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 and nominated for 12 awards, also won for best book, best lead actor in Michael Cerveris and best direction from Sam Gold.
Its 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.
Two veteran Broadway stars - Cerveris and Kelli O'Hara of The King and I - took lead acting home Tonys, while a young man who just last year graduated from drama school won the Tony for best actor in a play.
Cerveris won his second Tony for playing the closeted and suicidal father at the heart of Fun Home while 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 The King and I.
“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.”
The London-born actor Alex Sharp won for 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 picked up my diploma graduating from Julliard, 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, 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 Skylight winning for best revival, and Helen Mirren nabbing her first Tony for playing Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan's The Audience. She already won an Oscar for played the monarch in the movie The Queen.
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 was crowned the best musical revival and it won for best actress in O'Hara and 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.
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 like Vanessa Hudgens' Gigi and Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer with 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 7.02 million viewers. But as happened last year, the Tonys will have to compete against Game 2 of the NBA Finals, which starts 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.