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NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Billy Elliot The Musical" swept the top U.S. theater honors on Sunday, winning 10 Tony Awards for a Broadway season that defied a recession with record ticket sales.
"Billy Elliot" is based on Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry's 2000 film about a ballet dancing schoolboy in a mining town in northern England. Elton John, who suggested the film be adapted for theater, wrote the music for the production.
"We came here at a hard time economically, you opened your wallets and your hearts to us and we love you for it," said John, one of Britain's best-known musicians whose hit songs include "Candle in the Wind" and "Rocket Man."
"Billy Elliot" was named best musical and the three teenage actors who play the title role -- David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish -- were all named best actor in a musical, the first time three actors have shared the award.
"We want to say to all the kids out there who might want to dance, never give up," Kulish said.
Daldry, who won best musical director, said the boys were "three great gifts of Broadway" and that he was "blessed in the past 10 years of my life to be working on 'Billy Elliot.'" The show has also played in Britain and Australia.
Gregory Jbara won best featured actor in a musical for his role as Billy's father and the show also won best book of a musical and scenic, lighting, sound and choreography awards. It tied with "Next to Normal" for best orchestration.
Alice Ripley was named best actress in a musical for her role as a bipolar suburban housewife in "Next to Normal," which also picked up best original score, beating nominees including Elton John and Lee Hall for "Billy Elliot" and Dolly Parton for "9 to 5: The Musical."
"Billy Elliot" had matched the record number of Tony Award nominations set by "The Producers" in 2001, picking up 15 nods. "The Producers" went on to win a record 12 awards.
"Hair," the new production of the groundbreaking 1960s musical, won the Tony for best revival of a musical.
"God of Carnage" -- with an all-star cast of "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels -- picked up the most awards for a play, winning best play, director of a play, and best actress for Harden.
"God of Carnage" director Matthew Warchus beat himself -- he was also nominated for best director for "The Norman Conquests," a trilogy of comedies that came to Broadway from a sold-out run in London, which won the Tony best play revival.
Liza Minnelli won the best special theatrical event Tony for "Liza's at the Palace," which featured a musical tribute to the 1940's nightclub act of her godmother, Kay Thompson.
"This is exquisite," a breathless Minnelli said. "I thought my beautiful man over there was going to win," she added, referring to comedian Will Ferrell, who was nominated for "You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush."
Veteran British actress Angela Lansbury, 83, won her fifth Tony Award -- best featured actress in a play for her performance in "Blithe Spirit" -- tying the record for the most Tony Awards won by an actress set by Julie Harris.
"I never believed in my wildest dreams I would have an opportunity to get another Tony," Lansbury, best known for her long-running role in TV series "Murder, She Wrote."
Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, a veteran of the stage in his native Australia, won best actor in a play for his Broadway debut in "Exit the King." "I'm a slow learner," Rush, 57, joked with reporters of his late bow on the Great White Way.
The Tony Awards were established in 1947 and are named for Antoinette Perry, whose nickname was Toni. Perry, who died in 1946, was an actress, stage director and philanthropist who was a founder of the American Theater Wing.
Around 750 people from the theater industry -- from actors, to directors to journalists -- vote for the Tony Awards.
The Broadway League says the 39 theaters in the famous district contribute $5.1 billion per year to the economy of New York, on top of ticket sales, and support 44,000 jobs.
Broadway's paid attendance was 12.15 million tickets, down from 12.27 million the previous season, but gross takings rose $6 million, or 0.6 percent, to $943.3 million, beating the previous record set in the 2006/07 season of $938.5 million.
Additional reporting by Carmen Perry; Editing by Doina Chiacu