Big night for African-American actors, women at Tony Awards

67th_Annual_Tony_Awar_Broa_2.jpgPatina Miller, Tony Award winner of the best actress in a musical category for her role in “Pippen,” left, Cicely Tyson, winner of the best actress in a play category for “The Trip to Bountiful”, center, and Billy Porter, winner of the best actor in a musical category for his role in “Kinky Boots,” pose with their awards in the press room at the 67th Annual Tony Awards, on Sunday, June 9, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)


by Jocelyn Noveck

AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — On a feel-good night for Broadway, it was only natural that the Tony award go to its most feel-good musical, the joyous “Kinky Boots.” But most everything about Sunday’s Tony telecast was warmhearted, from inspiring speeches about the theatrical community to the inspired antics of Neil Patrick Harris, who should officially be awarded the host job on a permanent basis.

It was a big night for African-American actors, with wins for best actor and actress in a musical, best actress in a play and featured actor in a play.

The ebullient Billy Porter won best actor in a musical for playing a drag queen with a heart of gold and a taste for, well, kinky boots, in “Kinky Boots.” He graciously saluted his co-star and co-nominee, Stark Sands. “”You are my rock, my sword, my shield,” he said, adding: “I share this award with you. I’m gonna keep it at my house — but I share it with you.”

And the effervescent Patina Miller won best actress in a musical for “Pippin,” in a role — the Leading Player — that also won Ben Vereen a Tony in 1973. Like Vereen, Miller sings and dances expertly in the role, but unlike Vereen, she also soars on a trapeze and sings while hula-hooping.

Cicely Tyson, 88, had perhaps the evening’s most emotional win — and not one but two standing ovations — for best actress in a play, in “The Trip to Bountiful.” She told the audience that at her age, she had “this burning desire to do just one more — one more great role. I didn’t want to be greedy. I just wanted one more.”

And Courtney B. Vance won best featured actor in “Lucky Guy,” his first win in three nominations.

“It’s a richer experience now,” he said at the Tony after-party. “Being nominated is a whirlwind. Now I know how to pace myself.” He was snapping photos of his wife, actress Angela Bassett, as fellow guests at the Tony after-party at the Plaza Hotel crowded around them. “Besides,” he said, “we’re the toast of Broadway now! That doesn’t happen very often.”

Shalita Grant, his colleague in “Vanya and Sonia,” was boogying on the dance floor too. “Hey, it’s a great night,” she said. “Two months on Broadway and then a nomination? I can’t complain.”

The winner in Grant’s category was Judith Light of “The Assembled Parties,” her second Tony in the category in two years. The former star of TV’s “Who’s the Boss?” gave one of the most poignant and admired speeches of the night, along with Letts, who made similar remarks about the Tonys being not about competition, but about collaboration.

As it was for African-Americans, it was an especially happy night for female theater artists: In a rare feat, women took home both directing prizes, for a musical (Diane Paulus for the high-energy “Pippin” revival) and for a play (Pam MacKinnon for the searing revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

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