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‘The Book of Mormon’ is big winner at Tony Awards

'The Book of Mormon' Andrew Rannells and the cast of "The Book of Mormon" performed during the Tony Awards. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
By Don Aucoin
Globe Staff / June 13, 2011

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“The Book of Mormon,’’ a taboo-toppling yet essentially sweet-natured musical about a pair of Mormon missionaries in Uganda, racked up nine Tony Awards last night, including one for best musical.

“We did this because we all secretly wanted to have a big happy Mormon family, and now we do,’’ said Trey Parker, who wrote “Book of Mormon’’ along with his “South Park’’ cocreator Matt Stone and “Avenue Q’’ composer Robert Lopez. Parker gave a joking shout-out to Joseph Smith, the 19th-century founder of Mormonism, crying: “You did it, Joseph! You got the Tony!’’

The World War I drama “War Horse’’ won five Tonys, including for best play and best direction of a play, by Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott. Frances McDormand was named best leading actress in a play for her wrenching portrayal of a desperate South Boston single mother in “Good People,’’ written by David Lindsay-Abaire, a Southie native.

In her acceptance speech, McDormand called the play “an American classic with a classic American hero.’’ Mark Rylance’s staggering performance as a raffish renegade in “Jerusalem’’ earned him a Tony (his second) for best leading actor in a play. Neil Patrick Harris hosted the Tony Awards, which were televised by CBS and presented in New York by the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League.

It was a big night for “The Normal Heart,’’ Larry Kramer’s impassioned, semi-autobiographical 1985 drama about an activist’s battle to raise awareness of AIDS in the early 1980s. It won for best revival of a play and earned Tonys for two members of the cast: Ellen Barkin as best actress in a featured role in a play, and John Benjamin Hickey as best actor in a featured role in a play.

“I could not have written it had not so many of us so needlessly died,’’ Kramer said. “Learn from it, and carry on the fight.’’

As expected, “Anything Goes’’ won for best revival of a musical. Sutton Foster won for best leading actress in a musical for her performance in “Anything Goes,’’ while Norbert Leo Butz won for best leading actor in a musical for “Catch Me If You Can.’’

John Larroquette’s amusingly hammy portrayal of J.B. Biggley in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’’ earned him the Tony for best actor in a featured role in a musical.

But the spotlight shone consistently and deservedly last night on the brilliantly entertaining “Book of Mormon.’’

Nikki M. James, who plays a Ugandan woman named Nabulungi in “The Book of Mormon,’’ won a Tony for best actress in a featured role in a musical. She thanked Parker, Lopez, and Stone for creating a work that is, she said, “changing the face of American musical theater.’’

An early sign that a stellar evening was in store for “Mormon’’ came before the telecast, when Parker, Stone, and Lopez won for best original score. Parker and Casey Nicholaw won for best direction of a musical. “I really want to thank ‘South Park’ fans,’’ Parker said. “If it weren’t for you guys, we wouldn’t be here.’’ “The Book of Mormon’’ also won Tonys for best book of a musical, best orchestrations, best sound design of a musical, best scenic design of a musical, and best lighting design.

The crop of Tony garlands tossed its way represents a remarkable feat by a pair of Broadway newcomers, Stone and Parker. Along with Lopez, they pushed the envelope and took the Broadway musical to a few places it’s seldom gone before, thematically speaking. The result is a smash hit that has broken box-office records at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

The decision by Tony voters to name “War Horse’’ best play, while expected, is likely to raise some hackles. Though the production is technically ingenious, with its life-sized horse puppets, Nick Stafford’s script for “War Horse’’ is not in the same league as the trio of dramas over which it triumphed: “Good People’’; “Jerusalem,’’ by Jez Butterworth; and “The (Expletive) With the Hat,’’ by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.

Related

Tony Awards highlights
Photos

Tony Awards highlights

The 2011 Tony Awards were held June 12 at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Above: Christina Hendricks and host Neil Patrick Harris.