NEW YORK (AP) — If you weren’t watching the Tonys too carefully, you would have thought they had turned into the Oscars.
Sunday’s show was a night for celebrities and for the meaning of celebrity, when Academy Award winners Denzel Washington and Catherine Zeta-Jones took home their first Tonys, and when the most honored play, “Red,” was itself a meditation on art and commerce. Other familiar faces included Will Smith and Michael Douglas, Helen Mirren and Daniel Radcliffe, and “Glee” stars Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele.
The line on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was that he gave her class and she gave him sex. So has been the dance of Broadway and Hollywood. Celebrities from Sean Combs to Julia Roberts have turned to Broadway when in search of serious work, while Broadway has welcomed the famous to ensure financial backing and boost the box office, especially when for many the recession makes high-priced theater tickets an unreachable luxury.
Stars not only have appeared onstage over the years, but behind the scenes as well, with entertainers such as Sean Connery (“Art”) and Jay-Z (“Fela!”) producing.
And even sports got into the act Sunday night, with New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez stepping out on stage at Radio City Music Hall.
“Red,” which won the Tony for best play and five other honors, loomed as the dark, unanswered conscience at the bright lights ceremony, an anguished two-man drama about painter Mark Rothko and his devilish dilemma over whether to accept a rich commission for the fancy Four Seasons restaurant. Rothko couldn’t go through with it; the Tonys themselves were an ode to temptation.
The awards show was skewed in a musical direction: Its business was clearly show business.
“Welcome to the Tonys,” said host Sean Hayes when it began — “the World Cup of show tunes.”
He wasn’t kidding.
A 13-minute opening number included segments from “Promises, Promises,” ”Come Fly With Me” and other musicals, then finished in explosive style with punk rockers Green Day.
The broadcast was packed with musical performances from nominated shows, including “Memphis,” the rhythm ‘n’ blues musical set in the American South in the 1950s, which won four Tonys, including best musical.
Even the hit TV series “Glee” got on the bandwagon. Morrison did a full-scale rendition of “All I Need Is the Girl,” from “Gypsy,” followed by Michele belting out a Streisand-esque version of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from “Funny Girl.” Zeta-Jones was a show herself, winning for best actress in a musical as the amorous actress in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and earlier crooning the Sondheim standard “Send in the Clowns.” Sex was worked right into her acceptance speech. She thanked many, including her husband, fellow actor and Oscar winner Michael Douglas, who she “gets to sleep with every night.”
Meanwhile, the nominated plays were disposed of with brief summaries voiced by members of their respective casts.
Hayes, who didn’t win as lead actor in a musical for “Promises, Promises,” did put on a memorable show of song, jokes and costumes, dressing up as everyone from Spiderman to Little Orphan Annie.
During his opening monologue he joked that his dual status as nominee and host “combines a good chance of losing with a good chance at bombing.” He was only half right.
Hayes’ “Promises, Promises” co-star, Katie Finneran, won the Tony for best featured actress in a musical.
Backstage, the wisecracking Finneran, who doesn’t make her entrance in the Burt Bacharach-Hal David musical until after intermission, said she views the first act from an unusual vantage point in her second-floor dressing room.
“I can actually go into my toilet, open the trap door, and I am in the house,” she said. “I can watch the show behind the curtain, right from my toilet. I call it my view from the loo.”
Three Hollywood stars, Zeta-Jones, Washington and Scarlett Johansson, were first-time nominees and winners.
“Every since I was a little girl I wanted to be on Broadway and here I am,” said Johansson, the voluptuous Hollywood star best known for such films as “Matchpoint” and “Lost in Translation.”
“Fences,” a revival of August Wilson’s deeply personal drama about family, won for best revival of a play. Its two stars, Washington and Viola Davis, won for best actors in a play.
Zeta-Jones won for best actress in a musical as the amorous actress in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”
Johansson won for best featured performance as an actress in a play for her Broadway debut, the object of her uncle’s lust in Arthur Miller’s “A View From a Bridge.”
“Fela!” — the innovative Afro-beat biography of Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti — and “La Cage aux Folles” — a revival of the classic Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical farce — each had 11 nominations, but won just three Tonys apiece.
Douglas Hodge, who won best actor in a musical for “La Cage aux Folles,” said his Tony was “tremendous encouragement.”
“It just feels like I can really get on with it now,” he said backstage, “and dig deeper and deeper, and mean it more and more.” The role of drag queen Albin/Zaza was the Broadway debut for Hodge, who won an Olivier Award for playing the part in London.
Levi Kreis, who with fellow cast members of “Million Dollar Quartet” — about a fictional jam session of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins — helped kick off the broadcast with a stomping “Blue Suede Shoes,” won the Tony for best featured actor in a musical.
Asked afterward if his prize would affect his performance as rock ‘n’ roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis, he said, “I hope not. I think the authenticity and purity of a performance has nothing to do with approval.”
The goal of every performer, he said, is “to get to a point where what comes out of them never has anything to do with that, but always comes from an authentic place. At least, that’s my goal.”
AP National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report.