Among the big winners of the night were the old musical Kiss Me, Kate, the sort-of-new, sort-of-musical Contact, the new British play Copenhagen, and the British revival The Real Thing. Though critically reviled, Aida--one of the few musical productions this season to feature new songs performed live, on stage--garnered four awards, including one for its Elton John-Tim Rice score and one for leading actress Heather Headley.
Since most of the races were viewed as close from the moment the nominations were announced, the Tony voters were hard pressed to come up with anything resembling an upset; still, there were at least two categories in which the winner was a bit of a surprise. Jennifer Ehle had to overcome the excellence of the other nominees for Best Leading Actress in a Play (Jayne Atkinson for The Rainmaker, Rosemary Harris for Waiting in the Wings, Cherry Jones for A Moon for the Misbegotten, and Claudia Shear for Dirty Blonde) plus the possibility that she would have split the vote with Harris, who happens to be her mother. Karen Ziemba, cited as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Contact, overcame another potential vote-split situation with Deborah Yates (whose turn as The Girl in the Yellow Dress in Contact has set New York on its ear) as well as the show-biz legend status of another nominee in the category, Eartha Kitt. Handing the award to Kitt would have allowed the Tonys to acknowledge the show in which she's featured, The Wild Party, but 'twas not to be; that struggling Michael John LaChiusa-George C. Wolfe musical received no awards for its seven nominations, and will almost certainly close in the very near future.
Paradoxically, although the awards were fairly well spread among a number of shows, the popular hits The Music Man and Swing! and the highly-touted Dirty Blonde and True West were also shut out.
Back stage at Radio City Music Hall, in the press room, it took a bit of research to confirm that Michael Blakemore was the first person in history to win Tonys for directing a play (Copenhagen) and a musical (Kiss Me, Kate) in the same season. Blakemore's double-win is not so surprising in hindsight, considering that his competition included great choreographers who aren't really directors (Susan Stroman for Contact and The Music Man, Lynne Taylor-Corbett for Swing!) and two directors who are just not very good: David Leveaux, who couldn't even figure out how to change the scenery properly in The Real Thing, and James Lapine, who may or may not have made any significant contribution to Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde. Come to think of it, Blakemore's only worthy competition in either of these categories was Matthew Warchus, for True West.