“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” the dark comic musical in which vicious slayings are played for laughs in Edwardian England, won four honors at Sunday’s 68th Annual Tony Awards, including the night’s top prize, best musical.
The evening, hosted for the fourth time by stage and screen star Hugh Jackman, also saw Audra McDonald take home a historic sixth Tony Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.”
“I want to thank all the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I am standing on,” McDonald said, fighting back tears. “And, most of all, Billie Holiday. You deserve so much more than you got when you were on this earth. This is for you, Billie.”
With Sunday's award, McDonald became the first Broadway performer to win awards in all four acting categories at the Tonys. She previously won as best featured actress in a play ("A Raisin in the Sun" and "Master Class"), best lead actress in a musical ("The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess") and best featured actress in a musical ("Ragtime" and "Carousel").
“All the Way,” a three-hour political drama about the first year of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, went two for two, winning best play and the top acting prize for Bryan Cranston, in his Broadway debut.
“When you can feel an audience and set emotional change, it’s like a drug,” the “Breaking Bad” star said backstage. “It’s as strong as blue crystal meth.”
Neil Patrick Harris, who has hosted the Tonys four times, found himself accepting his first award for his thrilling turn as a transgendered East German rock star in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” The musical, written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, also took home four statues, including honors for best revival of a musical and best featured actress for Lena Hall.
As the clock slipped past midnight, Harris worked his way to the press room, where he said the last year of his life has been “spectacular.”
“It’s been a remarkably awesome year for me. To have hosted last year’s Tony, and have that opening number be bigger than I thought it was going to be, and then through Season 9 of ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ …. Then ‘Hedwig’ starts, and we move to New York, and then it ends with people voting for me for this," he said. "It’s been a blast.”
Jackman opened the show bouncing around the Radio City Music Hall stage, interacting with nominees and Tony guests, including Clint Eastwood. In the number, choreographed by “After Midnight” Tony winner Warren Carlyle, the Aussie superstar channeled Bobby Van, the musical actor who famously bounced throughout “Street Dance” in the 1953 musical film “Small Town Girl.”
Jackman, below, also hopped through the closing number, with all the Tony winners joining in.
The show was packed with superstar performances from A-list talent. Fantasia Barrino, Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight led off the night with a rousing rendition of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” from “After Midnight.” Later, Sting sang and performed a new song from his upcoming musical, “The Last Ship.”
Carole King united with Jessie Mueller and the cast of “Beautiful,” for a rocking duet on “I Feel The Earth Move.”
“I never thought I’d get to sing with you once in my life, let alone twice,” Mueller said, addressing King as she accepted her Tony as Lead Actress in a Musical for “Beautiful.” King just saw “Beautiful” last month, and the duo sang together during the curtain call.
Most of the Tony-nominated shows performed, as did some of the shows not nominated in the top categories this season, including Idina Menzel’s “If/Then” and “Bullets Over Broadway.” The current Galinda and Elphaba in “Wicked” also sang “For Good,” in a tribute to the musical’s 10th year on Broadway.
But it was James Monroe Iglehart, the “Aladdin” genie who won best featured actor in a musical, who brought down the house with a performance of “Friend Like Me.”
When asked backstage how he kept his energy up, he joked,“If I don’t, they’ll find someone else to do it ... and we don’t want them to do that.”
The Tonys weren’t without surprises. “A Raisin in the Sun” took home awards for best revival of a play, best director (Kenny Leon) and best featured actress (Sophie Okonedo).
Those awards were expected to go to the team behind the acclaimed revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” The Tennessee Williams classic did take home its first-ever Tony, however, with Natasha Katz’s win for best lighting design.
“The Bridges of Madison County,” which opened early in the season but shuttered due to slow box office, took home two awards, best score and best orchestrations, for Jason Robert Brown. The wins came even though the tuner wasn't nominated for best musical.