'The Drowsy Chaperone' captures 5 Tony awards

The wacky musical <i>The Drowsy Chaperone</i>, a Canadian-born production, won five Tony awards Sunday night.

The wacky musical The Drowsy Chaperone, a Canadian-born production, won five Tony awards Sunday night.

It entered the evening with 13 nominations, the most of any other play.

The show's creators, Don McKellar and Bob Martin, won for best book of a musical. Martin, who plays a lead character, barely had time to get into his seat after performing one of the play's pieces at the gala in New York.

Martin acknowledged his fellow Toronto artists who helped put the play together.

"This show expresses the voice of a group of writers and actors in Toronto," said Martin, who lost the best actor in a musical award to John Lloyd Young for Jersey Boys.

McKellar paid tribute to the American musical comedy genre for inspiring him and providing good fodder for the play: "So much to make fun of."

Soon after, the play's Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison captured the prize for best original score written for the theatre. Morrison thanked his parents in Prince Edward Island for "buying that $100 piano 30 years ago."

Unfortunately, Chaperone lost several major nominations: best musical to Jersey Boys, as well as best actor. Jersey Boys is about the rise of 1960s singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It went in with eight nominations, including one for best direction for Canadian Des McAnuff.

Beth Leavel, who plays the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone, grabbed the best supporting actress in a musical trophy. During the pre-show awards, the play won two design prizes, sets and costumes for a musical.

Casey Nicholaw of The Drowsy Chaperone lost out for best direction to John Doyle for Sweeney Todd and in the best choreography category to Kathleen Marshall of The Pajama Game.

The Tonys were handed out in front of an audience of 6,000 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

The other big winner of the night was The History Boys by British playwright Alan Bennett about students trying to get into Oxford or Cambridge. It received seven nominations and led the way collecting six awards, including director of a play, supporting actress, best actor and best play.

"The audiences have been so generous and open-hearted, they've surpassed everything we'd ever hoped for," said Bennett in his acceptance speech.

Performed at a stag prior to actor's wedding

The origins of The Drowsy Chaperone date back to 1998 when three Toronto artists — McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison — wrote a cheeky 1920s-style musical to perform at the stag of their theatre friends Martin and Janet Van De Graaff, who were getting married.

The couple loved it so much that Martin joined the cast as the Man in the Chair and Van De Graaff produced a revised version of it for the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival.

Re-worked versions have appeared in various theatres in Toronto before opening last year in Los Angeles.

Martin's character is a lover of the musical who is trying to bring himself out of a bout of the blues by putting on a favourite record only to have the 1920s production magically come to life.

25 awards handed out in total

Other winners included:

  • Best supporting actor in a play: Ian McDiarmid, Faith Healer.
  • Best actress in a play: Cynthia Nixon, Rabbit Hole.
  • Best actor in a play: Richard Griffiths, The History Boys.
  • Best director of a play: Nicholas Hytner, The History Boys.
  • Best revival of a play: Awake and Sing!.
  • Best revival of a musical: Pajama Game.
  • Best actress in a musical: LaChanze, The Colour Purple.
Canadian actress Alison Pill got a best supporting actress nod for her portrayal of a teen terrorist in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, but lost out to Frances de la Tour for The History Boys.

The only other show that came close to Chaperone's high number of nominations was the Oprah Winfrey-produced musical The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker's novel. It received 11.

Winners were chosen by 754 theatre professionals, including actors, producers, writers, stagehands and theatre owners.

Established in 1947, the Tony Awards are named after actress, director, producer and former American Theatre Wing head Antoinette Perry. The annual gala is presented by the American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers.