- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

NEW YORK | “Billy Elliot,” the big British musical about a coal miner’s son who dreams to dance, bowled over Broadway on Sunday, winning 10 Tonys, including best musical and a unique best actor prize for the three young performers who share the title character.

The trio - David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish - traded off thank-yous during their acceptance speech, shyly thanking people associated with the show only by their first names. They also acknowledged siblings and parents. Finally, young Kulish told the cheering crowd at Radio City Music Hall: “We want to say to all the kids out there who might want to dance, ‘Never give up.’ ”

“Billy Elliot” collected eight other awards, including director of a musical, book of a musical and choreography, but its composer Elton John was upset for best score. That award was taken by “Next to Normal” - which seemed to stun “Normal” composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey. Alice Ripley, who portrays battling mental illness in “Next to Normal,” received the actress musical prize.

Still, the director award to Stephen Daldry of “Billy Elliot” was a big one.

“I have been blessed in my life to spend the majority of last 10 years of my life working on the story of ‘Billy Elliot,’ ” said Mr. Daldry, who called it “a long, extraordinary journey.”

He said the award belonged to everyone connected to the show and especially to “three great gifts of Broadway, our three little Billys.”

“Billy” also received design prizes for featured actor, sets, lighting, sound and a tie with “Next to Normal” for best orchestrations, which Mr. Kitt shared with Michael Starobin.

Geoffrey Rush’s extravagant portrait of a dying monarch in “Exit the King” took the top actor prize, while Marcia Gay Harden won for her comic performance as an increasingly volatile matron in “God of Carnage.”

“The best thing in life is being a little light among 6,000. The season on Broadway this year for me has been exactly that,” Mr. Rush said. “I want to thank Manhattan audiences for proving that French existential absurdist tragicomedy rocks.”

Said Miss Harden: “I tell my children every day that tantrums and bad behavior will get you nowhere. I don’t know how to explain this. I feel like I’ve been given custody of a family that has four parents, four deranged parents.”

Angela Lansbury received her fifth Tony, this time for her performance as dotty medium Madame Arcati in a revival of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.” Her win in the featured-actress category tied the record for acting prizes held by Julie Harris, who has five plus a special lifetime-achievement award given in 2002.

Who would have thought?” the 83-year-old Miss Lansbury began, drowned out by a standing ovation. “Who knew that @ this time in my life that I should be presented with this lovely, lovely award. I feel deeply grateful.”

An emotional Liza Minnelli accepted the prize for special theatrical event for her show “Liza’s at the Palace.”

“This is exquisite,” Miss Minnelli said, asking for a list of people to thank because she didn’t think she was going to win. “Lastly, I want to thank my parents and the greatest gift they ever gave me, Kay Thompson,” her godmother. Miss Minnelli re-created part of Ms. Thompson’s club act as part of her Palace entertainment.

Roger Robinson’s portrayal of a mystical, shamanlike character in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” was honored with the featured-acting prize.

“It has taken me 46 years to come from that seat, up these steps, to this microphone,” said Mr. Robinson, who thanked his mother in Bellevue, Wash., “who’s 98 years old … who encouraged me and raised seven children single-handedly.”

The award for featured actress in a musical went to Karen Olivo as the spitfire Anita in the revival of “West Side Story.”

“I’m completely unprepared for this. … I just want to dedicate this to everyone who has a dream,” Miss Olivo said, thanking the production’s 91-year-old director, Arthur Laurents, and then dissolving in tears.

“Billy Elliot” and “God of Carnage,” whose director Matthew Warchus also won, were the biggest attractions in a Broadway season that finished with a flourish on stage and, despite the economic downturn, at the box office, too. The British musical, which tells the story of a coal miner’s son who dreams to dance, was expected to dominate the musical prizes, while Yasmina Reza’s satiric look at the collapse of middle-class propriety was the favorite for the “best play” crown.

Besides “Next to Normal,” which examines a family fractured by a mother’s mental illness, the competition for “Billy Elliot” for the top musical prize was “Shrek,” DreamWorks’ tale of a cantankerous green ogre, and “Rock of Ages,” a celebration of ‘80s music.

“God of Carnage” faced “Reasons to be Pretty,” Neil LaBute’s look at an unraveling relationship; “Dividing the Estate,” Horton Foote’s gently comic examination of a squabble over money; and “33 Variations,” Moises Kaufman’s drama about a dying woman’s pursuit of a musical mystery.

The Tonys twittered this year, with Mark Indelicato of “Ugly Betty” as the night’s uber-tweeter from backstage at Radio City Music Hall. He offered such timely nuggets as “NPH’s (host Neil Patrick Harris) favorite beverage while warming up for the start of Tonys? RED BULL, natch!” Jane Fonda, nominated for lead actress in a play, offered: “The trick is to be Zen about it. Winning is sometimes not the prize.”

Arlington’s Signature Theatre received the Regional Theatre Tony Award, which is accompanied by a gift of $25,000 from Visa USA.

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