NEW YORK (AP) — The arty and original "Hadestown," which takes place in the underworld of Greek mythology, was leading the Tony Awards with five wins, while the legendary Elaine May took home her first ever Tony.
The 87-year-old May, who made audiences roar with laughter in her 1960 Broadway debut, "An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May," won Sunday for best leading actress, playing the Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother in Kenneth Lonergan's comic drama "The Waverly Gallery."
Andre DeShields captured featured actor in a musical for "Hadestown," and gave shoutout to his hometown as he picked up his trophy for playing Hermes in singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell's folk-opera that intertwines the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone.
"Baltimore Maryland, are you in the house? I hope you're watching at home because I am making good on my promise that I would come to New York and become someone you would be proud to call your native son," said the 73-year-old as he won his first Tony.
Host James Corden kicked off the telecast with a massive, nine-minute opening musical number that served as a full-throated endorsement of the live experience.
He started seated alone on a couch in front of a TV, overwhelmed by his binge options, before taking flight with dozens of glitzy dancers from this season's shows, all filling the Radio City stage with a remarkable volume. Corden sang: "Live! We do it live. And every single moment's unrepeatable."
The first acting award went to Celia Keenan-Bolger, who won for best featured actress in a play for her role as Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird." She noted that her parents read her the book when she was a child in Detroit and had burning crosses put on their lawn because they helped African Americans.
Bertie Carvel won best featured actor in a play for "Ink." He said he wished he could be with his mother, hospitalized in London. "I love you, mum," he said.
"The Ferryman's" Rob Howell took home two Tonys — for best play set designs and costumes. Robert Horn won for best book of a musical for "Tootsie."
The early "Hadestown" wins were for scenic design, sound design, lighting design and orchestrations.
Legendary designer Bob Mackie won the Tony for best costume designs for a musical for "The Cher Show," getting laughs for saying "This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old."
"Hadestown," had a leading 14 Tony nominations, followed by the jukebox musical "Ain't Too Proud," built around songs by The Temptations; it received a dozen nominations. The other best musical nominees are the stage adaptations of the hit movies "Tootsie" and "Beetlejuice," and the giddy, heartwarming "The Prom."
The Tony Awards dress rehearsal earlier Sunday morning — normally with few actual stars in attendance — got a shock of A-listers this year, including Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, LaTanya Richardson, Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Samira Wiley, Danai Gurira, Christopher Jackson, Lucy Liu and Marisa Tomei.
Shirley Jones, 85, was on hand to practice introducing the musical "Oklahoma!" — the same show she starred in on film back in 1955. Catherine O'Hara was doing the same for "Beetlejuice," the 1988 film she starred in.
Some of the Broadway stars who practiced included Billy Porter, Ben Platt, Andrew Rannells, Darren Criss, Kristin Chenoweth, Laura Benanti and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. David Byrne of the Talking Heads and Vanessa Carlton also got up early to attend.
The best-play nominees are the Northern Irish drama "The Ferryman," from Jez Butterworth; James Graham's "Ink," about Rupert Murdoch; Taylor Mac's Broadway debut, "Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus"; Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Choir Boy"; and Heidi Schreck's "What the Constitution Means to Me," a personal tour of the landmark document at the heart of so many American divisions.
Whatever happens Sunday, Broadway is in good shape. The shows this season reported a record $1.8 billion in sales, up 7.8 percent from last season. Attendance was 14.8 million — up 7.1 percent — and has risen steadily for decades.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits