Sunday’s Tony Awards proved to be a history-making night for Audra McDonald, who won a record sixth Tony, and an evening of mingled success and disappointment for the Cambridge-based American Repertory Theater. The ART’s coproduction of “All the Way’’ won two Tonys, but the company was denied wins in major categories for its acclaimed revival of “The Glass Menagerie.’’
For a pair of television stars who turned to the stage after their TV series ended — Bryan Cranston and Neil Patrick Harris — it was an unqualifiedly good night. For the deliriously clever “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,’’ which premiered at Hartford Stage and has struggled at the box office on Broadway, it was a night to savor victory in the category of best musical.
Cranston, the “Breaking Bad’’ star making his Broadway debut, won for best lead actor in a play for his dynamic turn as President Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way,’’ Robert Schenkkan’s drama about the first year of LBJ’s presidency, including his battle to win passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “All the Way’’ also won for best play. It is a coproduction of the ART, where Cranston stepped into the role last fall, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where it premiered. “Thank you to Robert Schenkkan for writing this beautiful, important play,’’ Cranston said from the stage of Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Harris, star of “How I Met Your Mother,’’ won for best lead actor in a musical for his electrifying portrayal in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch’’ of an East German glam-rocker who underwent a botched sex-change operation. “Hedwig” won for best musical revival, and Harris’s costar, Lena Hall, won for best featured actress in a musical for her galvanizing turn as the long-suffering Yitzhak. The award for best lead actress in a musical went to Jessie Mueller for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.’’
Of the seven categories in which The ART’s “The Glass Menagerie’’ was nominated, only lighting designer Natasha Katz won. The production lost out in the category of best revival of a play to “A Raisin in the Sun.’’ Cherry Jones, nominated as best lead actress in a play for her performance as Amanda in “Menagerie,’’ was bested by McDonald. Celia Keenan-Bolger, who played Laura in “Menagerie’’ was nominated as best featured actress in a play, but that award went to Sophie Okonedo of “A Raisin in the Sun,’’ and Brian J. Smith lost to Mark Rylance of “Twelfth Night’’ in the category of best featured actor in a play. It was the third Tony for the protean Rylance, who had previously won for “Boeing-Boeing’’ and “Jerusalem.’’
McDonald’s Tony Award for best lead actress in a play, for her performance as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,’’ brought her number of Tonys to six. McDonald has not only won more Tony Awards that any other performer, she is also the first performer to win in all four acting categories.
The actress, who wept freely before making her remarks, thanked the “courageous women’’ on whose shoulders she said she stands, including the late Maya Angelou and Holiday herself. “You deserved so much more than you were given when you were on this planet. This is for you, Billie,’’ McDonald said. (McDonald’s most recent Tony was in 2012, for her performance in the ART production of “The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess.”)
Hartford Stage had something to celebrate early in the ceremony, as Darko Tresnjak won the Tony for best direction of a musical for his staging of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.’’ The musical premiered at the Connecticut theater two years ago. “I would like to thank my artistic home, Hartford Stage,’’ Tresnjak said upon accepting the award.
Kenny Leon won for best direction of a play for the revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,’’ besting John Tiffany of “The Glass Menagerie.’’ Leon began his speech with three words: “Denzel, Denzel, Denzel,’’ a reference to Denzel Washington, the star of “Raisin,’’ who was snubbed by the Tony nominating committee.
James Monroe Iglehart won the Tony for best featured actor in a musical for his performance as the Genie in “Aladdin.’’
The Regional Theatre Award, which last year went to Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, was given to Signature Theatre of New York. The Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre was given to veteran Broadway costume designer Jane Greenwood, while the Isabelle Stevenson Award went to Rosie O’Donnell for her work on arts education in New York City’s public schools.Don Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com.