(Recasts with top awards, performances)
By Jill Serjeant
Sept 26 (Reuters) - AIDS play "The Inheritance" and musical "Moulin Rouge!" won the top honors at Broadway's Tony Awards on Sunday in a four-hour ceremony that promoted the return of live theatre and called for better opportunities for Black writers and performers.
"Tonight feels like a homecoming," said host Audra McDonald. "The lights are on, we are here, we are back."
The annual awards show was never held in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic that shut down live performances for 18 months.
Many of the big shows, including "Hamilton," "The Lion King," and "Wicked" had emotional reopenings earlier this month marked by tears and joy both on and off stage. Audiences must be fully vaccinated and masks are required.
"It's been over a year but the Tonys are here," sang "Hamilton" star Leslie Odom Jr, opening the TV special called "Broadway's Back" that featured appearances by stars ranging from John Legend and Jake Gyllenhaal to Chita Rivera and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
"Moulin Rouge! The Musical," based on the 2001 movie, won 10 awards, including best musical, and for lead actor Aaron Tveit.
Carmen Pavlovic, a co-producer of "Moulin Rouge!," said every show deserved to get an award after the punishing last 18 months, including "the shows that opened, the shows that closed not to return, the shows that nearly opened, and of course the shows that paused and were fortunate enough to be reborn."
"The Inheritance," a portrait of gay life in the 21st century, was named best play and won 2 other Tonys. It also brought an impassioned appeal from its playwright Matthew Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican heritage.
"This is the 74th Tony Awards and yet I am only the first Latinate writer to win in this category," said Lopez. "This must change. We are a vibrant community ... We have so many stories to tell. They are inside of us, aching to come out."
"A Soldier's Play," about the murder of a black officer on a U.S. army base in 1944," was voted best play revival. Yet it was a disappointing night for "Slave Play," a provocative show about race and sexuality that went into Sunday's ceremony with a leading 12 nominations, but won none of them.
"The table's got to be bigger," said Kenny Leon, director of "A Soldier's Play," saying Broadway needs to do better to elevate Black voices.
The anti-racism non-profit Broadway Advocacy Coalition that fights to make theatre more diverse, was given an honorary award.
The TV special saw live song and dance performances from many shows, including "Jagged Litle Pill," "Ain't Too Proud," "American Utopia," and Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth, the original stars of "Wicked."
"A Christmas Carol," a stage adaptation with music of the Charles Dickens novel, won five awards, while newcomer Adrienne Warren won best actress in a musical for playing rock singer Tina Turner in "Tina - The Tina Turner Musical."
None of the Tony-nominated plays are currently playing on Broadway or plan to return, after closing because of the pandemic or finishing their runs shortly before it broke.
(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
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