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AIDS and war -- 3 shows tackle them and win big at Tonys

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

NEW YORK -- This year's Tony Awards honored "The Normal Heart" for its passionate look at the AIDS crisis. It also bestowed Tonys on "War Horse," a play that showed the horror of the battlefield. But the night's biggest prize went to a musical that mocked both.

"The Book of Mormon" took home nine Tonys on Sunday -- including the prize for best musical -- propelled by a so-offensive-its-funny look at two naive missionaries who arrive in Uganda and find misery, gun-toting warlords, villages infected with HIV and people considering having sex with babies as a cure.

It is as mischievous as Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" is a heartfelt polemic and "War Horse" is charmingly simplistic. The fact that Broadway had room for all three views in the same season says something wonderful about theater in New York.

"War Horse" -- a World War I tale about horses told with puppets and actors -- won five Tonys, including the best play award. The revival of "The Normal Heart" and "Anything Goes" both won three a piece.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the Emmy Award-winning "South Park," found a kindred soul in Robert Lopez, who co-wrote the Tony-winning "Avenue Q," and all three found themselves with a haul of awards when they collaborated to gently mock Mormons and send-up Broadway itself.

Collecting the best musical prize, a subdued Parker, who tied Josh Logan of "South Pacific" with four Tonys in one evening -- said he'd be remiss if he didn't thank his late book co-writer -- Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church.

"You did it, Joseph! You got the Tony!" Parker said, looking skyward and holding up his award.

Parker was asked backstage what he and his team will say if they get to heaven and God takes issue with the way they spoofed spiritual matters. "Look at the box office," Parker replied.

The show, which netted honors for best musical, best book, best direction of a musical for Casey Nicholaw and Parker, best score, best featured actress and four technical awards, came in with a leading 14 nominations and was the heavy favorite for the top musical prize.

"We know what the best musical is -- it's like taking a hooker to dinner," comedian Chris Rock joked before reading the nominees and announcing the winner.

Mark Rylance won the best acting award for a play for his powerful role of Johnny "Rooster" Byron in Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem." Just as he did three years ago when he won for "Boeing-Boeing," Rylance quoted a poem by Louis Jenkins, an obscure poet from Minnesota.

"Unlike flying or astral projection, walking through walls is a totally earth-related craft, but a lot more interesting than pot-making or driftwood lamps," he said to the bemused crowd. When asked later why he had recited the poem, he said, "I don't know. I was getting a little bored."

Norbert Leo Butz won for best actor in a musical. Butz, who plays a frumpy FBI agent hot on the heels of a con man in "Catch Me If You Can" took home his second Tony. His previous win was in 2005 for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."

Sutton Foster won for best actress in a musical and gave a tearful speech. "It doesn't feel like a job," she said of the Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes," which also won best musical revival and earned Kathleen Marshall an award for best choreography.

Frances McDormand was declared the best leading actress in a play for portraying a South Boston blue-collar woman who reconnects with a high school boyfriend in the David Lindsay-Abaire play "Good People." She wore a denim jacket to the ceremony.

The top directing prize for a play went to Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris for the weepy British import "War Horse."

"We quite like it when people cry," Morris cracked backstage.

Shows that left empty-handed included "The Scottsboro Boys," which had 12 nominations, "Sister Act," ''The Merchant of Venice," and "The Motherf---- With the Hat."

Nikki M. James, who won for best featured actress in a musical in "The Book of Mormon," dedicated the award to her dad, who died while she was in high school, and to her nephew Ozzie, who was born with kidney problems.

Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" won the best revival prize and two actors from the AIDS drama -- Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey -- also won. Barkin, making her Broadway debut, was declared the best actress in a featured role in a play, while Hickey won best actor.

"It's the proudest moment of my career. Being involved in something this important is I think a once-in-a-career opportunity," said Barkin. Hickey warned his family in Texas that they'd better not be watching the Heat-Mavericks game instead of the Tonys.

Kramer's historic play about the beginning of an epidemic that has killed millions won the Tony 26 years after it was first mounted at the Public Theater. "Learn from it and carry on the fight," Kramer said. "Our day will come."

John Larroquette, in his Broadway debut, won the award for best actor in a featured role in a musical for "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." He thanked his co-star Daniel Radcliffe, who was not nominated, saying that without the "Harry Potter" star he'd be "home, sitting in my underwear, watching this on television."

Away from the television cameras, "The Book of Mormon" won for orchestration, sound design, scenic design of a musical, score and book of a musical. "War Horse" won for best sound design of a play and best scenic design of a play.

The costume award in a musical went to "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" for flamboyant fantasies created by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, and Desmond Heeley won for the play "The Importance of Being Earnest.

Host Neil Patrick Harris began the show at the Beacon Theatre with an exuberant, facetious song about how Broadway isn't just for gay people any more. The number featured a bevy of dancing nuns, sailors, flight attendants and Mormons: "Attention every breeder, you're invited to the theater!" He later mocked "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," sang with Hugh Jackson and rode one of the puppet horses of "War Horse."

The ceremony had few surprises, although Brooke Shields had to be bleeped after forgetting the lyrics and flubbing an opening song with Harris. "I can do eight performances a week but I can't read a TelePrompTer," she joked.

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Online:

http://www.TonyAwards.com

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AP Television Writer Frazier Moore and National Writer Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.