Audra McDonald Makes Tony History

By Alan Duke CNN | 6/9/2014, 10:37 a.m.

Clark Atlanta University alum and Atlanta resident Kenny Leon and others found their distinguished places amongst Broadway's finest during 2014 The Tony Awards at New York's Radio City Music Hall, which delivered surprises and buzzworthy moments Sunday.

Tony history made

Audra McDonald made Broadway history when she won the Tony for best lead actress in a play for her portrayal of blues legend Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." McDonald's sixth Tony made her the first person to win in four different acting categories.

"I want to thank my mom and my dad up in heaven for disobeying the doctor's orders and not medicating their hyperactive girl and finding out what she was into instead and pushing her into the theatre," McDonald said in her acceptance speech.

She also paid tribute to women who paved the way for her success. "I'm standing on Lena Horne, I'm standing on Maya Angelou, Diane Carroll, Ruby Dean, and most of all, Billie Holiday. You deserved so much more than you were given when you were on this planet. This is for you Billie."

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" -- billed as "an evening filled with personal tales of difficult choices, bad breaks, worse men and some of the most glorious songs ever written" -- also won the Tony for best sound design of a play.

Bouncing Hugh Jackman

If you are baffled by Hugh Jackman's prolonged bouncing during the Tony Awards opening sequence, you might want to watch online video of musical actor Bobby Van performing "Take Me to Broadway" in the 1953 movie "Small Town Girl." You'll then understand what inspired Jackman to hop, skip and jump from the red carpet, through the backstage and then onstage where he sang "I Love the Tonys."

'Music Man' rap

Jackman must have spent a lot of time researching 1950s musicals while preparing to host the 2014 Tonys. He revived the opening number from "The Music Man," but turned it into a rap song. Hip hop artists LL Cool J and T.I. joined Jackman for an unconventional performance of "Rock Island."

"Hands in the air, everybody on your feet," LL Cool J shouted as a drum beat produced by Questlove played.

"First Hip Hop performance on #thetonyawards w/@troubleman31 @thehughjackman," LL Cool J tweeted.

Judging from Twitter reactions, many viewers loved it, some didn't, while others were just left puzzled.

'Denzel, Denzel, Denzel'

A hint of sour grapes emerged from "A Raisin in the Sun" director Kenny Leon even though his show carried home three Tonys Sunday night. Leon, who won for best direction of a play and best revival of a play, acknowledged backstage that he believed his lead actor, Denzel Washington, should have gotten a best actor nomination.

"Yes, Denzel was snubbed," Leon told reporters.

Washington, who owns two Academy Awards for film work, is the "anchor" of the Broadway production, Leon said in his acceptance speech. "Denzel, Denzel, Denzel. He's truly a theatre inspiration."

Leon did find some solace when Sophie Okonedo, who he called his show's "glue," was given the Tony for best actress in a featured role in a play.

"A Raisin in the Sun," which first ran on Broadway in 1960, was the first Broadway play written by an African-American woman -- Lorraine Hansberry.

'All the Way' with LBJ

If Denzel Washington had been nominated, he would have faced Bryan Cranston. The "Breaking Bad" actor's ability to bring complex characters to life earned him a best actor Tony for his stage portrayal of former President Lyndon Johnson in "All the Way." The Tony might find a place of honor next to the three Emmys Cranston won for his TV role of teacher-turned-meth dealer Walter White.

Cranston wouldn't say backstage if he would reprise his LBJ role in author Robert Schenkkan's follow up play "The Great Society."

"Thank you for electing LBJ once again," producer Jeffrey Richards said as he accepted the best play Tony for "All the Way."

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