Show Folk Face Off for the Most Competitive Tony Awards in Years

updated 06/22/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Forget all the handshakes and kiss-kisses exchanged between American show people and their British cousins last week at the 41st annual Tony Awards honoring Broadway's best. "This means war!" declared one U.S. critic at Manhattan's Mark Hellinger Theatre when Les Misérables, a U.K. "musicalization" of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, picked up its eighth award, the coveted Best Musical prize. For decades musical theater has reigned worldwide as the kind of stage work we Yanks do best. Now here was Les Glums (as wags have dubbed the somber musical hit) trotting off with the treats. Three more Tonys went to the cockney sing-along, Me and My Girl, and one to the Brit roller skating romp, Starlight Express. The only American entry, Rags, was a four-performance flopperoo. Said Robert Lindsay, Best Actor victor for Me and My Girl, "To be honored in America for my first show on Broadway...I'm numb." So, alas, were U.S. theater chauvinists.

Still, it wasn't all tea and crumpets for the British—the Royal Shakespeare Company's acclaimed Les Liaisons Dangereuses, with seven nominations, failed to pick up a single Tony. Fences, August Wilson's drama about a black American family, took four awards, including one for Best Play, another for star James Earl Jones as Best Actor. To his credit, Jones didn't gloat. "You get hot for a minute when you win," says Jones, "but that heat cools off."

Like the show's moving tributes to actor Robert Preston, who died in March, and to director George Abbott, who will turn 100 on June 25, that's something on which Brits and Yanks could agree. At a dinner bash, winners and losers of both nations were confronted with a sobering equalizer. Despite the presence of theater legends Mary Martin, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and the show's host, Angela Lansbury, autograph seekers made more fuss over TV sex symbol Corbin Bernsen. And the L.A. Lawstar has never set foot on Broadway.

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