NEW YORK — In the Heights, a joyous celebration of Latino life in the upper reaches of Manhattan, was named best musical at Sunday night's Tony Awards, while August: Osage County, Tracy Letts' scabrous tale of a dysfunctional Oklahoma family, took best play.
But the lavish production of South Pacific picked up seven prizes (more than any other show), including musical revival, actor-musical for leading man Paulo Szot, director-musical and four design awards — sets, costumes, lighting, sound.
Bartlett Sher, who oversaw South Pacific, thanked the show's legendary creators, composer Richard Rodgers, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, its original director Joshua Logan and James Michener, who wrote the novel on which the show was based.
"They were kind of incredible men, because they seem to teach me particularly that in a way I wasn't only an artist but I was also a citizen," Sher said. "And the work that we do in these musicals or in any of these plays is not only important in terms of entertaining people, but that our country was really a pretty great place, and that perhaps it could be a little better, and perhaps, in fact, we could change."
Yet Gypsy, the main competition for South Pacific, could cheer, too. It took three of the four musical performance awards.
Patti LuPone was cheered mightily as she won the actress-musical prize for her powerhouse performance as Rose, an indomitable stage mother. It was LuPone's second Tony, the first since 1980 when she won for playing another strong-willed woman, Eva Peron, in Evita.
Her co-star, Boyd Gaines, did even better. He collected his fourth Tony, winning for his portrayal of Rose's gentlemanly candy-salesman suitor, Herbie. And Laura Benanti, who plays the ugly-duckling daughter who blossoms into Gypsy Rose Lee in the show, received the featured-actress award.
"It's such a wonderful gift to be an actor who makes her living on the Broadway stage and then every 30 years or so picks up one of these," said an exuberant LuPone. "I was afraid to write a speech, because I had written a couple before and they never made it out of my purse. So I'm going to use one of the old ones and add a few names."
The win for August was not unexpected since it already has won most major theater awards including the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. It won five Tonys, all told, on Sunday.
Thanking the show's producers, Letts said: "They did an amazing thing. They decided to produce an American play on Broadway with theater actors."
Deanna Dunagan, who portrays the play's acidulous matriarch, took the actress prize while Rondi Reed, who plays her flighty sister, won in the featured category.
"This is so overwhelming," Dunagan said. "This whole year has been entirely unexpected and astonishing. … After 34 years in regional theater, I never thought about it (the Tonys). I watched it on television like everybody else."
Anna D. Shapiro, who directed the production, which came from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, also triumphed.
"If you're really followed by a star, Tracy Letts hands you August: Osage County and says, 'Wanna?' Then heaven opens up and you get the greatest cast you will ever work with in your entire life," said a tearful Shapiro.