June 13, 2011 / 12:46 AM / 6 years ago

"The Book of Mormon" wins big early at Tony Awards

<p>Actor Andrew Rannells performs a scene from 'Book of Mormon during the American Theatre Wing's 65th annual Tony Awards ceremony in New York, June 12, 2011.Gary Hershorn</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Satirical musical "The Book of Mormon" won several early Tony Awards on Sunday in its quest to make history by taking home a record number of Broadway's highest honors.

The show by the creators of the hit TV series, "South Park," won best direction of a musical, best original score, best book and best actress in a featured role in a musical for Nikki M. James at the awards for Broadway's best musicals and plays.

"I want to thank the 'South Park' fans. If it weren't for you guys, we wouldn't be here," co-creator Trey Parker said on stage in accepting the award for best direction with Casey Nicholaw.

The Tony Awards were being handed out at New York's Beacon Theater in a live televised event hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris, who opened the show with a musical number declaring that Broadway was "not just for gays anymore."

Other early winners included the main performers in a revival of the play, "The Normal Heart," a semi-autobiographical play that focuses on the AIDS crisis and which originally premiered in 1985. It resulted in Ellen Barkin and John Benjamin Hickey winning the awards for best actress and best actor in a featured role in a play.

In accepting her Tony, Barkin, 57, said, "it's the proudest moment in my career. It has transformed me, not just as an actor but as a human being," while Hickey backstage called the revival "extraordinary" that "so many young, gay people and so many young, straight people are coming to see this play."

The British import, "War Horse," adapted by Nick Stafford from the 1982 novel of the same name which uses puppets to tell the story of World War I and a soldier's quest to find his horse and bring him home, won for best direction of a play.

A revival of "Anything Goes" won the award for best choreography, one of its nine nominations, led by best actress nominee Sutton Foster.

MORMON DOMINATION

But it was "The Book of Mormon" that headed into Broadway's biggest night with 14 nominations, aiming to beat the record of the Mel Brooks musical comedy, "The Producers," which won 12 Tony Awards after it opened in 2001.

Other nominations for comic musical about two young present-day Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda included best musical, and two nominees in the best actor in a leading role in a musical category.

It is followed by "The Scottsboro Boys" with 12 nominations. The short-lived musical was based on a 1930s case in which nine black men were unjustly accused of attacking two white women on a train in Alabama.

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" had eight nominations, while "The Merchant of Venice," is up for seven awards.

Crossing the red carpet at the event were celebrities and nominees including comedian Chris Rock and actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Whoopi Goldberg. Other nominees included Al Pacino, Frances McDormand and Billy Crudup.

The show featured sprinklings of jokes about the current beleaguered and injury prone $65 million musical, "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark," panned by critics before its official opening this week which meant that it missed the deadline for this year's awards.

Rock star Bono, who wrote the show's music along with his bandmate, The Edge, joked on stage: "we used to be famous for being in U2."

Writing by Christine Kearney, editing by David Lawder

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