The 56th Annual Drama Desk Awards for excellence in New York theater were presented on Monday night at a gala awards ceremony, and the results aptly reflected the diversity and excellence of this past year’s New York theater scene.

The Drama Desk kicked off the 2010-2011 New York theater awards season last month with a cocktail reception at the Bombay Palace Restaurant in honor of such nominees as Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Parsons, Christopher Sieber and Colin Quinn among others.

The Drama Desk awards are the only honors for which productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway compete in the same categories.

Drama Desk Nominees; Winners are in bold:

Outstanding Play
Jon Robin Baitz, Other Desert Cities
Adam Bock, A Small Fire
Stephen Adly Guirgis, The Motherf**ker With the Hat
Samuel D. Hunter, A Bright New Boise
Rajiv Joseph, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
David Lindsay-Abaire, Good People
Nick Stafford, War Horse

Outstanding Musical
In Transit
Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical
See Rock City & Other Destinations

Sister Act
The Book of Mormon
The Kid

Outstanding Revival of a Play
Born Yesterday
The House of Blue Leaves
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Merchant of Venice
The Normal Heart
Three Sisters

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Anything Goes
Hello Again
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Charles Busch, The Divine Sister
Bobby Cannavale, The Motherf**ker With the Hat
Al Pacino, The Merchant of Venice
Geoffrey Rush, The Diary of a Madman
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made
Paul Sparks, Dusk Rings a Bell

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Stockard Channing, Other Desert Cities
Frances McDormand, Good People
Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place
Michele Pawk, A Small Fire
Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me if You Can
Colin Donnell, Anything Goes
Daniel Radcliffe, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Andrew Rannells, The Book of Mormon
Tony Sheldon, Priscilla Queen of the Desert:The Musical
Christopher Sieber, The Kid

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Beth Leavel, Baby It’s You!
Patina Miller, Sister Act
Donna Murphy, The People in the Picture
Sherie Rene Scott, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Brian Bedford, The Importance of Being Earnest
Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher
Boyd Gaines, The Grand Manner
Logan Marshall-Green, The Hallway Trilogy
Zachary Quinto, Angels in America
Tom Riley, Arcadia
Yul Vázquez, The Motherf**ker With the Hat

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Lisa Emery, The Collection & A Kind of Alaska
Edie Falco, The House of Blue Leaves
Julie Halston, The Divine Sister
Sarah Nina Hayon, A Bright New Boise
Celia Keenan-Bolger, Peter and the Starcatcher
Linda Lavin, Other Desert Cities
Judith Light, Lombardi

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Adam Godley, Anything Goes
John Larroquette, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Rory O’Malley, The Book of Mormon
Bob Stillman, Hello Again
Tom Wopat, Catch Me if You Can

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Kerry Butler, Catch Me if You Can
Victoria Clark, Sister Act
Jill Eikenberry, The Kid
Nikki M. James, The Book of Mormon
Patti LuPone, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Laura Osnes, Anything Goes

Outstanding Director of a Play
Trip Cullman, A Small Fire
Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe, The Normal Heart
Moisés Kaufman, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Davis McCallum, A Bright New Boise
Daniel Sullivan, The Merchant of Venice
Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock, Baby Universe

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Rob Ashford, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Joe Calarco, In Transit
Jack Cummings III, Hello Again
Jack Cummings III, See Rock City & Other Destinations
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes
Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon

Outstanding Choreography
Rob Ashford, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, Beautiful Burnout
Steven Hoggett, Peter and the Starcatcher
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes
Casey Nicholaw, The Book of Mormon
Siudy, Between Worlds

Outstanding Music
Brad Alexander, See Rock City & Other Destinations
Alan Menken, Sister Act
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon
Marc Shaiman, Catch Me if You Can
Mike Stoller and Artie Butler, The People in the Picture
David Yazbek, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Outstanding Lyrics
Rick Crom, Newsical The Musical — Full Spin Ahead
Jack Lechner, The Kid
Adam Mathias, See Rock City & Other Destinations
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon
Glenn Slater, Sister Act
Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, Catch Me if You Can

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth, In Transit
Iris Rainer Dart, The People in the Picture
Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical
Adam Mathias, See Rock City & Other Destinations
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon
Michael Zam, The Kid

Outstanding Orchestrations
Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Hello Again
Bruce Coughlin, The Burnt Part Boys
Simon Hale, Jim Abbott and David Yazbek, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus, The Book of Mormon
Marc Shaiman and Larry Blank, Catch Me if You Can
Lynne Shankel, The Extraordinary Ordinary

Outstanding Music in a Play
Wayne Barker, Peter and the Starcatcher
Kathryn Bostic, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Lars Petter Hagen, Baby Universe
Alan John, The Diary of a Madman
Tom Kitt, The Winter’s Tale
Dan Moses Schreier, The Merchant of Venice

Outstanding Revue
Fyvush Finkel Live!
Newsical The Musical — Full Spin Ahead
Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway

Outstanding Set Design
Rachel Hauck, Orange, Hat & Grace
David Korins and Zachary Borovay (projection design), Lombardi
Derek McLane, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Derek McLane, Anything Goes
Tony Straiges, Treasure Island
Mark Wendland, The Merchant of Venice

Outstanding Costume Design
Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical
Desmond Heeley, The Importance of Being Earnest
Ann Hould-Ward, A Free Man of Color
Martin Pakledinaz, Anything Goes
Ann Roth, The Book of Mormon
Paloma Young, Peter and the Starcatcher

Outstanding Lighting Design
Jean Kalman, John Gabriel Borkman
R. Lee Kennedy, See Rock City & Other Destinations
David Lander, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Laura Mroczkowski, Spy Garbo
Ben Stanton, The Whipping Man
David Weiner, A Small Fire

Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Lindsay Jones, The Burnt Part Boys
Michael Rasbury, Hello Again
Brian Ronan, Anything Goes
Brian Ronan, The Book of Mormon
Jon Weston, In Transit

Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Acme Sound Partners, The Merchant of Venice
Acme Sound Partners and Cricket S. Myers, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Ian Dickinson, John Gabriel Borkman
Brett Jarvis, Baby Universe
Bray Poor, Wings
Eric Shimelonis, The Hallway Trilogy

Outstanding Solo Performance
Daniel Beaty, Through the Night
Mike Birbiglia, Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Juliette Jeffers, Batman and Robin in the Boogie Down
John Leguizamo, Ghetto Klown
Colin Quinn, Colin Quinn Long Story Short
Joanna Tope, The Promise

Unique Theatrical Experience
Being Harold Pinter
Circus Incognitus
Play Dead
Room 17B
Sleep No More

During the evening, the nominees and presenters stopped on the red carpet to discuss their past, present and future projects with The Improper. (A complete list of winners is at right.)

Patina Miller, a nominee for her performance in Sister Act, ruminated on the possibility of a win for Outstanding Actress in a Musical.

“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I’m having a ball at Broadway Theatre. I can’t really say I’m ready to take [the award] home, but I’m just living in the moment and taking it for what it is, and it’s pretty amazing. I’m proud of my show and we’ve worked so hard making the show what it is. The payoff is the people in the audience really loving it. It’s nice to get recognized. We’re having a good time, and we’re spreading a lot of love. I know it sounds cheesy, it’s one of our songs [‘Spread the Love Around’], but we really are, and I’m proud of that.”

Jonathan Groff, a good friend of Miller’s, talked about the response he has received after having returned to Glee.

“It’s been great. I’ve gotten so many emails and phone calls in the last couple of weeks since I went back on the show. My character came back to redeem himself, and then he became really mean again. It’s like a vicious cycle!”

Groff said he is hoping to come back to New York soon, and that he was crossing his fingers for Miller to win a Drama Desk Award.

“I’m always rooting for Patina. I love her, I think she’s so talented. We did a play in London at the same time. I saw her in Sister Act four times in London. I saw it on Broadway this week too, and I think she’s killing it. It’s so great when great things happen to your good friends, and she’s such a good person and she’s such a hard worker, I couldn’t be happier for her.”

Jokester Danny Aiello gave The Improper a sneak peek at this summer’s Off-Broadway play, The Shoemaker, in which he will be starring.

“Everyone should know my name [laughs]. If they don’t know me, what are they, on Mars? I’m like Cher, I’m Danny. The Shoemaker opens July 14th. It’s a play about 9/11. It’s a wonderful play. It’s not all serious, there’s funny stuff in it too. If The Improper  readers ever forget my name I’ll punch them right in the nose!”

Marc Shaiman, a nominee for his music, lyrics and orchestrations in Catch Me if You Can, gave The Improper a preview of this Fall’s new television comedy, Smash.

Smash is fantastic. We’ve made just the pilot so far, but it’s very exciting, it’s so odd for me to be able to watch something I’ve worked on and not cringe. When it was all over I went, ‘Gee, that came out good!’ So now we have to do it every week, which is going to be a real challenge. It’s got such a great cast and the people working on it are excellent, it’s really phenomenal.”

A nominee for Baby It’s You!, Beth Leavel happily considered the significance of the Drama Desk Award, and why she felt it was important to bring Florence Greenberg’s story front and center.

“The Drama Desk Award is special because all of our community is represented here, not just Broadway. You have Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway, and it’s like we’re all here together celebrating. I just love being in the oxygen around here. It’s so cool. I’m awestruck. Someone told me that Florence Greenberg is the most famous woman you’ve never heard of. And I said, ‘Well, let’s change that.’ So to get this script and to get this part, and to be able to celebrate Florence and put her on the grid as she should be, in the history of American rock and roll, and then I get to sing and dance and wear twenty-five costumes… It’s such a privilege.”

Leavel chose one line of lyrics from the upbeat musical to best describe her experience with the show.

“There’s so many, but it would be, ‘Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be nights like this, my mama said.’ How apropos is that? So mama said there’d be nights like this, and here I am looking like Cinderella!”

With her role in Catch Me if You Can, Drama Desk nominee Kerry Butler returned to the Neil Simon Theatre where she was in the original cast of Hairspray (also created by Marc Shaiman). She considered how the theater has changed since her first stint in its wings, and what it’s like to reunite with her Hairspray cohorts.

“It hasn’t changed that much. I have my old dressing room, but now it’s all mine. I used to have to share it with Laura Bell Bundy [laughs]. And Linda Hart has her own dressing room right next door to me, so not that much has changed about the theater. But Tom Wopat is right down the hall, and he’s a really good handyman. He constructed a whole bed in his dressing room! He brought in a hammer and nails. Working with Hairspray people again is so great. It’s just a dream to get to work with those people. Not only are they so talented, but they’re so nice. The rehearsal process was so much fun and so creative, I just love them all.”

Kathleen Marshall, who was nominated for both her direction and choreography in Anything Goes (she went on to win for choreography), discussed the process of making this production of the hit musical unique to all others.

“You have to respect the show, but you have to sort of treat it like a new show in some ways. In terms of just kind of looking at the material and the story and the characters and saying, ‘What’s going on in this scene, what’s happening in this song, what’s happening in this story?’ And also we did new dance music and new orchestrations of the dance music, so that made it new to us.

I understand how an author feels facing a blank page, because once you get through a song, it’s like, ‘Okay, now the dance starts, now what?’ And really, with my assistant choreographer and the dance arranger, we kind of had to invent the story of the dance, and that’s the fun part. I think once you get the story of the dance right, then the steps follow.”

Before Catch Me if You Can’s Norbert Leo Butz went on to win the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical, he shared his thoughts on portraying a real person on the Broadway stage.

“In all fairness, the guy that I’m playing was a man named Joe Shea, who was not well known. He was an FBI agent, and a very private guy. So I don’t have the same sort of pressure that Aaron [Tveit] has with Frank Abagnale, who is a much more public figure. I had more freedom to create my own thing. Tom Hanks did play him in the movie, but our script is so different. And Terrence [book writer McNally] envisioned him really different from the brilliant Tom Hanks, he sort of did it in a whole different way. I really had freedom to kind of do my own thing.”

Butz went on to joke about his less-than-glamorous get-up in Catch Me if You Can.

“I am padded a little bit in the belly. I’m fooling people. People are thinking, oh god, Norbert’s having too many beers after work. Ease up on the pizza! But no, it’s a pad. It’s fun to play somebody else.”

Extraordinarily talented nominee Nikki M. James analyzed her thick accent in The Book of Mormon.

“It’s really funny, I’m not doing a very good African accent. I’m doing sort of my own version of what I think it might sound like. Which is sort of what we’re going for, it’s not a specific place and time. We’re not doing this sort of cinéma vérité, we’re doing musical theater. But my mother is Haitian and so I have to say that I’m sure a little bit of Nabalungi’s accent is completely inspired and colored by mom’s own mispronunciation of words growing up. She’s not African, but I still have that in my life. I have a good ear for it.”

James considered her thoughts behind taking on a role in a controversial musical.

“I had a really good feeling about this show. I believed in it. The first time I heard even a little bit, I knew if we could make it we would make a huge splash. Did I know that it was going to be this big? I don’t think anybody would have even asked a genie for this. This is a magical experience. I think the message is that people, when bounded together for a good cause, can make change in the world. And that your silly religion is helpful in a lot of ways, but it’s still silly.”

Harvey Fierstein, host of the event, looked to the future of Broadway.

“The future of Broadway really lies in the audience. When the audience buys tickets, that’s what the future of Broadway is. And that’s the truth. We have to make sure that we keep kids coming when they’re kids so they have theater in their hearts already, and then we’ll be okay. Look at opera. You don’t concentrate on letting people know that opera is okay because the opera audience keeps dying down. People don’t realize that in a capitalist society, every penny you spend is a vote on what you want your country to be like. If I spend money on a horror/slasher film, I’ve actually voted on a horror/slasher film. That’s just the way it works.”

Presenter Christian Siriano considered a career on the Broadway stage, while comparing the life of a performer to life as a designer.

“I would be in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, but I don’t know. That would be my top pick, which I guess is cliché and easy. I actually never got to see the show. I just was a huge fan of the costumes and theatrics and that kind of world. I think the set design was beautiful. Before coming today to present the award I got to see pictures, and I thought it was quite spectacular. The headdresses and everything about it was pretty great. When I show a collection it is a little about the theatrics, so I feel like I’m in that world somewhat. But I wish I could be more involved, and go to every show and support the actors, it’s just very hard which is unfortunate, but I have to work as well.”

John Leguizamo, who won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, decided that he’ll always be a Ghetto Klown – despite this being his last one-man play.

“We’re still on the wrong side of Broadway, which is the ghetto side of Broadway, which is the east side of Broadway. It was taboo back in the day, you couldn’t succeed if you were on that side [laughs]. But I did Freak on that side, I did American Buffalo…well, maybe American Buffalo didn’t do so well at the Belasco. This award is a great validation, they honored me for Spic-O-Rama back in 1994, it’s all full circle getting nominated for my last one man play.”

Joel Grey, who won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play for The Normal Heart (with co-director George C. Wolfe), also reflected on his season from the perspective of an actor. He is currently co-starring in Anything Goes.

“Going back and forth between acting and directing is no problem, it all comes from the same center of wanting to create something. With The Normal Heart, I think it’s very, very important that it has something political and sociological to say. But I think that if people come to see Anything Goes in a bad mood and they leave dancing, that’s equally important.”

The Book of Mormon won most of the night’s big awards, and Robert Lopez was on hand to accept trophies for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics. Co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were not in attendance. Lopez pondered how a show about religion can be so well-received.

“I think the reason why the show has found an audience and found success is that it’s not just taking down someone’s religion. That would be a huge bummer, to sit there for two hours and watch actors poke fun at someone’s real religion. We realized that very early on. We knew we wanted to write something that referenced the Mormon stories, and the Mormon stories are so funny that they make fun of themselves to outsiders. In the end, you realize how religions are formed and what the function is that they fulfill in society. That’s what we set out to do from the very first night we met, and I think that’s what we did. I think that’s why people respond to it.”

Lopez compared his characters in The Book of Mormon to those in his other big award winning show, Avenue Q.

“It’s funny, people have been pointing out that I’ve been doing these shows that have kind of naïve puppets and wide-eyed puppets on the one hand, and then I have the wide-eyed Mormons, but really it’s funny because the characters in Avenue Q are so much more cynical than the characters in this show. It’s odd that the puppets are a little bit more New York and jaded than the naïve Midwesterners. I’ve always felt like with Matt and Trey being from the Midwest, it’s such a different culture than my culture, and I’ve learned so much about the Midwest and the rest of the country just by being friends with them. I always felt like the African in our collaboration. I’m sort of like the third world guy.”

Lopez chose one line from the musical to sum up his experience with it.

“Tomorrow is a latter day.”

Special awards were given to playwright A.R. Gurney, actor Reed Birney, The New Group and its Artistic Director Scott Elliott, The Pearl Theatre Company, and the creative team of War Horse (Paule Constable, Marianne Elliott, 59 Productions, Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company, Tom Morris, Rae Smith, Christopher Shutt, Toby Sedgwick, Adrian Sutton and John Tams).