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Billy Elliot, Carnage and Geoffrey Rush Take Top Drama League Honors

The winners of the 2009 Drama League Awards were announced on May 15 at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, during a luncheon hosted by Tony winners Jeremy Irons of the just-closed Impressionism and Cynthia Nixon whose drama Distracted ends its limited run May 17. The 75th annual ceremony collectively honored 39 Broadway and off-Broadway productions. Of the 70-plus nominees, Geoffrey Rush received the Distinguished Performance Award for Exit the King—an honor an actor can receive only once in a lifetime. Winners of the competitive awards are as follows:

Distinguished Production of a Play
God of Carnage

Distinguished Production of a Musical
Billy Elliot

Distinguished Revival of a Play
Blithe Spirit

Distinguished Revival of a Musical
Hair

Distinguished Performance Award
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King

As usual, the nominated actors were seated on a three-tier dais on the stage of the Marriott's Broadway Ballroom. After being introduced, each nominee was handed a microphone and invited to make a short speech. Before winning, Rush gave the wittiest remarks of the afternoon, calling the Drama League luncheon "unique, thrilling and strange" and comparing the dais to "a performance art installation." The group photo, he added, was like posing for the cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. Not to be outdone, Shrek star Christopher Sieber likened the dais to "the largest panel of Match Game ever."

In contrast to past ceremonies, the actors kept their remarks clean and bland, though Pal Joey star Martha Plimpton drew laughs when she joked that the event allowed her to "meet my future husband, Jeremy Irons," who blew her a kiss. Several actors commented favorably on their seating. Mary Stuart star Janet McTeer blurted, "I'm sitting next to Jane Fonda and Sam Waterston! I think I've died and gone to heaven." Referring to Plimpton, Josh Grisetti of Enter Laughing marveled, "Here I am having lunch with one of the Goonies."

In his acceptance speech, Rush confessed that when he first learned that 70 actors had been nominated, his reaction was, "They're not exactly minimalists." But having experienced the event itself, Rush added that he was touched to hear the stories of young performers who had dreamed of working onstage in New York and declared, "I should be jackhammering this award" to give everyone a portion.

Prior to the ceremony, the Drama League announced that Billy Elliot composer Elton John would receive the Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre Award, Arthur Laurents would be honored with the Julia Hansen Award for Excellence in Directing and Blithe Sprit star Angela Lansbury would receive the Unique Contribution to the Theatre Award. In her acceptance speech, Lansbury said, "I have been so blessed to work with the titans of Broadway over so many years" and urged producers to "give me another job in the next five years." John recalled listening to the cast albums of South Pacific and Oklahoma! as a child and noted that musical theater "is all about team effort," adding, "It ain't successful unless it's successful on Broadway. I feel a bit of an interloper. I've written four musicals but I'm still learning, and I love it so much."

Before presenting the Outstanding Revival award to Blithe Spirit, 33 Variations star Jane Fonda noted of the three-hour luncheon, "They told me this would be long, but it's great. I feel like I'm in a dream." From the top row of the dais, she added, "I can see everyone who drinks, and I can see everyone who eats dessert. I wish I could have you all back to my house." Nowhere to be seen was her ever-present canine companion, Tulea.

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