Clybourne Park is best play and Once best musical, with 8 Tonys
Credit: Brad Barket/Getty; Inset: Jason Kempin/Getty

Broadway celebrated itself Sunday night – and crowned Once and playwright Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park as the season’s best musical and drama, in a star-studded evening that third-time host Neil Patrick Harris called “the 66th annual Tony Awards, or, as we like to call it, Fifty Shades of Gay.”

Clybourne Park, which also won a 2011 Pulitzer Prize, takes its cues from Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, about developments in a Chicago neighborhood after the Younger family has moved in and moved on. The best play Tony was that show’s only win; it was bested in the straight play category by Peter and the Starcatcher, a kind of prequel to Peter Pan, which won five.

The modest Dublin-set musical Once, based on the independent 2006 movie by the same title, practically swept the musical category, winning eight Tonys, including best musical, best musical direction and best musical actor for Steve Kazee.

An impassioned Audra McDonald accepted her Tony – her fifth – as best actress in a musical, for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, and, among her many thanks, told her young daughter Zoe in the audience, “This is an amazing night for Mommy.” But the Broadway favorite wanted the child to know, “Feb. 14, 2001, when you were born, was the best day of my life.”

Britain’s James Corden was named best actor for the hysterically funny farce One Man, Two Guvnors. Among his thanks, he singled out his girlfriend, Julia Carey, who gave birth to their son five days before the show went into rehearsals in New York, “and I can’t wait to marry her,” Corden said.

Best dramatic actress winner Nina Arianda, for Venus in Fur, told her presenter, veteran actor Christopher Plummer, “You were my first crush.” She said that when he blew the whistle in The Sound of Music, he had her.

Wife Surprises Hugh Jackman

Among the evening’s surprises, Hugh Jackman was presented a special Tony by a special presenter, his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness. “She’s never been able to keep a secret in her life,” Jackman, who was honored for raising nearly $2 million during the 10-week run of this season’s Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway on behalf of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He told the crowd that she hates to speak in public, and had told him as they were sitting in the audience, “Off to the loo. See you in a minute.”

The evening also provided Grammy winner Sheryl Crow with her first public moment since it was announced last week that she is suffering from a benign brain tumor that has caused her some memory loss. Saying that she’s just finished the score to a stage musical adaption of the 1982 movie Diner, Crow presented the best musical score Tony to the composers of Newsies, Alan Menken and Jack Feldman.

The ceremony’s knee-slapping opening number, starring the cast and score from last year’s runaway Tony winner The Book of Mormon, began with knocks on the dressing rooms doors of current Broadway stars Ricky Martin, Matthew Broderick, Cynthia Nixon, James Earl Jones (signing photos of Darth Vader) and the evening’s soon-to-win best featured actress (Other Desert Cities) Judith Light – all of whom slammed their doors on the proselytizers.

Among the night’s dramatic moments – Broadway pros are very good at that – was the acceptance speech by featured musical actress Judy Kaye, for Nice Work If You Can Get It, who dedicated her Tony to her father, who died last week.

Another was the appearance of Mike Nichols, who won his eighth Tony as best director for the revival of Death of a Salesman. After kissing his wife, Diane Sawyer, Nichols, 80, took to the stage, announced he had once won a pie-eating contest in that very theater, and then said that his Salesman cast, which included Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, just got better every night. The classic Arthur Miller play was also named best revival.

Spider-Man Attracts Tonys

CBS aired the three-hour Tonys ceremony live from Manhattan’s Beacon Theater. For the complete list of winners, click here

Going into the evening, Once was the favorite, with a leading eleven nominations, followed by – with 10 nods each – the two “new” Gershwin musicals: the revised revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and the 1920s-style comic musical with a new book, Nice Work If You Can Get It, starring Kelli O’Hara, who was nominated (but lost to Audra McDonald), and Matthew Broderick, who was not.

Also shut out of the nominations, except in some minor categories, was the much-maligned Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark – although on Sunday afternoon, the $85 million spectacle, an unexpected box-office hit, boasted “more Tonys than any show on Broadway.”

It accomplished that feat by giving away free seats to anyone named Tony who came to the theater.