Broadway season ends amid laurels, brighter figures

The theater's prize-giving season officially ended Sunday evening, with the American Theatre Wing's 41st annual Tony Awards ceremony, telecast from the Mark Hellinger Theatre. ``Fences'' has led the way in this year's citations for excellence. August Wilson's searching drama about black family life in pre-1960s America opened the honors season by winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It went on to garner the New York Drama Critics' Circle and Drama Desk Awards. On Sunday evening, besides being named best play, ``Fences'' won Tonys for actors James Earl Jones and Mary Alice and director Lloyd Richards.

Transatlantic collaborations received a lion's share of attention from this year's Tony nominators and voters. With ``Les Mis'erables'' far and away in the lead, musicals with a British touch and/or a British accent received a total of 12 Tonys. In the final balloting, ``Me and My Girl'' won Tonys for actors Robert Lindsay and Maryann Plunkett and choreographer Gillian Gregory. Designer John Napier was cited for the lifelike locomotive costumes of ``Starlight Express.''

Mr. Napier also won a Tony for his scenic design for ``Les Mis'erables,'' one of the most impressive examples of transatlantic cooperation in recent memory. Besides being chosen best musical, the monumental adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic won awards for its book by Frenchmen Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg and Britain's Herbert Kretzmer, its direction by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, and for performances by Briton Frances Ruffelle and American Michael Maguire. Of the creative contributors, only Victor Hugo didn't win a Tony.

The most noticeable change in content this year was the inclusion, after a long absence, of excerpts from nominated plays as well as musicals. Thus the vast viewing audience reached by the CBS network telecast got showcase samplings of ``Fences,'' Neil Simon's ``Broadway Bound,'' Tina Howe's ``Coastal Disturbances,'' and Christopher Hampton's ``Les Liaisons Dangereuses.'' As for musicals, the Hellinger samplings offered glimpses of ``Les Mis'erables,'' ``Me and My Girl,'' ``Rags,'' and ``Starlight Express.''

With assists from an illustrious band of Actors' Equity colleagues, Angela Lansbury proved an exceptionally graceful hostess. Herself a four-time Tony winner, the mistress of revels joined fellow laureate Bea Arthur in their ``Bosom Buddies'' duet from ``Mame.'' Barbara Cook and Bernadette Peters shared in a tribute to the late Robert Preston.

For uniqueness, this particular occasion offered a special award went to that astonishing man of the theater, George Abbott, in anticipation of Mr. Abbott's 100 birthday on June 25. After a winning introduction by Helen Hayes, Mr. Abbott expressed mingled astonishment and appreciation at all the fuss being made about his birthday, adding: ``I loved the theater so much, I thought I'd stick around. ... So when you tell me you liked what I did, it makes me happy. Thank you.'' Mr. A.'s own celebration of his anniversary (aside from tributes) has consisted of staging his 1926 hit, ``Broadway,'' for the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

Other principal Tony Award winners were actors Linda Lavin and John Randolph for their performances in ``Broadway Bound,'' Arthur Miller's ``All My Sons'' as best revival, and Jackie Mason, who responded to his special award in comic kind.

If a perceptible euphoria surrounded this year's Tonys, it may well have resulted from the season-end survey by the League of American Theatres and Producers, which presents the Tony ceremonies.

According to the league, the 1986/87 season, which ended May 31, saw a total of 41 new productions (against 33 each for the two previous seasons). Attendance totaled 7.05 million and gross box office receipts reached $209 million - compared with 6.56 million and $191 million respectively for 1985/86. That news almost merits a Tony.

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