By MARK KENNEDY, AP Drama Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ The murderous romp “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has gotten a lot of love at the Tony Awards — it nabbed the best new musical trophy on a night that saw Audra McDonald, Bryan Cranston and Neil Patrick Harris all took home big awards.
The musical “A Gentlemen’s Guide,” in which a poor man comically eliminates the eight heirs ahead of him for a title, opened rather quietly and has had a steady increase in interest, peaking with its huge win over Disney’s “Aladdin” and the built-in love of Carole King songs from “Beautiful– The Carole King Musical.”
“The little engine that could, did,” said an ecstatic lead producer Joey Parnes. The show nabbed a total of four wins, including best book of a musical.
McDonald became the Tony’s most decorated actress, while Cranston won a best actor trophy for his Broadway debut. Harris took home best actor in a musical after years of handing out the awards to others.
McDonald won her sixth Tony for portraying Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” putting her ahead of five-time winners Angela Lansbury and the late Julie Harris for the most competitive wins by an actress. Among those she thanked were her parents for not medicating their hyperactive child.
The latest win– for best lead actress in a play _ also makes McDonald the first grand-slam performance winner. 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”).
Cranston– in a role far from TV’s chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White in “Breaking Bad”– won the best lead actor in a play Tony for playing former President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way,” which also was crowned best play.
Jessie Mueller beat some strong Broadway veterans in Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel and Kelli O’Hara to take home the best actress in a musical Tony for playing the title character in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” She thanked the iconic singer-songwriter and all her competitors.
Hugh Jackman kicked off the show with a bounce, hopping up and down like a kangaroo during his opening number Sunday. Big, high-kicking musical numbers from “After Midnight,” `’Aladdin,” `’Rocky” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” kept the energy level up.
The bearded Australian, back as host after a nine-year absence, greeted many of the night’s featured performers as he cheerfully bounded past them backstage. He then joined the cast of the musical “After Midnight” for a rousing rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing).” He later rapped with LL Cool J and T.I. to a reworked song from “The Music Man” and danced with all the leading ladies nominated for a musical.
The first award of the night was for best featured actor in a play and it went to Mark Rylance, who won his third Tony for playing the countess Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Rylance, who previously won for “Jerusalem” and “Boeing-Boeing,” is also nominated for best lead actor honors for his evil title character in “Richard III.”
The best featured actress in a musical Tony went to Lena Hall in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” playing a woman who dresses as a man and plays Harris’ boyfriend. Hall wished her dad a happy birthday and gave a shout-out to her soon-to-be-born niece.
“Friendship is magic,” she said. The show later won for best musical revival.
Harris performed a song from the show, looking unrecognizable in a miniskirt and blond feathered wig. He gave an audience member a lap dance and took Samuel L. Jackson’s glasses away and licked them. Another highlight was songwriter King singing with the cast of the show based on her early years _ “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
Darko Tresnjak won for directing the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and thanked his mother, a skydiver during World War II now too frail to be there. The musical also won for best book of a musical and costumes for a musical. Away from the cameras, the now-closed musical “The Bridges of Madison County” won for best score and best orchestration.
Kenny Leon won his first Tony for directing the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” He thanked, among other, his star Denzel Washington, and the women in his life. He even managed to plug his next work, “Holler If Ya Hear Me.”
One of his “Raisin” stars, Sophie Okonedo, won for best featured actress in a play. “I am loving it on Broadway,” she said. She thanked producer Scott Rudin for believing that a “Jewish, Nigerian Brit” could play the iconic role of Ruth Younger. The show also won best play revival.
James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the manic Genie in “Aladdin,” won for best featured actor in a musical and could barely contain his glee as he thanked a long list of people that included God and his wife.
Some 870 Tony voters– members of professional groups such as the Wing, the League, Actors’ Equity Association, the Dramatists Guild and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society– decided the final 26 competitive awards.
“Wicked,” which is celebrating a decade on Broadway, had its current Glinda and Elphaba sing “For Good,” and there were songs from two shows that have yet to arrive: Sting performed from his musical “The Last Ship” and Jennifer Hudson sang from “Finding Neverland,” the musical about Peter Pan.
This year, Broadway producers have a reason to party. The season’s box offices hit a record total gross of $1.27 billion– up from $1.13 billion the previous season– and attendance was up 5.6 percent to 12.2 million.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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