Tony Awards: History Boys Takes Top Prize

Alan Bennett’s drama The History Boys has cleaned up at the Tony awards, taking home six prizes – the most of any production – including Best Play.

In addition to the top prize, Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour also won awards for their performances in the Sixth Form-set drama and Nicholas Hytner received the award for Best Direction of a Play.

Hytner’s production began life at London’s National Theatre and toured the UK prior to its transfer to Broadway. The play won glowing reviews when it opened in New York. Ben Brantley writing in the New York Times called it “captivating” and “compelling watchable.” It’s been a commercial success as well, grossing more than $400,000 (212,000) in ticket sales the day after it opened at the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway. It has also now been made into a film featuring the original cast, also directed by Hytner.

There were some concerns about how the play’s inherent Englishness would go over with US audiences (not to mention the way Richard Griffith’s schoolmaster Hector treats his prettier pupils). The Guardian’s theatre critic Michael Billington expressed such fears but concluded that the play was “about the moment when everything in English life, including education, became driven by market values. (And) what I’d perhaps forgotten was that Reaganomics was as powerful an instrument of social change as Thatcherism.” New York audiences seemed to have no problems with the play and Brantley applauded the way in which the production “moves with a breezy narrative swagger that transcends cultural barriers.”

The History Boys also won prizes for set design and lighting.

In the other major categories Jersey Boys, based on the life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, won best musical. The Drowsy Chaperone a nostalgic parody of 1920s musicals was another big winner, scooping several of the musical categories. This affectionate, audience-pleasing show is one of the productions mooted to take the place of The Producers when it vacates the Theatre Royal Drury Lane early 2007.

Cynthia Nixon, the red-headed Miranda from Sex and the City, (and of all that show’s alumnus, the one looking increasingly most likely to have a successful and creative post SatC career) won best leading actress for her role in David Lindsay-Abaire’s drama Rabbit Hole about a couple mourning the death of their four-year-old son.

In a year dominated by Brit successes, another UK show – the Watermill’s production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which had a long run in the West End before transferring to Broadway won Best Director in a Musical (for John Doyle) and Best Orchestration. It lost out in the Best Revival catergory to a new production of The Pyjama Game. Ian McDiarmid won Best Featured Actor in a Play for his role in the Dublin production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, now playing in New York’s Booth Theatre.

The biggest surprise of the ceremony was when the category of Best Actress in a Musical went to LaChanze for her role in the Broadwy production of The Color Purple. She was up against stiff competition from Patti LuPone for Sweeney Todd and Sutton Foster for The Drowsy Chaperone. Her award was the only one the show received despite being nominated in eleven other categories.

Multiple Tony recipient, the director Harold Prince, picked up a Lifetime Achievement award to add to the incredible 20 he has accumulated over his career.

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