- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — “Avenue Q” won the award for best musical at the 2004 Tony Awards last night.

A cheeky little musical that uses puppets, four-letter words and catchy, jinglelike tunes, “Avenue Q” also received Tonys for the best book and score.

“When we started writing ‘Avenue Q,’ Jeff was an intern and I was a temp,” said one of the songwriters, Robert Lopez. “But we’re here to tell you, as living proof, that things get better: L and Carol just gave us the Tony Award,” said an exuberant Jeff Marx after LL Cool J and Carol Channing gave them the prize.

“I Am My Own Wife,” Doug Wright’s gender-bending tale of survival, was named best play. And history was made as Phylicia Rashad became the first black actress to win the prize for a leading dramatic role.

“Often I’ve wondered, what does it take for this to happen?” said Miss Rashad, who received the prize for her portrayal of Lena Younger, the tough-minded matriarch in a revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“And now I know. It takes effort and grace — tremendous self-effort and amazing grace. And in my life, that grace has taken numerous forms. The first was the family into which I was born, parents who loved and wanted me and a mother who fought fearlessly, courageously, consistently so that her children above all else could realize their full potential as human beings.”

Jefferson Mays bested the better-known Kevin Kline, Christopher Plummer and Frank Langella to take the top acting prize for his portrayal of a German transvestite — and some 40 other characters — in Mr. Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” a role he called “a labor of love.”

“Our entire cast just won Tony Awards,” said Mr. Wright in accepting the best-play honor.

“Assassins,” Stephen Sondheim’s sardonic musical about presidential killers, picked up five Tonys, including best musical revival and one for Michael Cerveris, who portrays John Wilkes Booth in the show.

“You don’t have to kill somebody to get something like this. You can just pretend to on Broadway,” said Mr. Cerveris, winner of the award for featured actor in a musical.

The show also won for direction-musical, Joe Mantello; lighting design, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer; and orchestrations, Michael Starobin.

Featured acting prizes went to Audra McDonald, her fourth Tony in 10 years, this time for her role as the hardworking wife in “A Raisin in the Sun,” and to Brian F. O’Byrne, who plays a serial killer in “Frozen.”

An emotional Miss McDonald said, “The only thing I want ever wanted to do was be on Broadway.” She thanked the cast, her family and said, “This belongs to Lorraine Hansberry,” the play’s author.

Anika Noni Rose won the featured-actress prize for her role as the defiant daughter in “Caroline, or Change.”

“Wicked,” a lavish look at the “Wizard of Oz” witches, was celebrated for its spectacle, picking up two design prizes: Eugene Lee for his gargantuan sets in the $14 million musical, and Susan Hilferty for the ornate costumes.

Jack O’Brien received the director/play award, for Lincoln Center Theater’s limited engagement of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” which also won for best play revival.

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