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"South Pacific" wins big at Tony Awards

NEW YORK (Reuters) - “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific” dominated Broadway’s top honors, the Tony Awards, with seven prizes on Sunday, followed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “August: Osage County” with five wins.

“South Pacific,” nominated for 11 Tonys, picked up awards for best musical revival, best musical director (Bartlett Sher), best leading actor in a musical (Paulo Szot), scenery, costume, lighting and sound.

Sher said audiences seemed to find contemporary resonance in the show’s themes of racial tension at a time of war -- issues of heightened interest in the U.S. presidential election campaign with black candidate Sen. Barack Obama winning the Democratic nomination.

“The reception was completely overwhelming,” Sher told reporters, adding the show happened “to hit this weird crease in the culture around the election.”

“August: Osage County,” the Tracy Letts play that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama this year, won Tonys for best play, best featured actress (Rondi Reed), best leading actress (Deanna Dunagan), scenic design and direction (Anna D. Shapiro).

Cast members signaled that the sprawling drama about a dysfunctional family in rural Oklahoma could transfer to London’s West End later this year.

Broadway veteran Patti LuPone won best actress in a musical for her role in “Gypsy,” while her co-stars won best featured actor (Boyd Gaines) and featured actress (Laura Benanti).

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The show is a revival of a musical suggested by a stripper’s memoir with Stephen Sondheim lyrics. It was the second Tony for LuPone, who last won for “Evita.”

“Shut up, it’s been 29 years,” she yelled as the orchestra began playing at New York City’s Radio City Hall.

“It’s such a wonderful gift to be an actor who makes her living on the Broadway stage and then once every 30 years or so pick up one of these.”


Rock musician Stew, whose real name is Mark Stewart, won best book of a musical for “Passing Strange,” the show’s single award from seven nominations.

“It’s incredibly insane to be up here,” he told reporters. “Our goal was to put music on stage that people are actually listening to, the music people actually listen to on subways or when at they’re at home getting stoned.”

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“In the Heights,” a musical about a largely Dominican northern Manhattan neighborhood, won four awards, including best original score for creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. It had led the Tony nominations with 13.

“I used to dream about this moment, now I’m in it,” Miranda, 28, who thought up the show during his second year in college and worked on it for eight years, said in a speech he rapped to the crowd. “I wrote a little show about home.”

“Boeing-Boeing,” the classic farce which is the most performed French play, won best revival of a play.

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The Tony Awards were established in 1947 and are named for Antoinette Perry, whose nickname was Toni. Perry, who died in 1946, was an actress, stage director and philanthropist who was a founder of the American Theatre Wing.

Around 750 people from the theater industry -- from actors, to directors to journalists -- vote for the Tony Awards.

Sondheim, who wrote music and lyrics for such shows as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Sweeney Todd” was given a special Tony for lifetime achievement.

Broadway shows would have set box office and attendance records for the 12 months to May 25, 2008, if there had not been a 19-day stagehand strike in November over a new contract with theater owners and producers, according to the industry.

Theatergoers were treated to 36 new productions -- 13 musicals and 23 plays. Paid attendance fell 0.2 percent from the previous year to 12.27 million tickets, while shows grossed $937.5 million, down from 2006/07’s record of $938.5 million.

Additional reporting by Carmen Perry, editing by John O’Callaghan