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Broadway Billy Leads Brit Success with Ten Tonys

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The Brits have come. British productions and talent triumphed last night (7 June 2009) on Broadway at the 63rd annual Tony Awards, with Billy Elliot, the quintessentially English working-class screen-to-stage musical, leading the charge (See News, 5 May 2009). Billy Elliot’s astonishing total of ten wins – converted from its 15 nominations – was more than three times as many as any other 2009 Tony winner. It’s a record for a British musical, and it raises the musical’s overall number of international awards up to 73.

In addition to the most coveted prize of Best Musical, Billy Elliot took home Best Book (by Lee Hall) and also prizes for almost every member of the reunited London creative team: Best Direction of a Musical (Stephen Daldry), Choreography (Peter Darling), Orchestrations (Martin Koch – in a tie with the orchestrators of US musical Next to Normal), Scenic Design (Ian MacNeil), Lighting (Rick Fisher) and Sound (Paul Arditti).

In the performance categories, there were two more Billy Elliot wins for some of the American cast (though Briton Haydn Gwynne, who made her Broadway debut reprising her original UK performance as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, missed out): Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Gregory Jbara and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for the three boys - David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik (who has also performed in the show in London) and Kiril Kulish - who alternate in the title role.

At the Tony Awards ceremony hosted by Neil Patrick Harris at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, the star-studded 6,000 strong audience rose to their feet to give the three Billys a standing ovation when they were given their prize. Shortly after, Liza Minnelli presented the Best Musical to Elton John, Stephen Daldry and producers Eric Fellner and Sally Greene, who were joined on stage by the boys, along with the rest of the cast and production team.

Based on the 2000 film by the same creative team and set against the North-eastern mining strikes of the 1980s, Billy Elliot recounts the tale of a motherless boy whose father wants him to learn to box but who instead discovers a love for ballet that leads him from secret lessons to a place at the Royal Ballet School. The musical had its world premiere in May 2005 at the West End’s Victoria Palace, where it’s still running. The production on Broadway, where a glossary of the vernacular is included in programmes, opened to critical raves on 13 November 2008 (See The Goss, 14 Nov 2008).

Stephen Daldry wasn’t the only British director to be lauded last night. Matthew Warchus nabbed Best Direction of a Play. In fact, he was twice-nominated: for the Old Vic transfer of The Norman Conquests and for Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, another play first seen in London. He ended up scooping the director accolade for the latter – which also won Best Play – but his work on the former was recognised when the Alan Ayckbourn trilogy was named Best Revival of a Play.

Elsewhere, Brits triumphed in both Best Costume fields – from the nominated plays, Anthony Ward won for the Donmar Warehouse transfer of Schiller’s Mary Stuart, and from musicals, Tim Hatley was awarded for Shrek, the first big musical out of Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions’ stable – and octogenarian British actress Angela Lansbury received her fifth Tony Award last night, only the fifth actress to ever do so. This time the veteran took home Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance as Madame Arcati in a revival of Noel Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit. Collecting her prize, Lansbury said: "Being with all you Broadwayites is the greatest gift in my old age that I can possibly imagine."

For the full list of winners and nominees full shortlists in the 2009 Annual Antoinette Perry "Tony" Awards, visit www.tonyawards.com.


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