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Director Blakemore makes Tony history with wins for 'Kate' and 'Copenhagen'

Monday, June 05, 2000

By Michael Kuchwara, Associate Press Drama Writer

NEW YORK -- Copenhagen" was chosen best play, and "Kiss Me, Kate" best musical revival Sunday, as Michael Blakemore scored a Tony first -- winning the awards for his direction of both. "Contact," a daring dance play about relationships, was named best musical.

"Kiss Me, Kate," the Cole Porter musical, was the night's big winner, picking up five Tonys, the same number the show won when it first opened on Broadway in the 1948-49 season. Besides director, "Kate" won prizes for its leading man, Brian Stokes Mitchell, as well as for costumes and orchestrations.

"All I can say is 'Thank you, America.' And by America, I mean New York. And by New York, I mean Broadway," the 71-year-old director said during his second trip to the podium.

A double victory has been possible only since 1960 when the direction prize was split into play and musical categories, Blakemore was nominated for both in 1990 with "Lettice & Lovage" and "City of Angels," but didn't win for either.

"Copenhagen" playwright Michael Frayn thanked "Copenhagen's" audiences who defied critics' assessments that the difficult drama about the morality of physics and friendship would be too much for theatergoers. Blair Brown, who portrays physicist Niels Bohr's skeptical wife in the production, was named best featured actress-play.

Besides musical, "Contact" won the choreography prize for its director Susan Stroman and for two of its featured performers, Boyd Gaines and Karen Ziemba.

"Dance has lifts and dips and unexpected turns just as real life does, Had I not fallen in love with Mike Ockrent, I could have never have written 'Contact,' " said an emotional Stroman referring, to her husband, a director who died in December of leukemia.

"Aida" wasn't nominated for best musical, but the Disney-produced show tied "Contact" with four Tonys.

Its radiant star, Heather Headley was named best actress in a musical to the biggest cheers of the night. A tearful Headley told Disney: "I will work for you for the rest of my life."

Elton John and Tim Rice picked up an award for their pop-flavored score for "Aida," and the lavish musical, set in ancient Egypt, also got Tonys for scenic and lighting design.

"The Real Thing," Tom Stoppard's drama about the ups and downs of love, was chosen best revival. Its two stars, Stephen Dillane, as an adulterous playwright, and Jennifer Ehle, as his second wife, took home the top acting awards. Ehle was competing against her mother, Rosemary Harris, in the best actress-play category.

One of the night's funniest moments occurred when Martin Pakledinaz of "Kiss Me, Kate" received the award for costume design. It was presented by Dame Edna, who gave him a big, messy kiss. A lipstick-smeared Pakledinaz was so flustered that he had a hard time delivering his acceptance speech.

English performer Roy Dotrice, who plays the whiskey-soaked father in "A Moon for the Misbegotten," picked up the prize for featured actor in a play. The 77-year-old actor gave a stirring thank-you to American audiences, ending his speech with "God bless America."

Rosie O'Donnell, after a year's absence, was again chosen to preside over the three-hour ceremonies at Radio City Music Hall, with help from Nathan Lane, who was bawdy throughout the show. The first hour aired on PBS; then the broadcast switched to CBS.

O'Donnell has promised there would be no repeat of last year, when the CBS part of the program threatened to run long and forced a number from "It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues," one of the nominated musicals, to be cut from the show. This year, the show ran so tightly, she and Lane momentarily had to vamp for time at the end.

O'Donnell had given the nominees a pep talk earlier in the week, telling them to keep their speeches "short, concise and heartfelt."

The Broadway season, which ended May 28, was considered a robust one, although production slipped a bit, from 39 shows last year to 37 this year. It grossed a record $603 million, a 2.6 percent increase over the previous year, according to the League of American Theaters and Producers. Attendance was the second highest in Broadway history, 11.4 million, down slightly from a record 11.7 million the year before.

The winners in 21 categories were chosen by 705 members of the theatrical profession and journalists. The Tony awards were started in 1947 by the American Theater Wing, a theater service organization. They were named after the late Antoinette Perry, an actress and past chairwoman of the theater wing.

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