Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
NEW YORK -- Host Neil Patrick Harris opened Sunday night's Tony Awards by promising the audience at Radio City Music Hall -- in a typically witty, glitzy production number -- a "bigger" show all around. And he did not speak (or sing) in vain.
For those who find subtlety an overrated virtue, the 2012-13 Broadway season offered plenty of plays and musicals and revivals that wore their hearts, and cleverness, on their sleeves. And such productions dominated the awards as well, from Christopher Durang's wild, wacky, ultimately moving Chekhov mashup Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, named best play, to an exuberant revival of Pippin, named best revival of a musical, to a ferocious new staging of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (best revival of a play), and the winner for best musical, the high-spirited, tenderhearted Kinky Boots.
Boots fought a hotly contested race against the critically adored British import Matilda, which did win several awards, among them best book (Dennis Kelly) and featured actor in a musical (Gabriel Ebert).
But it was Boots that earned a hearty round of applause in the media room when it was officially handed the big prize. It also secured a victory for its first-time Broadway composer/lyricist, Cyndi Lauper, who gave a tearful acceptance speech. "I feel honored to be part of this community, and you guys inspire me," she said. Her colleague, celebrated director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, won for his vivacious dance routines.
Boots star Billy Porter was even more emotional accepting his trophy for leading actor in a musical, "Thank you. Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" he said, his voice breaking. "OK. OK. So. I'm going to put this on the ground. ... Shakespeare said to thine own self be true. When I was 11 years old, my journey to truth began when I discovered the Tony Awards washing dishes in my kitchen, and the performance of Jennifer Holliday and the cast of Dreamgirls on the Tony Awards took my breath away. That moment changed my life."
Pippin, surprising no one, was named best revival of a musical, with Diane Paulus beating both Mitchell and Matilda's Matthew Warchus in the category of direction of a musical. Paulus effusively thanked her collaborators and family members, citing her parents' "encouragment to do what you love with your life."
Pippin also collected an award for its leading lady, Patina Miller, who giddily accepted the Tony for leading actress in a musical by calling it the "honor of a lifetime" and a "childhood dream come true," and thanking "my cast -- the most amazing cast in New York City." Another member of that cast, comic actress Andrea Martin, who stole a memorable scene in Paulus' production as Pippin's devoted and rather randy grandma, was named best featured actress.
Martin said in the media room that she had been attracted to the concept of playing the role as a more spry character. "I wanted to play the grandmother the way I feel at 66. I thought, 'Why can't the grandmother look like me?'"
Cicely Tyson, who returned to Broadway after a 30-year hiatus for a revival of The Trip to Bountiful, won the award for leading actress. In a moving speech, she recognized "my mother and father, my sister and brother, none of whom are here with me. I'm the sole surviving member of my immediate family, and I've asked over and over again, 'Why?' I now know why."
The award for leading actor in a play went to a less widely known name: Tracy Letts, who beat out Nathan Lane and Tom Hanks for his revolutionary performance in Virginia Woolf. Letts, too, acknowledged his family, as well as his fellow nominees: "Mr. Hanks, Mr. Lane, Mr. Pierce and Mr. Sturridge. You are not my competition, you are my peers, and I'm proud to be in your company."
Virginia Woolf also earned a Tony for its director, Pam MacKinnon.
Veteran costume designer William Ivey Long won for his work on Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella. The Nance, a tragicomic study of a gay burlesque performer that was, surprisingly, omitted from the best-play nominees, did receive compensatory awards for costume and sound design.
In her speech, costume designer Ann Roth saluted the show's star: "I don't know if a man can be a muse, but Nathan Lane is my main guy. I think he's the best actor in the whole wide world. I mean it."
Courtney B. Vance, Hanks' co-star in the late Nora Ephron's Lucky Guy, won the first televised award, for featured actor in a play; Judith Light took home the prize for featured actress in a play for the second year in a row, this time for Richard Greenberg's charming domestic semi-comedy, The Assembled Parties (a best-play nominee).
In the media room, when asked what might attract him to another stage project, he repeated the name of Guy's venerable director, George C. Wolfe, whom he had already mentioned three times in a row in his acceptance speech. Wolfe "makes it fun," he said, "but is also relentless in pursuit of his vision. ... The star of this production, as Tom Hanks graciously deemed him, is the boss. George C. Wolfe is the boss."
On the red carpet, Hanks admitted that the life of a trouper was taking its toll. "My voice is a little shot," he said on the official Tonys live stream.
Hanks noted that his wife, Rita Wilson, who accompanied him, had performed in the long-running revival of Chicago, "so I asked her (for advice) "¦ but I now understand why she was always sleeping or preparing."
Lauper walked the carpet with her Boots collaborator Fierstein. "He's the guy who called me up and asked me if I wanted to work with him," Lauper said. "It's nice when you get to work with friends."
A more unlikely Broadway baby, Mike Tyson, who was not nominated for the one-man curiosity he staged last summer, Undisputed Truth, admitted on the stream that he would never "in a million years" have imagined himself at this ceremony. "This speaks for itself. I'm just very grateful to be here."
Another overlooked performer, Alan Cumming, eligible for his (virtually one-man) Macbeth, said that he had joked about his fate with Scarlett Johansson, a previous Tony winner who this time failed to nab a nomination herself, for a recent revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. "We called ourselves 'the snubs,'" Cumming said.
Contributing: Cindy Clark and Donna Freydkin