Tears at the Tonys: Karen Olivo’s amazing night

Karen Olivo exults in her win.

Karen Olivo exults in her win.

The voters have spoken and the results are in for the 2009 Tony Awards. It’s no surprise that Billy Elliot, The Musical blew away the competition, winning 10 of the 15 categories in which it was nominated, including Best Musical.

God of Carnage won the Best Play award, and tied for the second largest number of awards with 3 wins in 6 nominations.

It was all fairly predictable. So for me, the greatest moment  of the evening for me was seeing Karen Olivo pick up the only Tony granted to the revival of West Side Story. She won for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Anita in the classic Leonard Bernstein show.

Karen first grabbed my attention with her winning Off-Broadway turn as Vanessa in In the Heights, whose author, Lin-Manuel Miranda, translated some of West Side Story’s lyrics into Spanish for this production. She reprised the role when the show moved to Broadway.

Her acceptance speech was the most emotional and natural of the night:

“Thank you, Arthur, for believing in me and for giving me confidence when I didn’t have confidence,” Karen said, referring Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book and directed this production. She broke down in tears before she could finish her speech. Olivo plays Anita, which has long been associated with Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her portrayal in the film. With her win, Karen captured an award that eluded her two Broadway predecessors in the role, Chita Rivera, in the 1957 original Broadway production  and Debbie Allen, in the 1979 revival.

Backstage, Karen regained her composure:

“I am completely surprised,” she said of her win in an interview with Playbill.com in the press room. “I guess I read the wrong [Tony polls].” About playing  Anita, she said she likes “the full journey. I like that I start as one person, and I end as a different person. It’s kind of like the best workout.”

Although this isn’t the first time she had to dance onstage, Karen said that “the most rewarding thing is I’ve become a dancer. … This forced me to jump into an arena I wasn’t comfortable with. … That was hard, and I wanted to quit all the time, but because of that it made the entire experience richer.”

(Click here for an Orlando Sentinel background feature on Karen, who’s from Florida.)

It’s a little shocking that Rock of Ages, nominated for five awards, was shut out. It may be a jukebox piece, but the music is infectious and the performances are hard to resist as a guilty pleasure. However, the non-win has provided incredible exposure for the show, with video following star Constantine Maroulis‘ road to Broadway.

And I expected Hair, the tribal love musical revival that originated with The Public Theater, would win more than once, but at least it took a big one: Best Revival of a Musical. And the huge wave of people who came up to accept the award made the Radio City Music Hall set look like the stage at the end of Hair, when the audience is invited up to dance.

The Public Theater’s Oskar Eustis gave an acceptance speech that was quick but awesome. “If the theater is going to matter, it had to talk about things that matter to the people,” he said, adding a quick coda about equality while touching his ring finger.

Host Neil Patrick Harris was charming and delightful. His best moment onscreen was a not-so-subtle dig at one of this season’s Broadway controversies: TV actor Jeremy Piven‘s questionable departure from a revival of David Mamet‘s Speed-the-Plow.

Neil returned from one commercial break eating sushi. “This gives you so much energy,” he said with a wry smile. “You could do show after show, night after night.” Piven who sparked an uproar when he abruptly departed Speed-the-Plow by claiming he had gotten mercury poisoning from eating too much cheap sushi.

I’ll leave you with the winners after the jump.

Best Musical

*Billy Elliot, The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek The Musical

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

*David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish ‚ Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
*Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Best Play

Dividing the Estate
*God of Carnage
Reasons to Be Pretty
33 Variations

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Mary Stuart
*The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
*Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
*Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair

Best Special Theatrical Event

*Liza’s at The Palace
Slava’s Snowshow
Soul of Shaolin
You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush

Best Direction of a Musical

*Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair

Best Direction of a Play

Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
*Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Lee Hall

*Next to Normal
Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey

9 to 5: The Musical
Music and Lyrics: Dolly Parton

Shrek The Musical
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
*Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
*Roger Robinson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Book of a Musical

*Billy Elliot, The Musical, Lee Hall
Next to Normal, Brian Yorkey
Shrek The Musical, David Lindsay-Abaire
[title of show], Hunter Bell

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
*Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
*Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
*Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
*Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
*Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
*Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Lighting Design of a Play

David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
*Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
*TIE Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*TIE Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
*Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical
*Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair


Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Jerry Herman

Regional Theatre Tony Award
Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.

Isabelle Stevenson Award
Phyllis Newman

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre
Shirley Herz

Here’s the tally of the 2009 Tony Award winners:

Billy Elliot, The Musical – 10
God of Carnage – 3
Next to Normal – 3
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone – 2
33 Variations – 1
Blithe Spirit – 1
Equus – 1
Exit the King – 1
Hair – 1
Liza’s at the Palace – 1
Mary Stuart – 1
Norman Conquests – 1
Shrek The Musical – 1
West Side Story – 1


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