Kiril Kulish

Billy Elliot” dances away with 10 Tony Awards

NEWS-US-BROADWAY-AWARDS“Billy Elliot The Musical” swept the top U.S. theater honors on Sunday, winning 10 Tony Awards for a Broadway season that defied a recession with record ticket sales.  “Billy Elliot” is based on Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film about a ballet dancing schoolboy in a mining town in northern England. Elton John, who suggested the film be adapted for theater, wrote the music for the production.  “We came here at a hard time economically, you opened your wallets and your hearts to us and we love you for it,” said John, one of Britain’s best-known musicians whose hit songs include “Candle in the Wind” and “Rocket Man.” “Billy Elliot” was named best musical and the three teenage actors who play the title role — David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish — were all named best actor in a musical, the first time three actors have shared the award. “We want to say to all the kids out there who might want to dance, never give up,” Kulish said.  Daldry, who won best musical director, said the boys were “three great gifts of Broadway” and that he was “blessed in the past 10 years of my life to be working on ‘Billy Elliot.’” The show has also played in Britain and Australia.

Gregory Jbara won best featured actor in a musical for his role as Billy’s father and the show also won best book of a musical and scenic, lighting, sound and choreography awards. It tied with “Next to Normal” for best orchestration.

Alice Ripley was named best actress in a musical for her role as a bipolar suburban housewife in “Next to Normal,” which also picked up best original score, beating nominees including Elton John and Lee Hall for “Billy Elliot” and Dolly Parton for “9 to 5: The Musical.”

“Billy Elliot” had matched the record number of Tony Award nominations set by “The Producers” in 2001, picking up 15 nods. “The Producers” went on to win a record 12 awards.

“Hair,” the new production of the groundbreaking 1960s musical, won the Tony for best revival of a musical.

LIZA AND LANSBURY AMONG WINNERS

“God of Carnage” — with an all-star cast of “Sopranos” star James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels — picked up the most awards for a play, winning best play, director of a play, and best actress for Harden.

“God of Carnage” director Matthew Warchus beat himself — he was also nominated for best director for “The Norman Conquests,” a trilogy of comedies that came to Broadway from a sold-out run in London, which won the Tony best play revival.

Liza Minnelli won the best special theatrical event Tony for “Liza’s at the Palace,” which featured a musical tribute to the 1940′s nightclub act of her godmother, Kay Thompson.

“This is exquisite,” a breathless Minnelli said. “I thought my beautiful man over there was going to win,” she added, referring to comedian Will Ferrell, who was nominated for “You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush.”

Veteran British actress Angela Lansbury, 83, won her fifth Tony Award — best featured actress in a play for her performance in “Blithe Spirit” — tying the record for the most Tony Awards won by an actress set by Julie Harris.

“I never believed in my wildest dreams I would have an opportunity to get another Tony,” Lansbury, best known for her long-running role in TV series “Murder, She Wrote.”

Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, a veteran of the stage in his native Australia, won best actor in a play for his Broadway debut in “Exit the King.” “I’m a slow learner,” Rush, 57, joked with reporters of his late bow on the Great White Way.

The Tony Awards were established in 1947 and are named for Antoinette Perry, whose nickname was Toni. Perry, who died in 1946, was an actress, stage director and philanthropist who was a founder of the American Theater Wing.

Around 750 people from the theater industry — from actors, to directors to journalists — vote for the Tony Awards.

The Broadway League says the 39 theaters in the famous district contribute $5.1 billion per year to the economy of New York, on top of ticket sales, and support 44,000 jobs.

Broadway’s paid attendance was 12.15 million tickets, down from 12.27 million the previous season, but gross takings rose $6 million, or 0.6 percent, to $943.3 million, beating the previous record set in the 2006/07 season of $938.5 million.

How the Tony Awards will play out: our predictions

Theater Review Exit the KingWhen the stardust settles at the Tonys tonight, the annual pageant of Broadway’s best may be renamed the Billys.  We’ll be hearing that boy’s name a lot. The evening’s biggest award — Best Musical — will go to “Billy Elliot,” a blockbuster hit about a miner’s son who escapes a hard-luck life through ballet. More than just feel-good, it’s superbly realized and celebrates the fact that real talent shines even in the bleakest of surroundings. That’s pure Tony bait — and it deserves to win.  “Billy” will also dance away with awards for direction (Stephen Daldry), book (Lee Hall) and choreography (Peter Darling) and collect precious metal for its set, lighting and sound design.  One of the hard-to-call categories is Best Original Score. “Next to Normal,” a challenging musical about a family’s struggle with mental illness, will triumph. Elton John’s songs for “Billy Elliot” are good, and a few anthems even better than that. But Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s “Next to Normal” score is the best of the season, one that explores many emotions and expresses them beautifully through song. Voters will recognize that.  David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish, the teens who sing, dance and act their way through the role of Billy Elliot, are (toe)shoo-ins. Likewise, Alice Ripley, who gives a career-defining star turn as the troubled mom of “Next to Normal,” had better be polishing her acceptance speech for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.   Some forecasters see Gregory Jbara, the hard-edged but devoted dad in “Billy Elliot,” winning for Featured Actor in a Musical. He’s terrific, but Christopher Sieber’s hilariously showy antics as the tiny tyrant in “Shrek the Musical” make a bigger impression. That will give Sieber, who performs the whole show on his knees, the leg up. “Shrek” will also chalk up a victory for its colorful, storybook-style costumes.  Best Featured Actress in a Musical is a showdown between Karen Olivo in “West Side Story” and Haydn Gwynne in “Billy Elliot.” Olivo is a force to reckon with as Anita and leads a dizzying version of “America.” Gwynne captivates as Billy’s tough-but-tender teacher who is thrust into a drama that’s bigger than her own ambition. In the photo finish, it’ll be Gwynne.   For the coveted Best Play prize, “God of Carnage” will feel the love from Tony voters. Yasmina Reza (who’s won before, for “Art”) has written a vinegary, very funny social satire that’s a bona-fide hit.   All four “Carnage” leads — Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini — are vying for Tonys. Oscar winner Harden will expand her trophy case for her finely calibrated, deliciously demonstrative take on a Brooklyn wife and mother whose nice veneer hides something far nastier. If “33 Variations” had been a better play, Jane Fonda, who played a dying music scholar, would be stiffer competition.  Geoffrey Rush will leave Radio City Music Hall as Best Leading Actor in a Play for “Exit the King.” Going from clownish to poignant with nary a misstep, the “Shine” Academy Award winner breathed life beautifully into Ionesco’s dying monarch.

Angela Lansbury and Roger Robinson, nominated for Featured Actress and Actor in a Play, both play visionaries — quirky English psychic in “Blithe Spirit” for her; eccentric Pittsburgh mystic in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” for him. I see them both going home with Tonys. It’ll be his first and her fifth.  Broadway revivals seek to make everything old new and exciting again. The hippie-happy “Hair” will be crowned Best Revival of a Musical. The comic trilogy “The Norman Conquests” will live up to its title and win for Best Revival of a Play. Matthew Warchus will go home with a Tony for his direction of “Norman.”  “Liza’s at the Palace,” starring a Certain Legend with a Z, will win for Best Special Theatrical Event. It was fun having Will Ferrell on Broadway and I hope he comes back again with something fresher than a George Bush routine. But anyone who saw Liza Minnelli earn one standing ovation after another got a lesson on why it’s called a “special event.”

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