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Ben Platt and the cast of "Dear Evan Hansen" perform at the 71st annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP)
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‘Dear Evan Hansen’ wins big at Tony Awards _ so far

Ben Platt and the cast of "Dear Evan Hansen" perform at the 71st annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — “Dear Evan Hansen,” the touching, heartfelt musical about young outsiders, became very popular as the Tony Awards rumbled toward its conclusion, winning statuettes for best book, score, orchestrations and best featured actress.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who recently won Oscars for the song “City of Stars” from the movie “La La Land,” added to a remarkable year by earning Tonys for best score for writing the songs for “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Moments later, the show’s story writer, Steven Levenson, won the Tony for best book, and Alex Lacamoire earned one for best orchestations. Rachel Bay Jones won her first Tony for her work in the musical, capping a long career onstage with plenty of zigs and zags.

“Dear Evan Hansen” came into the night as the second-leading Tony nominee. The show centers on a profoundly lonely 17-year-old who fabricates a prior friendship with a classmate who has just committed suicide. It has a passionate following and is triggering cheers whenever it is mentioned in Radio City Music Hall.

There were also two first-time winners early on — Michael Aronov took home the trophy for best featured actor in a play for his work on “Oslo.” And Gavin Creel won his first Tony for featured actor in a musical in Bette Midler’s big return to Broadway in “Hello, Dolly!”

Cynthia Nixon won her second Tony, this time for her work in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.” Nixon, the Sex and the City” star, struck a defiant political tone, saluting those who refuse to stand around and watch bad things happen in the world.

Kevin Kline won his third Tony Award playing an egomaniacal matinee idol in the midst of personal turmoil in the play “Present Laughter.” He thanked, among others, The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Andy Blankenbuehler won his second choreography Tony in as many years — last year for “Hamilton” and this time for “Bandstand.”

Other show highlights will be the return of the Rockettes on a Tony stage after 13 years and the decision to have all four playwrights nominated for best play Tonys appear to present their works.

Laurie Metcalf won her first Tony, winning best actress honors in “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” She won three Emmy Awards for her role as Jackie Harris on “Roseanne” and thanked her children. Rebecca Taichman won best directing play honors for “Indecent.”

“Am I dreaming? Is this some kind of crazy dream?” she asked.

Kevin Spacey kicked off his first-ever Tony Award hosting gig with grace and self-deprecating wit on Sunday, dancing, singing and joking his way through an opening number that linked all four best new musical nominees and doing his best Glenn Close impersonation.

Spacey, who was named Tony host after several other celebrities turned down the job, laughed at himself in the 10-minute opening song, in which he gradually grows comfortable with hosting duties despite what he fears will be nasty tweets crashing down.

The telecast opened on a mournful host dressed like the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen” — complete with arm cast — before he soon showed up in a bed to mock “Groundhog Day The Musical” with an assist with Stephen Colbert, and then donning a fake beard as if he was in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”

Spacey got advice from former Tony host Whoopi Goldberg (live) and Billy Crystal (taped.) The Rockettes arrived to dance with the cast of “Come From Away,” a feel-good Canadian musical set against the horror of 9/11. It earned Christopher Ashley the Tony for best direction of a musical. He dedicated it to 9/11 first responders and all those who were generous on that terrible day.

Spacey even had fun with rumors about his sexual orientation while singing the Andrew Lloyd Webber song “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from “Sunset Boulevard.” Spacey, dressed as Close, sang “I’m coming out…” and then paused, tantalizingly. “Of makeup…”

Then Spacey led a line of high-kicking, tap dancers in a top hat, a white tie, tuxedo and a cane. “I’m Broadway bound,” he sang. “Your next host is found.” After the hectic number, he requested that his cardiologist be nearby.

The year after “Hamilton” took many prizes, Spacey jokingly pointed out that the subjects on Broadway this season included infidelity, suicide, greed, 9/11 and economic upheaval.

The show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall includes musical numbers from nine new and revival musicals, “Bandstand,” ”Come From Away,” ”Dear Evan Hansen,” ”Falsettos,” ”Groundhog Day The Musical,” ”Hello, Dolly!” ”Miss Saigon,” ”Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812″ and “War Paint.” The four playwrights vying for the best play Tony are each taking the stage.

Other winners included August Wilson’s “Jitney,” which drove away with the Tony for best play revival.

The leading musical Tony nominees are “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” with 12 nominations, “Hello, Dolly!” with 10 and “Dear Evan Hansen,” with nine. The top play nominees are “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” with eight, and “Oslo,” with seven. Last year, all eyes were on how many statuettes “Hamilton” would capture. This year, the awards are expected to be scattered around.

Broadway producers will be thankful this year that the telecast won’t have to compete with any NBA Finals games, but there will be a Stanley Cup playoff contest and a soccer game pitting the U.S. and Mexico.

They’ll also be keeping their fingers crossed that they avoid any technical or human snafus that have marred previous awards shows this year, including the wrong winner announced at the Oscars and sound issues at the Grammys.

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Online: http://www.tonyawards.com

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Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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