The 2009 Tony Awards

From the adorable three Billy Elliots to Bret Michaels’ near decapitation by set piece, VIEW OUR GALLERY of the best moments from Broadway’s biggest night.

Ah, the Tonys. For all the glitz and glamour of the stage, the ceremony is usually quite uneventful—but this year there were a few surprises. Unsurprising: Billy Elliot: The Musical, the clear favorite, scooped up a whopping 10 awards, including Best Musical. Playwright Yasmina Reza’s black “comedy of manners,” God of Carnage, was also a star in the straight play categories, though the cuteness power of Billy Elliot’s “three Billys”—Trent Kowalik, David Alvarez and Kiril Kulish—who jointly accepted the award for Best Male Performers in a Musical, was really hard to beat.

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The show was really gunning for ratings this year: Host Neil Patrick Harris was a crowd-pleaser, tackling everyone from Jeremy Piven (sushi joke—we saw it coming), to Sir Elton John, and tough guy James Gandolfini. The broadcast began with a musical mash-up of the year’s top songs, which Harris informed the audience was the biggest and most expensive opening number in the Tonys’ history (recession be damned!). Rocker Bret Michaels apparently didn’t get the message about the elaborate sets—he was almost crushed by a descending set piece when his Rock of Ages number ended, nearly ending up headless. Hair, whose cast had the entire audience singing along to “Let the Sunshine In” by the end of the show’s opening number, won for Best Revival of a Musical, proving that show people love hippies just as much as they love sequins.

The much-maligned and ratings-grubbing performances from traveling, un-nominated musicals like Legally Blonde and Mamma Mia lived up to detractors’ worst fears with lackluster dancing and some sound problems. Acceptance speeches ranged from the bizarre (actress Alice Ripley impassionedly quoting JFK while shouting), to the touching (Karen Olivo’s tearful acceptance speech for West Side Story), to the hilarious (Geoffrey Rush pronouncing his fellow nominees’ names in an exaggerated French accent). Best dressed award might go to Marcia Gay Harden, who also won a Tony for her role in God of Carnage, though Dolly Parton was certainly a show-stopper in her own way in pounds of pink fabric. Phew…who’s ready for next year?

Liz Goodwin is an intern at the Daily Beast. Before arriving in New York, she wrote for The Tico Times and Fodor’s Travel Guides in Costa Rica.