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`God of Carnage' takes Tony for best play

The Associated Press, Sunday, June 7, 2009, 6:21pm (PDT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- "God of Carnage" has won the Tony for best play.

The satiric comedy by Yasmina (YAS'-me-nah) Reza (RAY'-zah) has been one of the biggest hits of the Broadway season.

The play stars James Gandolfini (GAN'-dol-fe-nee), Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis. Harden also won a best actress award.

"God of Carnage" concerns the clash between two liberal, middle-class couples whose children get into a fight.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) — "Billy Elliot" dominated Sunday night's Tonys, collecting eight awards, including director of a musical, book of a musical and choreography, but the show and its composer Elton John were upset for best score.

That award was taken by "Next to Normal" — which seemed to stun "Normal" composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey.

Still, the director award to Stephen Daldry of "Billy Elliot" was a big one.

"I have been blessed in my life to spend the majority of last 10 years of my life working on the story of 'Billy Elliot,'" said Daldry, who called it "a long, extraordinary journey."

He said the award belonged to everyone connected to the show and especially to "three great gifts of Broadway, our three little Billys."

"Billy" also received design prizes for featured actor, sets, lighting, sound and a tie with "Next to Normal" for best orchestrations, which Kitt shared with Michael Starobin.

Geoffrey Rush's extravagant portrait of a dying monarch in "Exit the King" took the top actor prize, while Marcia Gay Harden won for her comic performance as an increasingly volatile matron in "God of Carnage."

"The best thing in life is being a little light among 6,000. The season on Broadway this year for me has been exactly that," Rush said. "I want to thank Manhattan audiences for proving that French existential absurdist tragicomedy rocks."

Said Harden: "I tell my children every day that tantrums and bad behavior will get you nowhere. I don't know how to explain this. ... I feel like I've been given custody of a family that has four parents, four deranged parents."

Angela Lansbury received her fifth Tony, this time for her performance as the dotty medium Madame Arcati in a revival of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit." Her win in the featured-actress category tied the record for acting prizes held by Julie Harris, who has five plus a special lifetime achievement award given in 2002.

Who would have thought," the 83-year-old Lansbury began, drowned out by a standing ovation. "Who knew that (at) this time in my life that I should be presented with this lovely, lovely award. I feel deeply grateful."

An emotional Liza Minnelli accepted the prize for special theatrical event for her show "Liza's at the Palace."

"This is exquisite," Minnelli said, asking for a list of people to thank because she didn't think she was going to win. "Lastly, I want to thank my parents and the greatest gift they ever gave me, Kay Thompson," her godmother. Minnelli recreated part of Thompson's club act as part of her Palace entertainment.

Roger Robinson's portrayal of a mystical shamanlike character in "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" was honored with the featured-acting prize.

"It has taken me 46 years to come from that seat, up these steps, to this microphone," said Robinson, who thanked his mother in Bellevue, Wash., "who's 98 years old ... who encouraged me and raised seven children single-handedly."

Featured actress-musical went to Karen Olivo as the spitfire Anita in the revival of "West Side Story," "I'm completely unprepared for this. ... I just want to dedicate this to everyone who has a dream," Olivo said, thanking the production's 91-yeaer-old director, Arthur Laurents, and then dissolving in tears.

"Billy Elliot" and "God of Carnage," whose director Matthew Warchus also won, were the biggest attractions in a Broadway season that finished with a flourish on stage and, despite the economic downturn, at the box office, too. The British musical, which tells the story of a coal miner's son who dreams to dance, was expected to dominate the musical prizes, while Yasmina Reza's satiric look at the collapse of middle-class propriety was the favorite for the best play crown.

Besides "Next to Normal," which examines a family fractured by a mother's mental illness, the competition for "Billy Elliot" for the top musical prize was "Shrek," DreamWorks' tale of a cantankerous green ogre, and "Rock of Ages," a celebration of '80s music.

"God of Carnage" faces "reasons to be pretty," Neil LaBute's look at an unraveling relationship; "Dividing the Estate," Horton Foote's gently comic examination of a squabble over money; and "33 Variations," Moises Kaufman's drama about a dying woman's pursuit of a musical mystery.

The Tonys twittered this year, with Mark Indelicato of "Ugly Betty" as the night's uber-tweeter from backstage at Radio City Music Hall. He offered such timely nuggets as "NPH's (host Neil Patrick Harris) favorite beverage while warming up for the start of Tonys? RED BULL, natch!" Jane Fonda, nominated for lead actress in a play, offered: "The trick is to be Zen about it. Winning is sometimes not the prize."

Brett Michaels injured himself in the show's opening production number when he rocked it out with a number from "Rock of Ages." The extent of his injury was not immediately known.

Broadway had a surprisingly robust 2008-2009 season.

Attendance during the 2008-2009 season slipped a bit (to 12.15 million from 12.27 million the previous year) but not as much as was feared because of the recession. And grosses for plays and musicals actually were a bit higher than a year earlier, setting a record of $943.3 million.

Forty-three shows opened during the season, the highest number of new productions since 50 opened during the 1982-83 season.

The awards were voted on in 27 competitive categories by more than 800 members of the theatrical community, including producers, actors and journalists. The Tonys are presented by the League and the American Theatre Wing, a nonprofit service organization. The Wing founded the Tonys in 1947.

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