NEW YORK (AP) — At the Tony Awards, while "Once" was being crowned best musical, there was another sort of anointing going on — five first-time Tony winners, all under 40, were being hailed as Broadway's next class.
Steve Kazee, Christian Borle, James Corden, Christopher Gattelli and Nina Arianda each walked away from the Beacon Theatre with a statuette Sunday and vindication for years of toil.
The handing over of the torch was perfectly summed up when two-time nominee Arianda, who had just won the best actress in a play Tony, gushed like a schoolgirl at the legend who handed her her trophy.
"You were my first crush," she told 82-year-old Christopher Plummer. "When that whistle was blown in 'Sound of Music,' you made my day."
To be sure, the night also belonged to some wily veterans, such as Mike Nichols, won his ninth Tony for directing "Death of a Salesman," and composer Alan Menken, who has eight Oscars and now his first Tony for penning the music for "Newsies." And the always-astonishing Audra McDonald snapped up her fifth award at the age of just 41.
But Tony night was also about a fresh crop of veterans who may not be well known to Americans outside Times Square, but who have been reliably first-rate performers over the past years. Now they've arrived.
Kazee, a 36-year-old rising star with matinee idol looks, won for being the gentle Irish hero in "Once." He has been building his credits from replacement parts in "Spamalot" to an understudy role in "Seascape" to starring in "110 in the Shade" in 2007.
In one of the more touching acceptance speeches of the night, he quoted British poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy, "We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams," and then thanked the cast for helping him cope with the death of his mother.
Gattelli, a former dancer, has been working non-stop since he became a choreographer, and had not one but two Broadway shows this season — "Newsies" and "Godspell." At 39, he has already choreographed such shows as "South Pacific," ''13" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."
Borle, too, has paid his dues. He's gone from playing happy chimney sweep Bert in "Mary Poppins" to Prior Walter, a young man dying of AIDS in a recent off-Broadway revival of Tony Kusher's "Angels in America." He was in "Footloose" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and then bigger roles in "Spamalot" and "Legally Blonde," for which he got a Tony nod. He's also a star of NBC's "Smash" series about the making of a Broadway show.