Tonys start with a spring in Hugh Jackman's step

Associated Press
Samuel L. Jackson, right, and LaTanya Richardson arrive at the 68th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
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Samuel L. Jackson, right, and LaTanya Richardson arrive at the 68th annual Tony Awards at Radio City …

NEW YORK (AP) — Hugh Jackman has kicked off the Tony Awards with a bounce, hopping up and down like a kangaroo during his opening number. Big, high-kicking musical numbers from "After Midnight" and "Aladdin" kept the energy level up during the show's first hour.

The bearded Australian, back as host Sunday after a nine-year absence, greeted many of the night's featured performers as he cheerfully bounded past them backstage. He then joined the cast of the musical "After Midnight" for a rousing rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing)."

The first award of the night was for best featured actor in a play and it went to Mark Rylance, who won his third Tony for playing the countess Olivia in "Twelfth Night." Rylance, who previously won for "Jerusalem" and "Boeing-Boeing," is also nominated for best lead actor honors for his evil title character in "Richard III."

The best featured actress in a musical Tony went to Lena Hall in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," playing a woman who dresses as a man and plays Neil Patrick Harris' boyfriend. Hall wished her dad a happy birthday and gave a shout-out to her soon-to-be-born niece. "Friendship is magic," she said.

Darko Tresnjak won for directing the musical "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder" and thanked his mother, a skydiver during World War II now too frail to be there. Kenny Leon won his first Tony for directing the revival of "A Raisin in the Sun." He thanked, among other, his star Denzel Washington, and the women in his life. He even managed to plug his next work, "Holler If Ya Hear Me."

Jackman has lost none of his style, affability and humor in the nine years since he last hosted. He will be singing several songs — including all the parts from the first song in "The Music Man" — and will tease the nominees goodheartedly.

Stars helping present awards included Bradley Cooper, Kevin Bacon, Clint Eastwood, Leighton Meester, Kenneth Branagh, Kate Mara, Emmy Rossum, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Zachary Quinto. Overall viewership may be tested by Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Some 870 Tony voters — members of professional groups such as the Wing, the League, Actors' Equity Association, the Dramatists Guild and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society — decided the final 26 competitive awards. Only Broadway shows that opened in the 12 months ending April 24 are eligible.

A music-heavy lineup has been promised that includes all the best new musical nominees — "Aladdin," ''After Midnight," ''Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" and "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" — and some overlooked ones, including "Rocky," ''Bullets Over Broadway," and Idina Menzel's show "If/Then."

"After Midnight," a musical celebrating Duke Ellington's years at the Cotton Club nightclub, was the first to be featured with Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Fantasia singing "On Sunny Side of the Street" and then the group number.

Three revivals — "Les Miserables," ''Violet" and "Cabaret" — will also be featured. "Wicked," which is celebrating a decade on Broadway, will have its current Glinda and Elphaba sing "For Good," and there will be songs from two shows that have yet to arrive: Sting will perform from his musical "The Last Ship" and Jennifer Hudson sings from "Finding Neverland," the musical about Peter Pan.

For best play candidates, the playwrights of "Act One," ''All The Way," ''Casa Valentina," ''Mothers and Sons" and "Outside Mullingar" will each take turns introducing video snippets of their works.

This year, Broadway producers have a reason to party. The season's box offices hit a record total gross of $1.27 billion — up from $1.13 billion the previous season — and attendance was up 5.6 percent to 12.2 million.

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Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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Online: http://www.tonyawards.com

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