By MARK KENNEDY
AP Drama Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ McDonald, at 43, won her sixth Tony for portraying Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” putting her ahead of five-time winners Angela Lansbury and the late Julie Harris for the most competitive wins by an actress. (Harris has six if her special lifetime achievement award is included.) McDonald got a prolonged standing ovation and among those she thanked were her parents for not medicating their hyperactive child.
The latest win _ for best lead actress in a play _ also makes McDonald the only woman to win a Tony in all four acting categories. She previously won as best featured actress in a play (”A Raisin in the Sun” and “Master Class”), best lead actress in a musical (”The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”) and best featured actress in a musical (”Ragtime” and “Carousel”).
The lethal romp “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” got a lot of love at Sunday night’s Tony Awards, nabbing the best new musical trophy on a night that also saw Audra McDonald make Broadway history, Bryan Cranston win as a rookie and four-time host Neil Patrick Harris get his own award.
“A Gentlemen’s Guide,” in which a poor man comically eliminates the eight heirs ahead of him for a title, opened rather quietly and has had a steady increase in interest, peaking with its huge win over Disney’s “Aladdin” and the built-in love of Carole King songs from “Beautiful _ The Carole King Musical.”
“The little engine that could, did,” said an ecstatic lead producer Joey Parnes. The show nabbed a total of four wins, including best book of a musical. It was tied for the most decorated show of the night with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” an unlikely Broadway hit about obsession, glam rock and a botched sex-change operation.
“Hedwig” was led by Neil Patrick Harris, and the former Tony host got his first award _ best actor in a musical _ after performing a song from the show, looking unrecognizable in a miniskirt and blond feathered wig. He gave audience member Sting a lap dance and took Samuel L. Jackson’s glasses away and licked them.
“A year ago I was hosting the Tonys. This is crazy pants,” he said after donning pants. His co-star Lena Hall won best featured actress in a musical and the show also won for best musical revival and lighting.
Cranston _ in a role far from TV’s chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White in “Breaking Bad” _ won the best lead actor in a play Tony for playing former President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way,” which also was crowned best play. It was Cranston’s first time on Broadway.
Jessie Mueller beat some strong Broadway veterans in Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel and Kelli O’Hara to take home the best actress in a musical Tony for playing the title character in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” She thanked the iconic singer-songwriter and all her competitors. One of the show’s highlights was King singing with the cast of the show.
Host Hugh Jackman kicked off the Tonys with a bounce, hopping up and down like a kangaroo during his opening number Sunday. Big, high-kicking musical numbers from “After Midnight,” `’Aladdin” and `’Rocky” kept the energy up.
The bearded Australian, back as host after a nine-year absence, greeted many of the night’s featured performers as he cheerfully bounded past them backstage. He then joined the cast of the musical “After Midnight” for a rousing rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing).” He later rapped with LL Cool J and T.I. to a reworked song from “The Music Man” and danced with all the leading ladies nominated for a musical.
Mark Rylance won his third Tony for playing the countess Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Rylance, who previously won for “Jerusalem” and “Boeing-Boeing,” kept the drag theme going this season by winning for playing a woman.
Darko Tresnjak won for directing the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and thanked his mother, who was too frail to be there. The musical also won for best book of a musical and costumes for a musical.
Kenny Leon won his first Tony for directing the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” He thanked, among other, his star Denzel Washington, who was not nominated, and the women in his life. He even managed to plug his next work, “Holler If Ya Hear Me.”
One of his “Raisin” stars, Sophie Okonedo, won for best featured actress in a play. “I am loving it on Broadway,” she said. She thanked producer Scott Rudin for believing that a “Jewish, Nigerian Brit” could play the iconic role of Ruth Younger. The show also won best play revival.
The evening’s disappointments included just one win _ best featured actor in a musical to James Monroe Iglehart _ for Disney’s “Aladdin,” which had gone in with five nominations, and only one each for “After Midnight” (choreography) and “Rocky” (scenic design). “Bullets Over Broadway” won nothing, nor did “If/Then” or the “Les Miz” revival.
Sunday night’s show ran more than 15 minutes over its allotted three-hour time slot, forcing the producers to make a painful cut _ the memorial segment where notable theater deaths of the past year were to be acknowledged.