'Heights' Wins Top Musical Tony, 'August Takes Top Play

"In the Heights" won the 2008 Tony Award for best musical.

The joyous celebration of the immigrant experience, specifically Latino life in the upper reaches of Manhattan topped "Passing Strange" a look at the highly personal odyssey of a young, middle-class man as he comes of age during a rock, sex and drug-filled journey to Europe.

Both shows were created by Broadway newcomers.

"August: Osage County" wins 2008 Tony Award for best play.

Already a Pulitzer Prize winner, 'August' is Tracy Letts' look at the bitter backbiting of an Oklahoma family, presided over by an acidulous matriarch.

The other fine nominees were Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer," "Rock 'n' Roll" by Tom Stoppard and "The 39 Steps," Patrick Barlow's adaptation of the Hitchcock film.

"Boeing-Boeing," a 1960s sex farce filled with slamming doors and eager stewardesses, won as best-play revival and the revival of "South Pacific' took four design prizes as the 2008 Tony Awards got under way Sunday.

Stew, the star and co-creator of "Passing Strange" took the prize for best book of a musical.
"Yeah, yeah. Um. Yeah," said the almost speechless performer, who did not expect awards to be given out so early. "I thought this would happen an hour from now. I was looking for some M&Ms in my pocket."

He said that he and his team created the project on an "organic" level. "We dealt with this play like a kid or a good meal," he said.

"South Pacific" received awards for sets, costumes, lighting and sound of a musical. The design prizes for play were divided — two went to "The 39 Steps" for sound and lighting, while "August: Osage County" took set design and "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" costumes.

"In the Heights" managed two musical prizes — for the choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler and for orchestrations.

Also nominated for best musical were "Cry-Baby," Broadway's second attempt to adapt a John Waters film for the stage, and "Xanadu," a campy send-up of a nearly forgotten 1980s roller-disco movie.
Equally fierce was the contest for best-musical revival, with the main contenders being two classics from Broadway's golden age: "South Pacific," the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic tale of romance and racism during World War II; and "Gypsy," the ultimate backstage story of one mother's determination to make her daughter a star.

"But in many ways, this was the year of the play," says Sherman. "And the variety was enormous — old, new, American, English, Irish."

In a season that offered 36 productions, 23 of them were plays — 10 new works and 13 revivals.

And the winner for best play surely will be no surprise when announced during the three-hour ceremony televised by CBS from Radio City Music Hall, 8-11 p.m. EDT.

Despite an abundance of plays, it was a disconcerting year for Broadway. A crippling 19-day stagehands strike last November shut down more than two dozen shows during a particularly lucrative time of year, resulting in millions of dollars in losses. The strike most likely prevented the theater from having its first-ever billion-dollar season.

The total gross for the season, according to the Broadway League, was $937.5 million, about a million dollars shy of the previous year. Attendance slipped slightly, too, to 12.27 million, down from 12.3 million in the preceding season.

None of the new musicals proved to be smash hits at the box office, compared to successes from past seasons such as "Jersey Boys" or "Wicked." The season's most difficult ticket turned out to be the nearly 60-year-old "South Pacific."

More than a few shows were counting on Tony victories to boost business. Sunday's winners in 26 competitive categories were voted on by 795 members of the theatrical community. The Tonys were founded by the Wing in 1947.