'The Goat' wins best play Tony; 'Millie' wins six

Monday, June 3, 2002

NEW YORK -- "Thoroughly Modern Millie," the Jazz Age tale of an ambitious flapper, tapped its way to six Tony Awards including best musical Sunday, while "The Goat," Edward Albee's comic drama about the unpredictable nature of love was named best play.

Besides best musical, "Millie" received prizes for lead actress-musical, Sutton Foster; featured-actress musical, Harriet Harris; choreography, Rob Ashford; costumes, Martin Pakledinaz and orchestrations, Doug Besterman and Ralph Burns.

For Foster, it was a Cinderella-inspired victory. The 27-year-old actress, originally an understudy, was elevated to the starring role just before the musical began its tryout at California's La Jolla Playhouse in 2000.

"To say that this is a dream come true is an understatement," said the overwhelmed Foster.

Alan Bates and Frank Langella -- the two stars of "Fortune's Fool" -- received Tonys: Bates as best actor-play for his portrayal of an impoverished nobleman and Langella, in the featured category, for his portrait of an extravagant fop in Turgenev's rueful comedy.

For much of the evening "Millie" battled with "Urinetown," the satiric little show about a city where everyone must pay to use toilets. It received three major prizes -- for direction of a musical (John Rando), best book (Greg Kotis), and score of a musical (shared by Kotis and Mark Hollmann).

Yet the night's most tumultuous applause were reserved for Elaine Stritch, finally winning the Tony that has eluded her since 1956, when she received the first of her four previous nominations.

The 77-year-old performer got the special theatrical event prize for her one-woman show, "Elaine Stritch at Liberty."

"Don't take up my time," the emotional Stritch began as the audience cheered.

Determined speaker

The actress, who gave a 20-minute acceptance speech at the New York Drama Critics' Circle awards ceremony last month, talked past a persistent orchestra that tried to drown her out. "Please don't do that to me," she said angrily as the televised proceedings cut to a commercial.

John Lithgow, who plays a powerful New York gossip columnist in "Sweet Smell of Success," took the prize for best actor-musical. "There are four fantastic actors in this category and they all sing better than I do," said a gracious Lithgow.

Katie Finneran, the nearsighted blond bombshell in "Noises Off," won in the featured actress-play category.

Shuler Hensley won as featured actor in a musical for his role as the brooding, despondent Jud Fry in "Oklahoma!"

Mary Zimmerman who adapted and directed the myth-inspired "Metamorphoses" took the prize for direction of a play.

"I would like to thank every person I've ever met in my life," said Zimmerman as she fought back tears.

"Private Lives" won for best revival of a play as well as for actress-play, Lindsay Duncan as Amanda, the world-weary sophisticate in the Noel Coward comedy.

Heavy competition

Without a smash hit like last year's "The Producers," the 2002 Tonys were seen as a spirited horse race -- creating some real competition for prizes honoring the best of the Broadway season.

Last year, "The Producers," the Mel Brooks musical, took home 12 Tonys -- a Broadway record.

"This season was more evenly divided," says Jed Bernstein, head of the League of American Theatres and Producers.

Both grosses and attendance were down slightly from the previous season's banner year, leaving industry leaders more relieved than dismayed. "Broadway has rebounded," according to Bernstein, from the disastrous events of Sept. 11 and the aftereffects of a lingering economic downturn.

"We dodged a bullet."

Business was shaky throughout the fall but gradually returned, even if a lot of the tourists didn't, thanks to aggressive marketing campaigns, more theatergoers from the suburban New York area, discount ticket sales and a milder than normal winter.

Yet a sense of nervousness prevails. Advance ticket sales have faltered with audiences preferring to buy at the last minute or only a week or two in advance.

Still, at least eight shows recouped their investments including the $10 million "Mamma Mia!", "Metamorphoses," "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," "Bea Arthur on Broadway," "Dance of Death," "Noises Off," "Sexaholix" and "The Graduate," a starry stage version of the Mike Nichols movie that had the distinction of receiving no Tony nominations (a fact cheekily noted in its latest advertisements).

The Tonys are a joint presentation of the league and the American Theater Wing, which founded the awards in 1947. Nominees in 22 categories were chosen by the 27-member Tony nominating committee of theater professionals. Winners then were voted on by 731 theater professionals and journalists.

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