Irish actor Norton wins Tony Award

Irish actor Jim Norton has won a Tony Award in the United States for his performance in Conor McPherson's 'The Seafarer'.

Norton, best known for playing Bishop Len Brennan in 'Father Ted', was named Best Featured Actor in a Play at the awards ceremony in New York last night.

He has previously won an Olivier Award for the same performance.

Arts Minister Martin Cullen has congratulated Norton on his achievement, describing him as an actor of exceptional versatility.

It was 'South Pacific' that scooped more prizes at the New York event than any other show - Musical Revival, Actor-Musical for leading man Paulo Szot, Director-Musical and four design awards for sets, costumes, lighting and sound.

Bartlett Sher, who oversaw 'South Pacific', thanked the show's legendary creators, composer Richard Rodgers, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, its original director Joshua Logan and James Michener, who wrote the novel on which the show was based.

"They were kind of incredible men, because they seem to teach me particularly that in a way I wasn't only an artist but I was also a citizen," Sher said.

"And the work that we do in these musicals or in any of these plays is not only important in terms of entertaining people, but that our country was really a pretty great place, and that perhaps it could be a little better, and perhaps, in fact, we could change."

'In the Heights', a joyous celebration of Latino life in the upper reaches of Manhattan, was named best musical, while 'August: Osage County', Tracy Letts' scabrous tale of a dysfunctional Oklahoma family, took best play honour.

Mark Rylance won the top acting prize for 'Boeing-Boeing', a 1960s sex farce filled with slamming doors and eager stewardesses that was named Best Revival Play.

Rylance, 48, who plays a nerdy visitor to Paris in the comedy, did not give an acceptance speech rife with thank-yous, but riffed about wearing clothing appropriate to your vocation or avocation.

"Otherwise, it might appear that you don't know what you're doing, that you're just wandering the earth, no particular reason for being here, no particular place to go," he said. "Thanks very much for this."

'Gypsy', the main competition for South Pacific, took three of the four musical performance awards.

Patti LuPone was cheered mightily as she won the actress-musical prize for her powerhouse performance as Rose, an indomitable stage mother. It was LuPone's second Tony, the first since 1980 when she won for playing another strong-willed woman, Eva Peron, in 'Evita'.

Her co-star, Boyd Gaines, did even better. He collected his fourth Tony, winning for his portrayal of Rose's gentlemanly candy-salesman suitor, Herbie. And Laura Benanti, who plays the ugly-duckling daughter who blossoms into Gypsy Rose Lee in the show, received the featured-actress award.

The win for August was not unexpected since it already has won most major theatre awards including the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. It won a total of five Tonys.

Deanna Dunagan, who portrays the play's acidulous matriarch, took the actress prize while Rondi Reed, who plays her flighty sister, won in the featured category.

The CBS telecast from Radio City Music Hall opened with an elaborate number from Disney's 'The Lion King', now in its second decade on Broadway, and finished with host Whoopi Goldberg, walking out dressed as the crab from another Disney musical, 'The Little Mermaid'.

In a season that offered 36 productions, 23 of them were plays - 10 new works and 13 revivals. But despite the abundance of plays, it was a disconcerting year for Broadway.

A crippling 19-day stagehands' strike last November shut down more than two dozen shows during a particularly lucrative time of year, resulting in millions of dollars in losses. The strike most probably prevented the theatre from having its first-ever billion-dollar season.

Today's winners in 26 competitive categories were voted on by 795 members of the theatrical community. The Tonys were founded by the Wing in 1947.

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