What You Missed: The 66th Annual Tony Awards

The 66th Annual Tony Awards were held last night and it was a great night if you were connected to Once or Peter and the Starcatcher. These two shows picked up the lion's share of the statues last night. Once in particular cleaned up, winning eight of their 11 nominations. Peter and the Starcatcher was close behind with five wins out of nine nominations. Unlike last year, the 2012 Tony Awards ceremony was very unpredictable. The musical prizes were going to mostly be swept by either Newsies or Once depending on who you talked to. Both had huge support from the community after a season that started off on very shaky ground.

Play categories were even more unpredictable. There seemed to be a scenario where--tech categories aside--any of the nominees in the categories had a good chance of winning. How do you choose between Stockard Channing as a tortured mother, Cynthia Nixon as a cynical cancer patient, Linda Lavins as a woman slowly losing her husband to cancer, Tracie Bennett singing, dancing, and acting as Judy Garland eight shows a week, and Nina Arianda vamping her way through the is it or isn't real S&M fantasy of a scholar? This was a strong season for play productions and the voters had a wealth of great shows to choose from.

Here are some of the highlights that you might have missed out on last night.

Steve Kazee wins Best Actor in a Musical for Once

Steve Kazee had a rough go with Once. For all the critical and commercial success, Kazee had far more pressing issues on his mind during the run. His mother was battling cancer back home in Kentucky. She passed away a few weeks after the show opened. Suddenly, Kazee was starring in a musical about love, loss, and regret while grieving the loss of his mother.

He still went on eight shows a week and gave himself to the audience in a very powerful role. Glen Hansard, the original Guy in the film, made my Best Actor shortlist in 2006. It's a deceptively simple role that could so easily swing into boring if the performer doesn't grab you. Kazee does. He deserved this on the merits of his performance alone. That he was struggling with such a tremendous loss just proves how committed he was to this role.

Plays Get Major Stage Time

You know what's almost impossible to do? Showcase a straight play in the context of an awards show. Plays, by their nature, are meant to be seen in full. You can get a feel for a musical production by playing the sheet music selections or watching a video of a song. You can't get a real feel for a play with a random out of context scene or even reading the text on the page.

The 66th Annual Tony Awards came very close to a workable solution for that. With the Best Play nominees, back-lit tableaux took the stage. Venus in Fur showed a man and a woman in a power struggle over a couch. Other Desert Cities showed a family circling each other in a living room. Peter and the Starcatcher showed a strange and wondrous contraption made of people and a bit of rope. Clybourne Park showed two couples, separated by time in the same living space. Jim Parsons read brief synopses of each nominee as the actors in the tableaux came to life and demonstrated the connections between characters. It was a really clever way of handling a big Tony problem.

However, three of the nominated shows lent themselves to isolated performances onstage. Peter and the Starcatcher is a silly fantasy with song, dance, and curious staging. They did a little montage of gags involving a trunk, a razor, and a man in a mermaid costume. One Man, Two Guvnors is a farce with music. Now Tony winner James Corden performed a big showy monologue with lots of physical comedy to the delight of the audience. End of the Rainbow is a show all about one of Judy Garland's last concert appearances, backstage and onstage. Tony nominee Tracie Bennett performed selections frmo two Judy standards. These performances were used to break up a well-cut video montage of all the plays that performed on Broadway this season.

It was a good night to be a play for once. That hasn't happened since they built elaborate dioramas of the sets ten or so years ago.

Neil Patrick Harris is Neil Patrick Harris

I'm warming up to Neil Patrick Harris as a Tony host. His Jimmy Fallon-like laugh at your own jokes presentation actually worked for me this year. I wish they had more time for his index card gags. Only one made it to air and it was great. I think his "My Left Footloose...think of the choreography" joke got the rest pulled.

That's a minor blemish on a grand series of songs and gags. The absolute highlight was his post-opening number song about imagining a world that was like more like theater. The song was cute, the staging clever, and the guest appearances worth raving about. Sure, it was nice to see Amanda Seyfried camp it up onstage. Steffanie Leigh got to fly in as Mary Poppins for a Tony audience.

But where else will you see Patti Lupone push a lawn mower and say how much she loves the audience? Only in scripted theater. Not since she shook her tush while playing the tuba.

Audra McDonald Breaks Through as a Lead

It's amazing to think that someone could win four Tony Awards, practically be a household name, and not have picked up a win in a leading category. That has been the story of Audra McDonald's amazing Tony history.

She's won five of the seven Tonys she's been nominated for: Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, and now The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. However, despite stellar work carrying Marie Christine and 110 in the Shade, the leading actress category had not been kind to her.

Who knew it would take playing one of the most iconic roles in the canon of musical theater to get McDonald an award for carrying a show on her shoulders? Her speech was kind and gracious. And no, she didn't make a rape joke. Calm down, Internet. No one trivialized sexual assault victims last night. If thanking a scene partner for making an extremely upsetting moment in a script a pleasure to perform is considered a joke, we're all in trouble.

Here are all the winners.

What were your highlights from last night? Any category you wish went to someone else? Sound off below. I love to hear from you.

Play It: Psychout

Watch: The Sound of Prometheus