during the three-hour live CBS broadcast included Kevin Bacon, Matt Bomer, Zach Braff, Kenneth Branagh, Bradley Cooper, Fran Drescher, Clint Eastwood, Gloria Estefan, Vera Farmiga, Will Ferrell, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ethan Hawke, Carole King, Lucy Liu, Leighton Meester, Zachary Quinto, Emmy Rossum and Liev Schreiber.

For more on the shows and a list of winners, click here.

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