News Column

At Tonys, Miller of 'Pippin' takes lead musical actress

June 10, 2013


By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK Patina Miller danced away with a Tony Award for her role in the revival of "Pippin," defeating a field that included native Memphian Valisia LeKae.

Miller, last on Broadway in "Sister Act," won the best lead actress in a musical trophy playing the same emcee part that won Ben Vereen a best-actor Tony in 1973.

The win caps a whirlwind few years for the Carnegie Mellon University graduate, who was nominated for back-to-back Tonys for her first roles on Broadway.

In Diane Paulus' retelling of "Pippin," Miller is a muscular creature with a hat and cane who dances Bob Fosse steps and does tricks on a trapeze while singing.

Miller also beat Stephanie J. Block of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," Carolee Carmello from "Scandalous," and Laura Osnes from "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella."

LeKae drew glowing reviews in "Motown the Musical," based on the autobiography of legendary record producer Berry Gordy. LeKae plays Motown pop icon Diana Ross.

In other awards, Cyndi Lauper, making her Broadway debut, won for writing the 15-song score to "Kinky Boots" and Christopher Durang's comical "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" won for best play. "Pippin" won for best musical revival, and "Kinky Boots" capped the night with the top award, for best musical.

Lauper thanked old friend Harvey Fierstein, the book writer for "La Cage aux Folles" and "Newsies," for luring her to Broadway. "Kinky Boots" also won for choreography and two technical awards, and Billy Porter won for leading actor in a musical.

Porter beat "Kinky Boots" co-star Stark Sands and told him from the stage: "You are my rock, my sword, my shield. Your grace gives me presence. I share this award with you. I'm gonna keep it at my house! But I share it with you."

Durang, whose other works include the play "Beyond Therapy," was a Tony nominee for "A History of the American Film" and his "Miss Witherspoon" was a Pulitzer Prize nominee in 2006.

Girls were having fun elsewhere as well, as Diane Paulus and Pam MacKinnon both won for directing a rare time when women won directing Tonys for a musical and a play in the same year. (It also happened at the 1998 Tonys.)

Paulus won her first Tony for directing the crackling, high- energy revival of "Pippin."

MacKinnon won for directing the play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" a year after earning her first nomination for helming "Clybourne Park." Her revival of Edward Albee's story of marital strife won the best play revival and earned Tracy Letts his first acting Tony, an upset over Tom Hanks.

"The greatest job on earth. We are the ones who say it to their faces, and we have a unique responsibility," Letts said.

Andrea Martin, 66, who won as featured actress in a musical, plays Pippin's grandmother and sings the music hall favorite "No Time at All."

Courtney B. Vance won for best featured actor in a play for portraying a newspaper editor opposite Tom Hanks in "Lucky Guy." He dedicated his award to his mother.

Judith Light won her second featured actress in a play Tony in two years, cementing the former TV star of "One Life to Live" and "Who's the Boss?" as a Broadway star.

She followed up her win last year as a wisecracking alcoholic aunt in "Other Desert Cities" with the role of a wry mother in "The Assembled Parties," in which she goes from about 53 to 73 over the play's two acts.

"I want to thank every woman that I am in this category nominated with: you have made this a celebration, not a competition," she said.

Gabriel Ebert of "Matilda the Musical" won as best featured actor in a musical. He thanked his four Matildas and his parents, stooping down to speak into the microphone.

Cicely Tyson, 88, won the best leading actress in a play honors for the revival of "The Trip to Bountiful," the show's only win.

Lauper and Fierstein have given "Kinky Boots" originally a 2005 film about a failing shoe factory that turns to making drag queen boots a fun score and a touching book that celebrates diversity.

"I want to thank Harvey Fierstein for calling me up. I'm so glad I was done with the dishes and answered the phone," Lauper said.

Originally published by Mark Kennedy Associated Press .

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