The lethal romp A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder got a lot of love at the Tony Awards, winning the best new musical trophy on a night that also saw Audra McDonald make Broadway history, Bryan Cranston win as a rookie and four-time host Neil Patrick Harris get his own award.
A Gentleman's Guide, in which a poor man comically eliminates the eight heirs ahead of him for a title, opened rather quietly and has had a steady increase in interest, peaking with its huge win over Disney's Aladdin and the built-in love of Carole King songs from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
"The little engine that could, did," said ecstatic lead producer Joey Parnes at Sunday's awards show. A Gentlemen's Guide won in four categories, including best book of a musical. It was tied for the most decorated show of the night with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, an unlikely Broadway hit about obsession, glam rock and a botched sex-change operation.
McDonald, at 43, won her sixth Tony for portraying Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, putting her ahead of five-time winners Angela Lansbury and the late Julie Harris for the most competitive wins by an actress. (Harris has six if her special lifetime achievement award is included.) McDonald got a prolonged standing ovation and among those she thanked were her parents for not medicating their hyperactive child.
The latest win - for best lead actress in a play - also makes McDonald the only woman to win a Tony in all four acting categories. She previously won best featured actress in a play ( A Raisin in the Sun and Master Class), best lead actress in a musical ( The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess) and best featured actress in a musical ( Ragtime and Carousel).
Hedwig was led by Neil Patrick Harris, and the former Tony host got his first award - best actor in a musical - after performing a song from the show, looking unrecognisable in a miniskirt and blond feathered wig. He gave audience member Sting a lap dance and took Samuel L. Jackson's glasses away and licked them.
"A year ago I was hosting the Tonys. This is crazy pants," he said after donning pants. His co-star Lena Hall won best featured actress in a musical and the show also won for best musical revival and lighting.
Cranston - in a role far from TV's chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White in Breaking Bad - won the best lead actor in a play Tony for playing former US president Lyndon Johnson in Robert Schenkkan's All the Way, which also was crowned best play. It was Cranston's first time on Broadway.
Jessie Mueller beat some strong Broadway veterans in Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel and Kelli O'Hara to take home the best actress in a musical Tony for playing the title character in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. She thanked the singer-songwriter and all her competitors.
One of the show's highlights was King singing with the cast of the show.