Published June 12, 2011
NEW YORK – The profane and hysterical "The Book of Mormon" took home nine Tony Awards on Sunday including the prize for best musical, a considerable achievement for a pair of first-time Broadway playwrights known more for their raunchy cartoons featuring potty-mouthed kids.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the Emmy Award-winning "South Park," found a kindred soul in Robert Lopez, who co-wrote the Tony-winning "Avenue Q," and all three found themselves with plenty of awards when they collaborated to gently mock Mormons and send-up Broadway itself.
Collecting the best musical prize, a subdued Parker, who tied Josh Logan of "South Pacific" with four Tonys in one evening — said he'd be remiss if he didn't thank his late book co-writer — Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion.
"You did it, Joseph! You got the Tony!" Parker said looking skyward and holding up his award.
The show, which netted honors for best musical, best book, best direction of a musical, best score, best featured actress and four technical awards, came in with a leading 14 nominations and was the heavy favorite for the top musical prize.
"We know what the best musical is — it's like taking a hooker to dinner," comedian Chris Rock said before reading the nominees and announcing the winner.
"War Horse" — a World War I tale about horses told with puppets and actors — won five Tonys, including the best prize award. The revival of "The Normal Heart" and "Anything Goes" both won three each.
Mark Rylance won the best acting award for a play for his powerful role of Johnny "Rooster" Byron in Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem." Just as he did three years ago when he won for "Boeing-Boeing," Rylance quoted a poem by Louis Jenkins, an obscure poet from Minnesota.
"Unlike flying or astral projection, walking through walls is a totally earth-related craft, but a lot more interesting than pot-making or driftwood lamps," he said to the bemused crowd. When asked later why he had recited the poem, he said, "I don't know. I was getting a little bored."
Norbert Leo Butz won for best actor in a musical. Butz, who plays a frumpy FBI agent hot on the heels of a con man in "Catch Me If You Can" took home his second Tony. His previous win was in 2005 for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
Sutton Foster won for best actress in a musical and gave a tearful speech. "It doesn't feel like a job," she said of the Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes," which also won best musical revival and earned Kathleen Marshall an award for best choreography.
Frances McDormand was declared the best leading actress in a play for portraying a South Boston blue-collar woman who reconnects with a high school boyfriend in David Lindsay-Abaire play "Good People."
The best direction of a musical award went to Casey Nicholaw and Parker for "The Book of Mormon." Parker — as well as co-writers Stone and Lopez — later returned to the stage to accept the Tony for the best book of a musical.
The top directing prize for a play went to Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris for the weepy British import "War Horse." ''We quite like it when people cry," Morris cracked backstage.
Nikki M. James, who plays a potential love interest to the pair of missionaries who travel to Uganda in "The Book of Mormon," dedicated the award to her dad, who died while she was in high school, and to her nephew Ozzie, who was born with kidney problems.
The show is one of the hottest in town and James said even cast members are having trouble getting tickets for their friends and family. "It's amazing to know you're going to walk out there every night and know you're going to see a house full of people," she said.
Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" won the best revival prize and two actors from the AIDS drama — Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey — also won. Barkin, making her Broadway debut, was declared the best actress in a featured role in a play, while Hickey took home the male equivalent honor.
"It's the proudest moment of my career. Being involved in something this important is I think a once-in-a-career opportunity," said Barkin. Hickey warned his family in Texas that they'd better not be watching the Heat-Mavericks game instead of the Tonys.
Kramer's historic play about the beginning of an epidemic that has killed millions won the Tony 26 years after it was first mounted at the Public Theater. "Learn from it and carry on the fight," he said. "Our day will come."
John Larroquette, in his Broadway debut, won the award for best actor in a featured role in a musical for "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." He thanked his co-star Daniel Radcliffe, who was not nominated, saying that without the "Harry Potter" star he'd be "home, sitting in my underwear, watching this on television."
Away from the television cameras, "The Book of Mormon" won for orchestration, sound design, scenic design of a musical, score and book of a musical. "War Horse" won for best sound design of a play and best scenic design of a play, and "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" got the costume award for flamboyant fantasies created by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner.
Host Neil Patrick Harris began the show at the Beacon Theatre with an exuberant, facetious song about how Broadway isn't just for gay people any more. The number featured a bevy of dancing nuns, sailors, flight attendants and Mormons: "Attention every breeder, you're invited to the theater!" He later mocked "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," sang with Hugh Jackson and rode one of the puppet horses of "War Horse."
The ceremony was rolling along fine until Brooke Shields had to be bleeped after forgetting the lyrics and flubbing an opening song with Harris. "I can do eight performances a week but I can't read a TelePrompTer," she joked.
This year's Tonys were on Manhattan's Upper West Side after the ceremony was forced to leave its longtime home at Radio City Music Hall because Cirque du Soleil moved in. Tony producers picked the 3,000-seat Beacon Theatre, which has only about half as many seats as Radio City.
AP Television Writer Frazier Moore and National Writer Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.