Sean Hayes, who portrays the witty but troubled pianist Oscar Levant in “Good Night, Oscar,” won the Tony for best lead actor in play.
Best known for his long-running role as Jack McFarland in the television series “Will & Grace,” Hayes received critical praise for his drastic transformation in this stage production, adopting the hunched posture, irritable scowl and anxious twitching of Levant, who channeled his neuroticism into crowd-pleasing radio and television banter.
Hayes, 52, has also brought one of his lesser known talents to the stage for this performance: classical piano, which he started studying at age 5.
Telling the story of one night in 1958 when Levant finagled his way out of psychiatric hospital to be interviewed on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show,” the play focuses on the pianist’s idiosyncrasies, compulsions and struggles with opioid addiction as surrounding characters try desperately to manage him.
This is Hayes’s first Tony Award. He was previously nominated for his Broadway debut in the 2010 revival of “Promises, Promises,” a musical adaptation of the Billy Wilder film “The Apartment.”
“I’d like to acknowledge Oscar Levant, whose wit and irascibility and virtuosity is not only inspirational but a true original,” Hayes said in his acceptance speech. “Thank you, Oscar Levant, wherever you are.”
The actor won against the two leads of “Topdog/Underdog,” Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Corey Hawkins; Stephen McKinley Henderson from “Between Riverside and Crazy”; and Wendell Pierce from “Death of a Salesman.”