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'Big River,' 'Biloxi Blues' win Tony Awards

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP, UPI Senior Editor

NEW YORK -- 'Big River,' a musical about Huck Finn, swept the 39th annual Tony Awards for the best of Broadway in nationally televised ceremonies that named Neil Simon's 'Biloxi Blues' as best play.

Seven of the American Theater Wing's 16 Antoinette Perry Awards were captured by 'Big River,' including best musical. It was an amazing achievement for a show that was originally produced in Cambridge, Mass., and La Jolla, Calif., and was therefore a Broadway 'outsider.'

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Simon's achievement was amazing in another way, capping a 30-year Broadway career as a playwright that failed to bring him a Tony until the 1984-85 ceremonies at the Shubert Theater.

'I always thought I'd get a Tony but I didn't think I would have to wait through 22 productions,' he told a cheering theater audience and some 40 million viewers on CBS-TV Sunday night.

Stockard Channing won the award for outstanding performance by a leading actress in a play for her role as the eternally optimistic mother of a spastic child in 'Joe Egg.' English actor Derek Jacobi won for outstanding male performance for playing the not-too-confirmed bachelor in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of 'Much Ado About Nothing.'

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'Joe Egg,' a revival of a drama by British playwright Peter Nichols, won the Tony for outstanding reproduction of a play or musical. Its male star, Jim Dale, lost out to Jacobi for best actor in a play.

There were no Tonys given this year for best actor and actress in a musical or for choreography due to the small number of musicals during the past season.

The most sentimental moment of the evening came when the audience gave Yul Brynner a standing ovation when he accepted a special Tony for an unprecedented 4,635 performances in 'The King and I.'

Mary Martin contributed to nostalgia by singing 'Never Never Land' from 'Peter Pan,' in which she starred on Broadway 31 years ago.

The Tony Awards show written by Hildy Parks and produced by Alexander H. Cohen honored three Broadway songwriters -- Jule Styne, Cy Coleman and Andrew Lloyd Weber, through performance of many of their works and their own performance of music written for shows scheduled for next season.

'Big River,' with a book by William Hauptman and music and lyrics by country composer Roger Miller, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the publication of Mark Twain's 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' It also won Tonys for best book, original score, performance by a featured actor, direction, scenic design and lighting.

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'Biloxi Blues,' a semi-autobiographical play about an aspiring playwright in a boot training camp in World War II, also won Tonys for outstanding performance by a featured actor and outstanding direction of a play.

Other shows which had Tony awardees were 'Grind,' a musical about racial injustice in show business in the 1930s, and 'Hurlyburly,' a drama about moral bankruptcy in Hollywood.

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