The Book of Mormon was the show to beat at the 2011 Tony Awards. The comedic musical came away with nine awards including Best Musical, and creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez’s hands were all filled with trophies by the end of the evening.
War Horse won awards in the five categories, which included Best Play. Broadway darling Sutton Foster won her second Tony Award for her performance in the revival of Anything Goes.
Norbert Leo Butz, also a previous winner for his work in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, won his second Tony Award for his performance in Catch Me if You Can.
The Best Revival of a Musical category was small this year, with only two nominees; Anything Goes won over How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
However, How to Succeed did not end the night empty-handed. John Laroquette won the Tony Award for his first ever performance on Broadway in the hit musical.
Best Revival of a Play went to The Normal Heart, which also saw acting awards go to John Benjamin Hickey and Ellen Barkin.
Good People’s sole award for the evening went to Frances McDormand, who gave an impassioned speech about acting, but was immediately critiqued for her inappropriate outfit for the classy evening.
Prior to the awards show, the event boasted a red carpet packed with the stars of every nominated show, as well as actors and creative teams from some of entertainment’s hottest projects.
As some of the nominees went on to win in their respective categories, they joined the press backstage to share their Tony Award winning experience. The Improper was on hand at the red carpet and backstage to chat with theater’s finest.
Here’s a recap of Broadway’s big night from the actors and the winners, who made the year special.
Ellen Barkin, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (The Normal Heart)
“I have never been on Broadway before, but I’ve certainly done enough theater and there are enough people in our company who are Broadway veterans. What happens between us on the stage, and the conversation that happens between us and the audience is like something I have never experienced in my life. It’s a lot of young people. They’re being reeducated. I saw the original production of the play in 1985 with the late great Brad Davis who five months into the rep was diagnosed with AIDS, and the play takes on a very different tone twenty-six years later, but it’s still Larry’s [Kramer] play. And I think just being in political theater, being allowed to rage against the machine every night, especially in the climate we live in now in general, I think it feels great for all of us.”
“I thought I had a really good speech down, and then I looked to my left and I saw Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave and that was it!”
John Benjamin Hickey, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (The Normal Heart)
“[The Normal Heart] is a scary and galvanizing and thrilling experience, it’s like a rollercoaster. It’s a thrilling experience in the theater, it’s not just terribly sad, which of course it is. It’s filled with love and humor and a love story. It resonates as much today as the day I read it. I’ve been shooting a TV show, The Big C, at the same time, so I’ve been on a really great work high, a lot of adrenaline. In a way the play is about adrenaline, it’s about time. I think it has fed us, the emotional cost of it feeds us, and we continue to get very high on this play. I’m doing it with a very old friend of mine, Joe Mantello, who directed me in five plays, so to have a built-in relationship and love and affection for your leading man or leading lady is amazing. And the fact that so many young, gay people, and young, straight people are coming to this play and are so politically motivated by it, speaks to the majesty of Larry’s [Kramer] play. It’s still alive, it’s not just a piece of our history.”
Hickey remembered one of his most embarrassing moments in theater.
“I was in Tom Sawyer in eighth grade and I was so nervous, and I went to pee right before I went on stage, and you know how no matter how much you shake or dance, the last drop always ends up in your pants? I peed a little bit in my overalls. And it was overalls, so it was not like I could untuck my shirt! It was all downhill after that.”
Nikki M. James, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (The Book of Mormon)
“Ninety seconds is not a lot of time to talk about all the people who helped you get where you are when you’ve been doing this since you were five years old. I think it was really exciting that Trey [Parker] and Matt [Stone] and Bobby [Lopez] decided to take this show to Uganda. There are no white women in our show. For a Broadway musical that’s sort of unheard of. So I’m really grateful that they wrote a brown girl, and I hope I do it justice.”
“[Parker, Stone and Lopez] are really funny guys, and they’re a lot of fun to be around, but they work really, really, really hard. I don’t know any people who work harder than those three guys to make sure the show was everything it could be.”
“My first Broadway show was a show called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We did twenty-one performances, so I know what it’s like to be in a flop. I knew that this was not a flop. I knew that when I read this script that if we could get here, that it was going to be something. Whether or not it was going to sell out the way it does, I knew we were going to get a lot of attention. I knew it was really good, but we were cautiously optimistic. And then when we had our first show in front of audiences at our first previews and they reacted the way they did, we knew we had a hit on our hands. [Pointing at Tony Award in hand] I didn’t know I was going to get this new boyfriend, girlfriend. This is an awesome gift.”
Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, Best Costume Design of a Musical (Priscilla Queen of the Desert)
Chappel and Gardiner spoke of the creation of their costumes.
Tim: First you start off with a lot of money.
Lizzy: And then hallucogenics.
Tim: When we did the film we had a budget of $20,000. And everything was made with glue guns and duct tape and chicken wire, and in some instances we were literally holding the costumes on the actor just to make it through the shot. Once we got to Broadway, we’ve been able to take those initial ideas and expand them, blow them to the universe in the most incredible way.
Lizzy: We don’t use duct tape anymore.
Tim: It’s incredibly engineered. Everything is one-hundred percent machine washable. As for the imagination part, we just free associate. We just get the music and we get inspired.
Lizzy: It’s the most extraordinary experience. Almost twenty years ago we made a little tiny film called Priscilla in the middle of Australia, and we won the Academy Award for that. That in itself was pretty incredible. And then to find ourselves here on Broadway holding this twenty years later is just the most ridiculous experience. What really just kills me is the fact that Americans are just so open to outsiders, and willing to not only accept but embrace people that aren’t from here, and that’s so generous. I think Americans at times forget that about themselves.
Tim: What’s part of that embrace that’s been fantastic is this is the very first Australian show that came to America with its full creative team intact. That’s a fact that we’re very proud of and very grateful for.
Lizzy: And it was exactly the same with the film. The film is about acceptance. And the film and the show have been accepted here in America and applauded, and that says everything, doesn’t it really?
John Larroquette, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)
“I never worked in New York as an actor. The first time I came to New York as an actor was in ‘07 for Saturday Night Live. I wasn’t aware of the city, I didn’t grow up here. I was fortunate enough to have this play fall in my lap as it were, and it’s a great way to lose your virginity. It’s mind-boggling. It is emotional, to be accepted into the community so fully in my first show. It can’t be described in words. I really like being on stage, I find that it suits my personality well. I look forward to being on the stage, because every night is different. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. The audience is different. They become this organism that you try to entertain. They do become this single organism, I find. The energy pervades all 1500 people, and they’re very much alike by the time two minutes or three minutes of the play is gone. Every night I try to find a new way to grab them or pull them.”
Larroquette remembered his most embarrassing moment in the theater.
“I was on my way to the theater one night for opening night of a play, and I was arrested. It was in 1977, and I was taken downtown in Los Angeles. So my wife went ahead to the theater, and told the director, ‘Oh by the way, the leading man is in jail.’ The house was full. Small house, one-hundred people. So the director went on stage and said, ‘You know, our leading man has just been arrested, we’re trying to raise bail money for him.’ So they took a collection in the theater for my bail. After they bailed me out, I came and did the play, and I think it was the best performance I’ve ever done. It was a play in which I could ad-lib a lot. I was arrested because I did not yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. I also happened to have a couple of outstanding tickets at the time…”
Frank Abagnale Jr. reflected on seeing himself portrayed in the nominated Best Musical, Catch Me If You Can.
“I only saw the play for the first time on opening night. I had my wife and three sons with me, who were also with me on the first night of the movie. We were amazed about the play, because if you really listen to the lyrics of the seventeen songs that were written just to tell the story, it incredibly tells the story through music and songs. It is just unbelievable how Scott Witman and Marc Shaiman told this story through all of these songs. And then the performers and the actors, Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit, the incredible job they do on stage, one can’t help but be amazed and be very honored that people like that are telling your story.”
Abagnale joked that he himself would not end up on the Beacon Theatre stage that evening.
“My acting days were over a long time ago.”
Edie Falco, a nominee for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for her work in The House of Blue Leaves, discussed the biggest challenge of getting inside the head of her character, Bananas.
“I would like to say that it was harder for me than it really was because I didn’t really have a hard time understanding her. She’s complicated and she’s damaged, I think. I think most people have had some contact with people like that, either someone you know personally, or things you’ve seen, or people you’ve met. It’s not hard to understand how life can end up like that. I know what that feels like. And so I thought, ‘Yeah, I can be her without much difficulty, actually.’”
A Tony nominee for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography for his work on How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Rob Ashford considered the similarities between his current hit and his last powerhouse, Promises, Promises.
“I think maybe you see my touch in them because they’re two revivals, and because any time you do a period piece or something of a certain time…I don’t think anybody really wants to watch a museum piece. I think everyone wants to harken back, but feel the energy of today. Maybe that’s what feels like the signature of those two pieces, is my trying to give it a contemporary energy with a piece that is from another time and honor that as well.”
Ashford reflected on the response How to Succeed has received from kids.
“It’s crazy. They love it, they love Daniel Radcliffe. They cheer. It’s like a rock concert in there most nights. I think it’s cool, because I think they come to see Harry Potter, and they leave having seen How to Succeed in Business. That’s a cool thing!”
Montego Glover, who would be performing at the Tony’s that evening, returned to the red carpet this year after having been nominated for her show-stopping performance in Memphis last year. Contracted to stay with Memphis through September, she considered her and co-star Chad Kimball’s futures.
“He is a whirlwind of a man, I never know what he’s up to, that Chad Kimball. I stay busy with other things. The two of us together are really holding on to the fact that we really love working together, and we really love knowing that we’re going to be together until September. And after that we’ve given each other permission to be like, ‘Okay, I’ve got this thing I’ve got to do,’ or ‘Hey, I’m sticking around, I want you to stick around with me too.’ We really left it nice and open and juicy for the two of us.”
Chad Kimball, also a 2010 nominee for his performance in Memphis, was excited to make history by performing at the Tony Awards for the second year in a row.
“It’s awesome to be back. It’s so funny because I thought we’d be able to sit back and relax a little bit, but to be able to be on the Tony’s two years in a row, I don’t think it’s ever happened before. We’ve tried to figure out the trivia, and everybody seems to think it’s never really happened that the same show has performed twice in a row.”
Kimball laughed when being asked if he would storm the stage and nab that Tony that he deserved last year.
“No. I just couldn’t believe I was in one of those five squares last year! And my button fell off of my tux last year, so I was like, ‘What if I win? I hope I don’t win, I mean I hope I do win, but if I win and my button falls off again in front of everybody I’ll be really embarrassed.’ And that’s all I could think about. But it went to Douglas Hodge, and that’s okay.”
As Brooke Elliott, star of Drop Dead Diva, walked the red carpet, she was excited about being at the Tony’s for the first time. She offered advice to full-figured girls trying to make it in the entertainment business.
“Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. Sometimes that’s really hard to do because you have a lot of people trying to tell you who you are. So stand strong, believe in your worth, and just keep going. That’s what I say!”
A nominee for her performance in Sister Act, Victoria Clark considered which line from the musical best describes her experience with it.
“Nothing matters more than love. That’s sort of the thesis of the show and I get to sing it, so I’m really excited.”
Alan Menken, nominated for his score to Sister Act, told The Improper why he decided to turn the film into a musical production.
“I saw the film so many years ago, I didn’t think about doing it as a musical. It was when Peter Schneider, who I knew from Disney, came to me and said, ‘Would you like to write this as a musical?’ And I mentioned it to Glen Slater [lyricist], he was like, ‘You know what? It’s a good idea.’ Then I looked at it again and thought, ‘This could be a good musical if we can find the right vocabulary.’ Finding disco as a vocabulary was the key.”
A nominee for her supporting role in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Laura Benanti swept most awards throughout the theater season. She discussed the pressure of being thought of as a frontrunner for the Tony.
“I try not to listen to those things, because if I did it would be a lot of pressure. Also, despite what is said, I don’t necessarily believe that I was the best part of the show. I got to see Patti LuPone be a genius every single night. It’s so kind that people say that, people think that, and it feels really nice, but I try not to let those things get into my brain or else I’d never get up in the morning, I’d be too freaked out.”
Andrew Rannells, who was nominated for his star-making performance in The Book of Mormon, told The Improper about his lack of surprise over the South Park creators’ musical being a big hit.
“The South Park movie was a big musical, and Trey [Parker] has a real affinity for musical theater. So I think the fact that they could pair up with Bobby Lopez and create this, I’m not terribly surprised. I’m so excited that it’s being received as well at is, and I’m thrilled for them that they’ve been welcomed by this community so warmly.”
Ranells revealed his own religious beliefs, and hinted at who he would thank in his acceptance speech if he was to win.
“I would say I haven’t had any big cathartic religious epiphanies. Still not religious. If I win, maybe I should thank Jesus and Starbucks.”
Although Seth Numrich was not nominated for a Tony Award, the two plays in which he starred this season (War Horse and The Merchant of Venice) were nominated for Best Play and Best Revival of a Play, respectively.
“I’m really lucky this year to have been a part of two amazing productions in a year where there were lots and lots of amazing productions. I feel really fortunate to have come on to the Broadway scene this year, and I’m just ecstatic to be here to celebrate all of that work.”
Numrich jokingly considered who was the more difficult with which to work: Al Pacino or horses.
“Both of them were actually a complete joy and an absolute pleasure. Al is an amazing artist, and a wonderfully generous person. I thought he might have this ego being such a big Hollywood star, but he’s really a theater actor and he works his butt off, and he’s really kind and supportive and wonderful. And of course Joey, my leading horse is incredible. He’s played by three different teams, so on any given night it’s a little bit different, which is really exciting…which is actually kind of like Al, because he was always different every night and unpredictable as well. Weirdly they’re very similar to act with.”
Candy Spelling, one of the producers of the nominated How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, compared the title of the show to her own life.
“Until I started doing Broadway I never did work. I was with my husband a great deal, but I didn’t consider that work. It was something he loved, and I always said he was married to his work and I was his mistress.”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical nominee Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon), made recommendations for all of the nerds trying to make it with a career in entertainment.
“Break out into song, it works every time! I think that each of us is our own nerd. It’s nice to be able to celebrate foibles on stage in such a big hit show.”
After running into James Earl Jones on the red carpet, nominee Rory O’Malley (The Book of Mormon) thought about how it would feel to win the Tony.
“I can’t even comprehend that, but I have my Tony nominee plaque on the wall, and that is like the greatest thing. My mom came in yesterday and she saw it and she immediately burst into tears.”
A nominee for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Beth Leavel steals the show in Baby It’s You. She wondered if she had ever imagined she’d be telling her “mama there’d be days like this.”
“No, but I use that saying more often than I can possibly imagine, because it comes in really, really handy. I use it with my kids, I use it with people I know, ‘Oh, well mama said there’d be days like this.’ It explains a great deal when you don’t have the vocabulary that you need. And it’s true!”
Due to her big personality, The Improper wondered if she would ever consider hosting the Tony Awards.
“They haven’t asked me, and I think Neil [Patrick Harris] should have that job. I think after a while they’d be going, ‘Can she turn off? Can you stop her?’ No you can’t. It’s so much fun. I’m so flip-flapping lucky.”
Lily Rabe, a nominee for her leading role in The Merchant of Venice, discussed her late mother’s (Jill Clayburgh) advice on how to deal with award shows.
“She said to try to enjoy them and be in the moment and then they’re over like that, and to go with people that you love, and really to remember that what it is is a celebration of work and of art and the present.”