NEW YORK (Reuters) - The fairytale success of beloved indie Irish love story "Once" ballooned on Sunday when it scooped Broadway's highest honors, the Tony Awards, including a win for best musical.
The Broadway musical adaptation of the 2006 independent film "Once" that went all the way to the Oscars swept the Tonys with a total of eight wins, including best actor in a musical and best direction for John Tiffany.
"'Once' is a story about when people believe in each other, they can move on in life, and so many people have believed in this project," Tiffany said in accepting his first Tony.
Best actor Steve Kazee fought back tears as he thanked fellow cast members, including his leading lady Cristin Milioti. He said that after his mother died early on in the run of performances, they "carried me around and made me feel alive and I will never be able to fully repay them."
"Clybourne Park," a satire on race relations, won best play, with playwright Bruce Norris, thanking theaters around the world that have staged the play since it premiered more than two years ago off-Broadway and won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Brit James Corden upset favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman to win best actor in a play for his comic turn in the London transplant spoof, "One Man, Two Guvnors," with the comedian giving the advice later backstage to ignore people who will "tell you you're too short or too big or too funny looking."
Broadway's newest young star, Nina Arianda, just a few years out of studying acting at New York University, won best actress in a play for her sexy performance in "Venus In Fur" and said backstage the win was in every sense a dream come true.
Esteemed film and stage director Mike Nichols was a winner for his direction of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," which featured Hoffman. Nichols has won a record-setting six Tony Awards for best direction of a play. He also has been honored twice as a producer.
"You see before you a happy man," Nichols, 80, said, thanking Miller's daughter, Rebecca Miller, for permission to stage the work, which also won best revival of a play.
Nichols also thanked Hoffman and Andrew Garfield as "a cast straight from heaven" and said the play, which premiered in 1949, "gets truer as time goes by."
"The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess," a reinvention of the 1935 opera and comedy, won best revival of a musical and Audra McDonald won best actress in a musical for her stirring performance as Bess.
"I was a little girl with a pot belly and afro puffs, hyperactive and overdramatic and I found the theater and I found my home," McDonald said in winning her fifth Tony award.
The awards show kicked off with host Neil Patrick Harris welcoming the audience to the 66th Tony Awards, "or as we like to call it, 'Fifty Shades of Gay,'" referencing Broadway's campy reputation and the popular erotic fiction novel, "Fifty Shades of Grey."
"Once," about a Dublin street performer and a Czech piano player who share a passion for music and an unlikely romantic love and which features the Oscar-winning song, "Falling Slowly," also won for best book, orchestrations, scenic design and sound design among its eight Tonys.
Several new songs were added by the film's stars and songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who attended the Tonys but have kept a lower profile with the musical after spending years touring the film and becoming a real life couple before splitting up.
The inventive Peter Pan prequel, "Peter and the Starcatcher," captured five awards, including for costume and for its featured actor, Christian Borle, who beat out Andrew Garfield from "Salesman."
Judith Light of "Other Desert Cities" won best actress in a featured role in a play and the former star of the 1980s TV sitcom "Who's The Boss," said she felt like "the luckiest girl in New York tonight."
The toned down Disney production "Newsies," which recounts the true story of a strike waged in 1899 by New York newsboys, won two Tonys, including for best original score to composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman.
Other winners included Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath for their roles in the comedy musical "Nice Work If You Can Get It," which like "Porgy and Bess," features music by George and Ira Gershwin.
The awards show featured star-packed performances from this season's musicals, plays and revivals. Presenters included Paul Rudd, Christopher Plummer and Angela Lansbury, while Hugh Jackman called a special honorary Tony he was awarded for his contribution to Broadway "an embarrassment of riches."
But the night belonged to "Once," and its win highlighted that many of this season's new shows featured less emphasis on extravagant staging and glitz and more on compelling stories, soaring music and witty overtones.
"Spending a lot of money is not cool. The bling era is gone for awhile," the musical's scenic design winner Bob Crowley told the audience. "This is a story about people who don't have much."
Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Bill Trott, Stacey Joyce and David Brunnstrom