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Last Updated: Monday, 7 June, 2004, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Celebrating success at the Tonys
Tom Brook
By Tom Brook
In New York

The Tony Awards, the US theatre's main annual prizes, were handed out in New York on Sunday.

Sean 'P Diddy' Combs
Sean Combs sent "congratulations" to former lover Jennifer Lopez
Backstage at the Tony Awards, journalists noted history being made when Phylicia Rashad, known to millions of TV viewers as Clair Huxtable in The Cosby Show, won for her role in the Broadway revival of A Raisin In the Sun.

At that moment, she became the first African-American ever to win a Tony for best leading actress in a play.

With two other black actresses winning awards, the night was reminiscent of the Oscars in 2002 when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington took home top acting trophies.

Rashad's co-star Sean "P Diddy" Combs came to the press room and acknowledged that it was indeed an historic night - but pointed out that for him at least, making his Broadway debut had been anything but easy.

Combs said: "It was the hardest thing that I've ever done - but at the same time the most exciting." He was not nominated for a Tony and received disappointing reviews.

Phylicia Rashad
Rashad made history for being the first black best leading actress
The news that Jennifer Lopez had reportedly married over the weekend for the third time prompted reporters to canvas Combs, her one-time suitor, for an opinion.

All he would say was "congratulations to her 'cos she's my friend - and I never get into other people's business because I am just a supportive type of guy".

Billy Joel was the only presenter to pay tribute to World War II heroes on the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

He had been astonished when he heard no plans had been made to mention the event on the telecast. "I said 'nowhere in this show are they going to mention D-Day?' The sacrifice these men made I think allows us to be here to do this silly stuff."

Actor Martin Short, also presenting an award, poked gentle fun at the CIA after the resignation of its director George Tenet last week.

I am so confident that if you don't win, I am going to run naked down Broadway
Hugh Jackman's wife before the ceremony
But backstage, anti-Bush sentiment was more pointed.

Anika Noni Rose, the black actress who won for new Tony Kushner musical Caroline, or Change said: "We're struggling right now in this country for democracy. I don't know that we have it right now - I didn't vote for Bush."

And Broadway veteran Joel Grey who is in the musical Wicked, said: "I'm going to be part of the Kerry campaign, [it's] time for a change."

Noticeably lacking in the press room this year were any British winners. Alfred Molina, Simon Russell Beale and Boy George were among the 15 or so UK nominees who, in most cases, lost out to strong home-grown American competition.

Increasingly, the Tony Awards ceremony has become a US cultural event that raises the profile of homosexuals.

The cast of Avenue Q
Puppets had their day as musical Avenue Q took home awards
The trend continued this year with a telecast in which there were numerous gay references, a plea for acceptance of gay marriage and a winner who thanked his boyfriend.

And one of the top prizes of the evening went to Hugh Jackman for his characterisation of the late Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen, who ended up living with another man.

Jackman's victory, taking the best actor in a musical prize for his role in The Boy from Oz, capped what had been quite an evening for him.

He hosted the entire ceremony - for the second year in a row - as well as winning a Tony for his Broadway debut.

Jackman told reporters his wife had no doubts that he would win. He said she told him: "I am so confident that if you don't win, I am going to run naked down Broadway!"

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