Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
NEW YORK -- Some big stars were honored, and others acknowledged, at the Tony Awards Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall.
As widely predicted, Neil Patrick Harris earned the Tony for performance by a leading actor in a musical, for his spellbinding portrait of an East German transgender rocker in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, also named best revival of a musical; and Bryan Cranston took the prize for leading actor in a play for his portrayal of LBJ in All The Way, which won best play. (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, the production that entered with the most nominations, took best musical.)
But an even more established star who was eligible for Broadway's biggest prize in Cranston's category was not forgotten, though he hadn't even been nominated.
An acclaimed staging of A Raisin in the Sun featuring that star, Denzel Washington, won best revival of a play, and also best direction, for Kenny Leon. Leon opened his acceptance speech with three words: "Denzel, Denzel, Denzel."
Leon was more blunt in the media room, telling reporters, "Yes, Denzel was snubbed" -- before stopping to watch Sophie Okonedo, who won featured actress in a play for portraying Washington's character's wife, accept on one of two screens showing the ceremony in progress. "Wow," Leon said, clearly moved.
Another member of Raisin's cast, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, lost leading actress to Audra McDonald, who earned her sixth Tony -- a record for a performer -- for playing Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. Jessie Mueller won best leading actress in a musical for playing another music legend in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Both Mueller and McDonald gave emotional acceptance speeches that paid homage to, among others, the women they brought to life (or back to life, in McDonald's case) on stage. McDonald remarked that Holiday "deserved so much more than you were given on this planet."
Asked in the media room how she felt about setting a new record, McDonald replied, "I'm overwhelmed -- completely overwhelmed, and grateful."
Cranston was asked if he had done research to play an American president who championed civil rights after Holiday died, and responded, chuckling, "It feels like I'm still doing it." The actor added that heaimed to capture the "good ole boy, back-slapping, story telling s--- kicker" in Johnson.
Mueller and King arrived in the media room together, where the latter admitted that she had "learned a lot of new things about myself watching Jessie portray me." As a younger artist, the singer/songwriter said, "I had no idea who I was," and she added that "to myself as the woman I was then and actually like myself" was a "gift."
Harris told reporters that painting his nails a garish color for his role in Hewdig was no biggie: Having three-and-a-half year old twins at home, "we do nail color all the time."
Another prominent winner was Gentleman's Guide director Darko Tresnjak, who had faced stiff competition from Michael Mayer, who guided Harris in Hedwig. Tresnjak thanked his husband and his mother; the latter "literally taught me to jump out of airplanes." She fought during World War II and is still alive.
Robert L. Freedman's book for Guide also won. Accepting, Freedman acknowledged leading man (and leading actor nominee) Jefferson Mays, who "died so beautifully 64 times a week" in the romp, in which Mays juggled eight roles. (The award for original score went to The Bridges of Madison County composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown.)
Critical darling Mark Rylance collected his third Tony, in the category of featured actor in a play, for a U.K.-based staging of Twelfth Night, while James Monroe Iglehart was named best featured actor in a musical for his show-stopping turn as Genie in Disney's Aladdin. (Asked later how he would celebrate, Iglehart told reporters that he and his wife were "going to McDonald's.")
Harris's co-star in Hedwig, the vocal chameleon Lena Hall, accepted the prize for featured actress in a musical breathlessly, thanking her parents, a sister who had done her hair and "my soon-to-be-born niece."
An opening sequence featured host Hugh Jackman greeting nominees, and performers from nominated productions, backstage -- at one point feigning boxing with Rocky's Tony Karl, at another bouncing onto a piano bench with Mueller.
"It's going to be after midnight before I catch my breath!" Jackman told the crowd, once onstage.
Then, rather than lead the kind of cheeky production number that has earned Neil Patrick Harris raves in his recent years presiding over the ceremonies, Jackman threw the spotlight to entertainers from best-musical contender After Midnight -- among them Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Fantasia, who have been guest stars in the revue.
Several awards were announced before the live telecast on CBS, at a presentation hosted by stage vet Karen Ziemba and Billy Porter, last year's Tony winner for performance by a leading actor in a musical. Beautiful won for sound design in a musical and Lady Day (which featured music prominently) won for sound design in a play.
Rocky and Act One earned scenic design in, respectively, a play and musical. The Bridges of Madison County won in the category of best orchestrations.
Rosie O'Donnell was given the Isabelle Stevenson Award for her philanthropic effort. O'Donnell quipped that she had been concerned her award would look like any other Tony -- so that when visitors saw it, "I would say, best featured actress in a musical - where the (heck) have you been?" She added that seeing a Broadway musical orchestra was "better than Prozac for me."
Jane Greenwood, accepting a special Tony for lifetime achievement said, "it all started when my Aunt Kate took me to the theater in Liverpool, and showed me what was so magic about it."
Some of the stars up for other awards flaunted their style on the red carpet. Leading actress in a musical Idina Menzel turned up in Zac Posen. Menzel, a previous Tony winner for Wicked, noted that the show is based in New York City, and cited one of her favorite things about the Big Apple: " If you're alone and having a bad day, can get out and walk among people and shed yourself of that tension and anxiety."
Celia Keenan-Bolger, a nominee for featured actress in a play for her portrait of the painfully shy, physically challenged Laura is last fall's acclaimed revival of The Glass Menagerie, admitted that she hadn't cared for the Tennessee Williams play much in high school.
"I can't believe how wrong I was," said Keenan-Bolger -- adding that's she's the opposite of Laura (a role inspired by Williams' sister).
Tyne Daly, up for leading actress in a play for her portrait of the mother of an AIDS victim in Mothers and Sons, said she was "humbled" and "dazzled" that playwright Terence McNally, also nominated, had written the role for her.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, scheduled to make her Broadway debut later this year opposite Ewan McGregor in a revival of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, turned up on the red carpet in a Dolce & Gabbana gown and pixie cut. "I've never been on Broadway," said Gyllenhaal (who has performed off-Broadway), "but I've always had the dream. There's a magic to being on Broadway and I've dreamed about it all my life."