`Hairspray' is the big, bouffant winner at 2003 Tony Awards

Monday, June 9th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Keep your gel and mousse. "Hairspray" is still in style.

The Broadway hit opened almost a year ago, but Tony voters didn't forget it. The show about teen acceptance, dance crazes, integration and romance in 1962 Baltimore won eight awards Sunday night, including one for best musical and two for its plus-sized lead performers.

Marissa Jaret Winokur got the trophy for lead actress in a musical, and Harvey Fierstein _ who plays her mother _ won for best actor.

"You haven't aged a bit," Fierstein joked as he gazed at his award. He's won three other Tonys _ two awards as star and author of "Torch Song Trilogy," in 1983, and as author of the book for the musical "La Cage aux Folles," in 1984.

Winokur, who beat out Bernadette Peters in the revival of "Gypsy," was among the night's most emotional winners.

"If a 4-foot-11, chubby, New York girl can be a leading lady in a Broadway show and win a Tony," she said as the audience cheered, "then anything can happen!"

Winokur may have won the Tony, but Peters grabbed audience members at Radio City Music Hall, who loudly cheered Peters and gave her a rousing, standing ovation after she performed "Rose's Turn" from "Gypsy."

"Take Me Out," Richard Greenberg's play about a gay baseball player, was chosen best play.

The other major winner of the night was the revival of Eugene O'Neill's masterwork, "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Its two stars _ Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Dennehy _ won actress and actor in a play, and the production itself won the revival-play award.

An emotional Redgrave, who brushed aside tears as she rose to the stage to collect her prize, said she still remembered seeing the original production in 1956.

"I want to thank the actors who inspired me back in 1956 and just blew my mind and let me know what theater could be," she said.

The winner for best revival-musical was "Nine." Starring Antonio Banderas, who lost to Fierstein, the show is based on Federico Fellini's 1963 film, "8 1/2," about a frustrated, womanizing movie director. Jane Krakowski, who uses a sheet to make a spectacular airborne entrance and exit in "Nine," was chosen best featured-actress in a musical for her role as the director's mistress.

In "Take Me Out," Greenberg's hero struggles to accept his sexuality. But being gay was unequivocally a matter of pride at Sunday's ceremonies.

Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, who won for best score for "Hairspray," kissed at the end of their joint speech. They have been a couple and creative partners for 25 years.

"I'd like to declare in front of all these people I love you and I'd like to live with you the rest of my life," Shaiman said to Wittman.

Denis O'Hare, who won best featured actor in a play for "Take Me Out," thanked his boyfriend, who sat in the audience.

It was the second time in three years that a musical based on a cult film cleaned up at the Tonys. "Hairspray" was originally a 1988 John Waters movie that starred the late transvestite Divine and a then-unknown actress and talk show host named Ricki Lake.

"The Producers" became a sensation when it was adapted for Broadway. Based on the Mel Brooks movie, the show won a record 12 awards in 2001.

The special theatrical event award went to "Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on Broadway." The play, now closed, was a Broadway version of a poetry slam, in which poets improvise or read aloud in a confrontational style.

In a night of few surprises, Michelle Pawk staged a minor upset by winning best featured actress in a play, for "Hollywood Arms." Linda Emond of "Life (x) 3" had been the favorite. Joe Mantello of "Take Me Out" picked up the director-play award, beating out Robert Falls of "Long Day's Journey."

Dick Latessa of "Hairspray," a Broadway veteran who moved to New York from Cleveland in the 1960s to pursue an acting career, won for best featured actor-musical.

"The trip on the 'Hairspray' train has been the joy ride of my life," he said.

Baz Luhrmann's "La Boheme," an eye-popping staging of the Puccini opera, picked up two awards for design _ one for sets, by Luhrmann's wife Catherine Martin, and the other for lighting, by Nigel Levings. Its rotating cast of singers, who performed during the awards show, also won a special ensemble award.

William Ivey Long's outlandish 1962 outfits for "Hairspray" won the costume prize.

The Tonys, chosen in 22 categories, are voted on by more than 700 members of the theatrical community and journalists.