The cast of "Memphis" trots out a big number at the 64th annual Tony Awards.
The cast of "Memphis" trots out a big number at the 64th annual Tony Awards. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Reporting from New York

The feel-good musical "Memphis" and the art world drama "Red" were among the biggest Tony Award winners on a night when both Hollywood and London cast long shadows over Broadway's 64th annual spring ritual.

"Red," a two-character play starring Alfred Molina as mercurial Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko, won for best new play, one of six statuettes the show claimed at Sunday evening's ceremony. It was produced by London's acclaimed nonprofit Donmar Warehouse before opening this spring on Broadway.

"I wrote my first play almost 30 years ago, so this to me is the moment of my lifetime," said playwright John Logan, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for "The Aviator" and "Gladiator."

"Memphis," a musical that celebrates the merging of black and white musical sensibilities in the 1950s, won four awards for best new musical, book of a musical, original score and orchestration. Previously staged at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in 2008, "Memphis" is loosely based on the story of Tennessee disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white radio personalities to spin black music on the airwaves.

Accepting one of his awards, Joe DiPietro, the show's lyricist and book writer, alluded that he's never been a darling of New York's critical establishment.

"I never thought I'd be here tonight," he said. " The New York Times never thought I'd be here tonight."

Although the annual homage to Broadway took place at Radio City Music Hall under drizzly Manhattan skies, Hollywood's glimmering presence shone throughout the evening.

Among the winning actors who are generally better known for their movie than stage credits were Denzel Washington, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Scarlett Johansson.

Washington won the best actor award for his galvanizing performance in a revival of August Wilson's "Fences," the winner for best play revival. Washington stars as Troy Maxson, a failed, philandering Negro League baseball player. Viola Davis, who plays his stalwart wife, Rose, won best actress in a play.

In his acceptance speech, Washington thanked his wife, Pauletta, and told his two kids at home to go to bed.

In hers, Davis said she didn't believe in "luck or happenstance," but "I absolutely believe in the presence of God in my life."

Zeta-Jones, in her Broadway debut, won best actress in a musical for her performance in the revival of Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim's exquisitely melancholy "A Little Night Music."

"What is Cinderella doing in this dress, running downstairs in glass slippers?" Zeta-Jones said in her acceptance speech. The actor, her native Welsh accent thickening with every second, also thanked her parents for "making me who I am today. And … I do forgive you."

Johansson, 25, also in her Broadway debut, won best featured actress in a play. She portrayed Catherine, the reluctant object of the amorous attentions of her longshoreman uncle, played by Liev Schreiber, in the revival of Arthur Miller's 1955 drama "A View From the Bridge."

"Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be on Broadway. Here I am. Unbelievable," Johansson said.

Another successful young Broadway debutante was Eddie Redmayne, who won best featured actor for "Red." The 28-year-old, who'd previously won in the same category of England's Olivier Awards for the play's London staging, profusely thanked Molina, his less hirsute but considerably more high-profile costar.

"La Cage aux Folles" won for best revival of a musical and earned a directing award for Terry Johnson and a best actor trophy for Douglas Hodge, who starred opposite Kelsey Grammer in the crowd-pleasing 1983 show about an aging but resilient gay couple running a Saint-Tropez nightclub.

London's influence on the Great White Way was present in the Donmar pedigree of "Red" as well as in "La Cage," which originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory in the English capital.

Sean Hayes, a nominee for the revival of the musical "Promises, Promises," proved in his first outing as Tony emcee to be a witty successor to last year's host, Neil Patrick Harris.

Although he never mentioned it directly, Hayes made several cheeky ripostes to a minor flap that erupted after a Newsweek writer opined that the openly gay Hayes wasn't convincing as Kristin Chenoweth's love interest in "Promises, Promises." (Hayes dismissed the argument as "asinine.") Near the start of the show, Hayes and his "Promises" Chenoweth engaged in a long, smoldering kiss.

Tony voters registered qualified approval of the look, if not the sound, of the in-your-face "American Idiot," an angst-ridden adolescent coming-of-age tale powered by aggressive post-punk power chords. Kevin Adams won for lighting design of a musical for "American Idiot," and his colleague Christine Jones won for scenic design of a musical.

Choreographer Bill T. Jones, who won a 2007 award for "Spring Awakening," won his second for "Fela!," which he also directed. The exuberant homage to the late Nigerian Afro-pop pioneer and social activist Fela Kuti also won awards for costume design for Marina Draghici and sound design for Robert Kaplowitz.

Katie Finneran, a previous Tony winner for "Noises Off" in 2002, won on the strength of her show-stealing turn as the flirty barfly Marge MacDougall in a second-act number in "Promises, Promises." In her remarks, she thanked Chenoweth for lending her eyelashes before tearfully exhorting young people to pursue their dreams.

David Ng also contributed to this report.

Reed Johnson reported from Los Angeles.