Hinton Battle of Miss Saigon won his third Tony Award on Sunday night, while a tearful, 11-year-old Daisy Eagan of The Secret Garden picked up a featured performer prize as the 1991 Tony Awards got under way. "The first two times I was up here was because my feet were doing all the talking and this time I get to not dance as much," said Battle, who plays the best buddy of the young soldier in Miss Saigon. The performer previously won Tonys in the featured actor-musical category for his tap-dancing artistry in Sophisticated Ladies (1981) and The Tap Dance Kid (1984).
"I don't think I can talk," the teary Eagan said as she began a long list of thank-yous that included her agent and then her mother and father. The youngster appears as the young heroine in the musical adaptation of the classic children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Miss Saigon, the much publicized British blockbuster, and The Will Rogers Follies, an all-American musical extravaganza, battled for the top Tonys, honoring the best of the Broadway season.
Both shows received 11 Tony nominations including nods in two of the most hotly contested categories, best musical and best actor in a musical.
Miss Saigon, an updating of Madama Butterfly to the Vietnam War, and The Will Rogers Follies, a Ziegfeld-style salute to the Oklahoma humorist, face Once on This Island, a Caribbean fairy tale, and The Secret Garden in the best musical category.
Front-runners for best play were John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, a dark comedy about a young con man who dupes several wealthy New Yorkers, and Lost in Yonkers, Neil Simon's look at an embattled family in 1942.
Also nominated for best play were Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker about a group of convicts who put on the first play in Australia, and Shadowlands, William Nicholson's drama about the relationship between author C.S. Lewis and poet Joy Davidman.
The competition for best actor in a musical also was fierce. Jonathan Pryce, the opportunistic Eurasian pimp in Miss Saigon, and Keith Carradine, who plays the title character in The Will Rogers Follies, were the main contenders.
Also nominated were Topol who played Tevye in a revival of Fiddler on the Roof and Paul Hipp who impersonated rock 'n' roll legend Buddy Holly in the recently closed Buddy.
The 1990-91 Broadway theater season was one of the thinnest in years in terms of production. Outside of Miss Saigon, which opened with a record $35-million in advance ticket sales, no show generated much advance interest from theatergoers.
The 45th annual Tony Awards show was televised live from the Minskoff Theater.