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‘Once’ tops Tony winners

A rethought American musical classic and a great Arthur Miller play, a bittersweet musical almost-love story and a prickly, provocative play on the always-thorny subject of race were the major winners when the 66th annual Tony Awards were presented Sunday evening at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre. How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris returned for his third hosting gig, bringing snark and style to CBS’s three-hour Broadway infomercial.

Leading all shows with 11 nominations, Once earned eight Tonys, including the coveted best musical award. Emotional best actor winner Steve Kazee thanked his leading lady, Cristin Milioti, and his castmates for helping him hold on after his mother — who would tell him, “Stand up there and show them whose little boy you are” — passed away on Easter Sunday.

Irish playwright Enda Walsh (whose typical darker fare led a friend to crack, “Jesus, it’s like getting’ the rights to It’s a Wonderful Life and askin’ Charles Manson to write it!”), took the Tony for best book of a musical for Once. John Tiffany won for his direction, Bob Crowley for his Irish pub set, Martin Lowe for orchestrations, Natasha Katz for lighting, Clive Goodwin for sound design.

Bruce Norris’ 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, won the best play Tony. The provocative examination of race and change in a Chicago suburb over a period of 50 years has already been produced in South Florida, last season at Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre Company, a troupe now in limbo.

James Corden, the zaftig comic star of One Man, Two Guvnors, took the Tony as leading man in a play. Sultry Nina Arianda won the best actress in a play Tony for Venus in Fur, gushing to presenter Christopher Plummer that he was her first crush.

Peter and the Starcatcher, the Peter Pan prequel based on a book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, won Smash star Christian Borle his first Tony (as best featured actor in a play) for his performance as Black Stache, the self-adoring pirate who would become Captain Hook. Peter was the night’s second biggest winner with five Tonys, including wins for costume designer Paloma Young, set designer Donyale Werle, lighting designer Jeff Croiter and sound designer Darron L. West.

Disney’s smash hit Newsies won just two Tonys, one for the score by the prolific Alan Menken (improbably, his first Tony) and Jack Feldman, the other for Christopher Gattelli’s athletically robust choreography.

The 80-year-old Mike Nichols, sent to the stage with a kiss and an “I love you” from ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer (his Mrs.), won his sixth Tony for directing Death of a Salesman, which was chosen best revival of a play. Arthur Miller’s classic, the director noted, “gets truer as time goes by.”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, the reworking of an American classic by director Diane Paulus, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and musical adapter Dierdre L. Murray, captured the Tony as best revival, beating out Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies for the award. Sondheim created a theater-world stir when he wrote a letter to the New York Times (before Porgy and Bess began performances) criticizing the idea of altering a great work. An emotional Audra McDonald, a four-time winner of the best featured actress Tony, won her first leading award for playing Bess. That sumptuous revival of Follies? It won one Tony, for Gregg Barnes’ costume designs.

Judith Light claimed the CBS telecast’s first Tony as best featured actress in a play for Other Desert Cities. Michael McGrath of Nice Work If You Can Get It was named best featured actor in a musical, and his castmate Judy Kaye won her second Tony, tearfully dedicating her best featured actress award to her father, who passed away just a week earlier.

In his third time ‘round hosting the Tonys, the nimbly funny Harris demonstrated why he has become a go-to awards show host (he’s also done the Emmys), sometimes making the bits between the showcased musicals and plays at least as entertaining as some of the excerpts. He described the Tonys, for example, as “50 shades of gay.” He called the dancing news “boys” of Newsies “overly attractive, hyperactive 35-year-old 15-year olds.”

He even dangled upside down for his “art,” turning the normally dull explanation of the Tonys’ founding group, the American Theatre Wing, into a sight-gag dig at the notorious technical malfunctions of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Which did not, by the way, win any Tonys at all.