The show of soulful sounds and a parade of engaging characters beat out "Fela!" the innovative Afro-beat biography of Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; Green Day's rock musical "American Idiot"; and "Million Dollar Quartet," a fictional re-creation of a jam session of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis in a Memphis recording studio.
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But "Red," the anguished two-man drama about painter Mark Rothko and the timeless tug of war between art and commerce, was the night's big winner, receiving the best play prize and five other honors.
"This to me is the moment of my lifetime," said playwright John Logan.
The play picked up Tonys for Michael Grandage, who won for best director of a play, and Eddie Redmayne, for featured performance by an actor in a play. "This is the stuff dreams are made of. Wow," Redmayne said, clutching his prize.
"Red," starring Alfred Molina as Rothko, was also awarded a Tony for best lighting design of a play, best sound design and best scenic design.
Catherine Zeta-Jones won a Tony for best leading actress in a musical and Douglas Hodge won the award for best leading actor in a musical.
Zeta-Jones won for best actress in a musical as the amorous actress in the revival of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." She thanked many, including her husband, fellow actor Michael Douglas, whom she "gets to sleep with every night."
"Fences" co-stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis won the top acting awards for dramatic plays Sunday night at the 2010 Tony Awards.
It was the first Tony for the Oscar-winning actor, but the second for Davis, who was nominataed for an Oscar two years ago for her role opposite Meryl Streep in the movie "Doubt."
"My mother always says, 'Man gives the award, God gives the reward.' I guess I got both tonight," Washington said after winning for his performance as the sanitation man who might have been a baseball star.
A tearful Davis, honored for playing Washington's all-sacrificing wife, said, "I don't believe in luck or happenstance. I absolutely believe in the presence of God in my life." Of performing on Broadway, she added, "It feels like such a divine experience eight times a week."
Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson took home the first of Broadway's 2010 Tony Awards for her role in "A View From The Bridge."
"Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be on Broadway and here I am," said Johansson, best known for such films as "Matchpoint" and "Lost in Translation."
Terry Johnson won best director for a musical for "La Cage aux Folles."
Five-time Tony winner Angela Lansbury, a nominee Sunday for "A Little Night Music," was named the first-ever honorary chairman of the American Theatre Wing. Special Tony Awards for lifetime achievement were given to playwright Alan Ayckbourn ("The Norman Conquests," a trilogy that won the play-revival Tony last year), and actress Marian Seldes ("A Delicate Balance," "Equus," "Deathtrap," "Three Tall Women").
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., received the regional theater award.
Green Day, whose "American Idiot" musical has several Tony nominations, opened the ceremony.
Host Sean Hayes was nominated for leading actor in a musical for his portrayal of Chuck Baxter, the insecure company man who lends out his bachelor apartment for extramarital, romantic dalliances by its executives, in a revival of "Promises, Promises," inspired by Billy Wilder's Academy Award-winning "The Apartment."
"I have actually managed to combine a good chance of losing with a good chance of bombing," he joked during his opening monologue, which was widely applauded.
Hayes began with a playful piano medley circling around "Give My Regards to Broadway," then stepped up the beat and segued into a stomping "Blue Suede Shoes," as performed by cast members from "Million Dollar Quartet." Segments from "Promises, Promises," "Come Fly With Me" and others followed, capped and stolen by a shouting medley from Green Day.
Rain was falling Sunday evening as Broadway's brightest stars began a walk down the red carpet for the annual ceremony honoring the best on Broadway.
"Memphis" and "Red" each picked up three early victories Sunday at the 2010 Tony Awards, while "American Idiot" and "Fela!" won two apiece.
The announcements were made off-camera, before the ceremoney got under way.