NEW YORK — The poignant and groundbreaking coming-of-age show “Fun Home” was named best musical at the Tony Awards on Sunday, one of five big trophies it won on the way to making history for its composing team.
The show, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir about growing up with a closeted dad in a funeral home and the first musical to have a lesbian as its main character, was nominated for 12 awards. It also won for best book, best lead actor in New Orleans resident Michael Cerveris and best direction from Sam Gold.
“Wow, you have made a lot of people in New Orleans really happy right now,” Cerveris said. “Who dat!”
In “Fun Home,” Cerveris plays the closeted father whose family business is a funeral home.
“Our show is about home,” he said. “It’s about finding who you are.”
Cerveris previously won a Tony for his portrayal of John Wilkes Booth in the 2004 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.” His film and television roles include Cook County State’s Attorney James Castro in the Julianna Margulies-starring “The Good Wife” and Marvin Frey, manager of Lucia Micarelli’s Annie in HBO’s “Treme.”
“Fun Home” songwriters Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron became the first female writing team to nab a Tony for musical score. But that milestone happened during a commercial break.
Veteran Broadway star Kelli O’Hara, of “The King and I,” took a lead acting Tony home.
O’Hara got her first Tony after six nominations, winning for her role as the English school teacher in a revival of the classic musical.
“I love what I do and I don’t need this, but now that I have it, I’ve some things to say,” she said. “My parents, who are sitting next to me for the sixth time, you don’t have to pretend it’s OK this time.”
At the top of the Tony Awards broadcast, the cast of “Something Rotten!” — the 10-time Tony-nominated musical composed by former Baton Rouge residents Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick — performed the musical’s big production number, “A Musical!”
“Something Rotten!” cast member Christian Borle later won the Tony for best featured actor in a musical. His thanks included Baton Rouge Magnet High School graduates the Kirkpatrick brothers.
“Our writers Karey and Wayne and John (O’Farrell),” Borle said, “thank you for writing something completely original, kindhearted and uproariously funny.”
Set in the 1590s, “Something Rotten!” is about a pair of brothers who desperately want to write a hit play. But the brothers constantly find themselves stuck in the shadow of a popular playwright known as “The Bard.”
Former New Orleans resident Helen Mirren won the first Tony award of the night for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Audience.” Mirren’s Broadway and London performances as Elizabeth II follow her Oscar-winning portrayal of the British monarch in the 2006 film “The Queen.”
“Your majesty, you did it again,” Mirren said after accepting the award. “Thank you so much. A massive, massive honor. The foundation upon which I stand is beautifully built by an elegant and fleet play by Peter Morgan,” she added.
Morgan, a British writer of plays and films, wrote both “The Queen” and “The Audience.” The play’s title refers to the private meetings the queen has with British prime ministers, from World War II hero Winston Churchill to the recently re-elected David Cameron.
New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. presented the Tony Award for best revival of a musical to “The King and I.” No stranger to Broadway, singer, pianist and actor Connick earned Tony nominations for writing the score for the 2001 musical “Thou Shalt Not” and playing the lead in the 2006 revival of “The Pajama Game.” Connick returned to Broadway in the 2011 revival of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”
The London-born actor Alex Sharp won the best lead actor in a play award for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” beating out Bradley Cooper and Bill Nighy.
“This time last year, I was picking up my diploma, graduating from Juilliard, so to be holding this is insane. Thank you so, so much for this,” he said. “I just want to dedicate this to any young person out there who feels misunderstood or who feels different and answer that question at the end of the play for you: Does that mean I can do anything? Yes it does.”
His win was part of a huge five-trophy haul for the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel. It also won best play, lighting and scenic design and earned its director Marianne Elliott a Tony, too, with a total of six nominations going into the evening.
The British had a big night, with Mirren’s win for “The Audience” and “Skylight” winning for best revival.
“An American in Paris,” which had a co-leading 12 nominations, won four technical awards, including best scenic design and one for Christopher Wheeldon for best choreographer.
Co-hosts Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming infused the show with a low-key medley of jokes and songs that displayed their playful, daffy chemistry. Their costume quick-changes included Cumming in a hoop skirt and Chenoweth as E.T., her co-host cracking, “I said ‘Fun Home.’ ”
One of the show’s highlights was watching Joel Grey, who recently announced he was gay, introducing “Fun Home” with his daughter, Jennifer Grey. She joked that the show was about a “brilliant and complicated father.” Joel Grey acknowledged that was something his daughter “knew something about.”
Another highlight was Jason Alexander and Larry David bickering about awards and their show “Fish in the Dark.” David joked that the reason it got no nominations was due to anti-Semitism.
The telecast on CBS at Radio City Music Hall featured appearances by Jennifer Lopez, Sting, Jim Parsons, Amanda Seyfried, Kiefer Sutherland, Bryan Cranston, Sutton Foster, Jennifer Nettles, Taye Diggs and Ashley Tisdale, among many others. Some non-theater celebrities including Kendall Jenner, Monica Lewinsky and Anna Wintour were also in the audience.
Two Broadway favorites — Annaleigh Ashford and Christian Borle — won for best featured roles. He plays a sexy William Shakespeare in “Something Rotten!” and she played an incompetent ballet dancer in “You Can’t Take It With You.” It was her first and his second.
“I can’t believe I am standing here right now for the worst dancing that ever happened on Broadway,” Ashford said.
“The King and I” also won best musical costumes. One of its stars, Ruthie Ann Miles, won in her Broadway debut as best featured actress in a musical.
She read her speech off her phone and thanked, among many others, her husband. “Thank you for agreeing to come on this crazy ride. Where are you? There you are. There’s a lot of people here.”
Josh Groban led a moving “In Memoriam” section when he sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel,” backed by the casts of all the shows appearing on the telecast, some 175 people.
New Orleans singer, actress and Tony nominee B.J. Crosby, who died March 27, was among those memorialized.
The nominated musicals “On the Twentieth Century,” “Something Rotten!” “The Visit,” “The King and I,” “On the Town,” “Fun Home” and “An American in Paris” had songs performed.
A few other non-nominated shows, including Vanessa Hudgens’ “Gigi” and Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer from “Finding Neverland,” also got spots. The best play nominees were showcased in video clips. The cast of “Jersey Boys” ended the show with “Oh What a Night.”
Producers are hoping to beat last year’s average of 7.02 million viewers. But as happened last year, the Tonys had to compete against Game 2 of the NBA Finals, which started at the same time.
A total of 37 shows opened during the season and box offices reported a record total gross of $1.36 billion — up from $1.27 billion from the previous season.
Advocate staff writer John Wirt contributed to this report.