Midler, millennial angst scoop Broadway's Tony Awards


New York (AFP)

Bette Midler won best actress in a musical while an edgy new tale of millennial angst scooped six awards including best musical at Broadway's equivalent of the Oscars for US theater.

The glitzy revival of "Hello, Dolly!" starring the 71-year-old Midler and the breakout "Dear Evan Hansen," about wanting to belong and the might of social media, spotlighted different sides to New York's famed district, which last season grossed a record $1.45 billion in earnings.

If other award ceremonies have featured a never-ending stream of jokes about President Donald Trump, Sunday's Tony Awards, hosted by double Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, were more politically restrained.

The gong was Midler's first Tony in a competitive category and comes half a century after the famed, Grammy-winning singer and songwriter made her Broadway debut. She received a special Tony award in 1974.

The singer, who shimmered in a silver sequined gown, called the show "one of the greatest professional experiences of my entire life" and gave thanks to make-up artist for making her "look 30 years younger."

"This thing has the ability to lift your spirits in these terrible, terrible times," said Midler, an outspoken Trump critic, in a speech that extended well past her allotted time at Radio City Musical Hall.

"Hello, Dolly!" won four Tonys, including best revival of a musical but "Dear Evan Hansen" was the star of the night with six, including best musical and leading actor for its 23-year-old star Ben Platt.

The homegrown production, which started Off-Broadway, tells the story of Evan Hansen, a high-school senior with social anxiety whose life is turned upside down after a classmate commits suicide.

Another new US production, "Oslo," that was inspired by the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Norwegian husband and wife diplomats behind the 1993 Oslo Accords won best play.

The play has won rave reviews and a Hollywood movie adaptation is also in the works, planned by Marc Platt, producer of "La La Land," which won six Oscars at this year's Academy Awards.

- Locker-room talk -

"To the ladies and gentlemen of the Oslo Accords who believed in democracy, who believed in seeing peace, seeing their enemies as humans, I give this up to them," said the playwright, J.T. Rogers.

"Come From Away," about Canadians from Newfoundland who provided refuge to nearly 7,000 airline passengers on September 11, 2001 when US air space closed, also won one Tony for best direction of a musical.

But despite huge opposition to Trump in the US entertainment industry in general and New York in particular, there were only oblique political references during the singing-and-dancing production.

"Miss Saigon," joked satirist Stephen Colbert at one point, was "the only pageant whose locker room our president hasn't walked in on."

"Surprising winners, and I'm not even talking about the Tonys!" said Spacey while impersonating former president Bill Clinton whose wife Hillary was defeated by Trump in last year's divisive election.

He closed out his hosting duties by appearing in character as corrupt fictional president, Francis Underwood, which he portrays in "House of Cards" on Netflix, accompanied by his on-screen first lady.

Cynthia Nixon, the American actress of "Sex and the City" TV fame who won best featured actress for "The Little Foxes," called the play about greed and ambition in 1900 Alabama was "eerily prescient."

"Eighty years ago she wrote there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it, and other people who just stand around and watch them do it," she told the audience.

"My love, my gratitude and my undying respect go out to all the people in 2017 who are refusing to just stand and watch them do it," she added to applause.

Kevin Klein, who won the Tony for leading actor in a play for "Present Laughter" mixed his thanks with a shout out for the National Endowment for the Arts, which the Trump administration wants to shut down.