'The Book of Mormon' Dominates Tony Awards

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June 13, 2011

The American Theater Wing gave out its annual Tony awards on Sunday, honoring plays and musicals staged on

Broadway in New York - considered the highest level of the U.S. theater industry.

Broadway is an industry known for glitz and dazzle, and the Tony Awards, stage acting's premier event of celebration and congratulations was true to character right from the start.

The Book of Mormon, an irreverent show about Mormon missionaries in Africa, had 14 award nominations and became the top winner with nine wins, among them Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical. It was the first foray into live musical theater for two of its writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who are better known for creating the long-running, boundary-pushing animated TV series South Park.

Nikki M. James won the Tony for Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her role in The Book of Mormon.

"This is... I can't ... I didn't expect to be standing here tonight," an emotional James said. "And I tried to write a speech but I felt silly. So I just have to say that I would love to thank Tray and Matt and Bobby for running the most beautiful show, the most beautiful heartfelt musical that is changing the face of American musical theater."

High marks were given for Norbert Leo Butz, who showed a touching humility after beating out four other Tony nominees for "Best Performance for an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical." His work as an FBI agent in Catch Me If You Can impressed critics and audiences alike.

"This award doesn't mean I am the best at anything," joked Butz. "But it does mean that I might be the most grateful man in this room tonight."

But it was the five Tonys awarded for a revival of The Normal Heart, a powerful 1985 play about New York's gay community in the early days of the AIDS crisis that seemed to move the night's audiences the most viscerally. Playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer seemed to speak for many.

"I could not have written it had not so many of us so needlessly died," Kramer said after accepting the Tony. "Learn from it, and carry on the fight. Let them know that we are a very special people, an exceptional people. And that our day will come."

War Horse garnered its fifth Tony of the evening for Best Play. They praised the artful way the drama used life-size horse puppets and human actors to tell a dramatic story of love, loss and redemption before and during WWI. And audience members seemed visibly delighted when Anything Goes, Cole Porter's 1934 musical, clinched the Tony for "Best Revival of a Musical."

The Tony Awards, named for actress and director Antoinette Perry, have been given out annually since 1947. The ceremony is broadcast nationally and features appearances by stars of both stage and screen.

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