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Bryan Cranston Wins a Top Acting Honor at 2019 Tony Awards

Actors over 50 earned three of the Tonys for acting, plus awards in other categories

Bryan Cranston, 63, Andre De Shields, 73, and Elaine May, 87, took 3 out of 8 of Broadway's top honors at the 2019 Tony Awards Sunday at New York's Radio City Music Hall. “The entertainment business may be youth-obsessed,” observed the showbiz publication Variety, “but it was a good evening for octogenarians."

Besides designer Bob Mackie, who won a Tony for The Cher Show and quipped, “This is very encouraging for an 80-year-old,” there is May, who won best leading actress in a play for her role as a woman descending into Alzheimer's in The Waverly Gallery. “I've never won a nomination for acting before, so I wanna tell you how I did it,” said May, who chalked it up to her eminent costars, especially young Lucas Hedges’ highly emotional climactic speech extolling her character. “He was so touching that watching from the wings I thought, ‘I'm gonna win this guy's Tony.'"

May's character, based on playwright Kenneth Lonergan's grandmother, represents a growing trend in entertainment: important dramas about dementia inspired by relatives of the writers, including Garrett Davis’ play Forget Me Not, the 2018 film What They Had, with Blythe Danner, and Viggo Mortensen's forthcoming film Falling, with Laura Linney and Lance Henriksen.

Cranston, 63, who won best leading actor in a play for Network, joked, “Finally, a straight old white man gets a break!” The Breaking Bad star's previous Broadway break was winning the same Tony acting award in 2014 for playing Lyndon Johnson in All the Way. Andre De Shields, 73, won best featured actor in a musical for his role as Hermes, the narrator of the year's biggest winner, Hadestown, which got eight awards. De Shields, who wore winged Hermes shoes, offered three pieces of advice for getting to the top on Broadway: “One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing."

Non-actors who claimed Tonys include top hit Hadestown's scenic designer Rachel Hauck, 58, and sound designer Nevin Steinberg, 52; Sam Mendes, 53, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty and $2.7 billion worth of hit films, who got his first directing Tony for The Ferryman, which earned the second most 2019 Tony Awards (four); and two winners of the Tony lifetime achievement award, orchestrator Harold Wheeler, 75, and playwright Terrence McNally, 80, whose breakthrough 1987 play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune just returned to Broadway.

The most venerable winner of the night was the third 2019 lifetime achievement winner, Rosemary Harris, 91, who earned it 67 years after her Broadway debut and 53 years after she won the best actress Tony for her role in the play The Lion in Winter. She credited her health to “plenty of exercise in the garden.” Nominated for eight other Tonys she didn't win — including in 2000, when she lost to her two-Tony-winning daughter Jennifer Ehle, 49 — she's thrilled still to be working in hit shows like the current My Fair Lady. “You never know what's around the corner,” she said.