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Greatest moment of Tonys night was . . .

June 15, 2008 | 11:04 pm

Here's what gets my vote: when Lin-Manuel Miranda accepted the Tony for best musical score for "In the Heights," rapping madly with joy. Backstage, he revealed to us that he'd made up most of it as he went along. If true, this chap is a Broadway genius, as proved when he sang to the composer of "Sunday in the Park with George" in the audience: "Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat . . . where there never was a hat . . . . and it's a Latin hat at that!"

Sondheim was the special star of Tonys night. He received an honorary award (accepted by Mandy Patinkin) plus witnessed revivals of two of his masterpieces — "Gypsy" and "Sunday in the Park with George" — compete for top honors, too. The fact that Miranda, a Broadway newbie, chose to tip his, well, hat, to the maestro was touching, but even more impressive was the way he chose to do so. He quoted classic, knock-out lines from "Sunday in the Park" that are sung by over-zealous painter George Seurat to his mistress, Dot, as he tells her why he can't go out on the date they'd planned. When she hears the words, they seem ridiculous and further proof that they are doomed as lovers, but to George they are urgent and profound. While absorbed by his painting, he boasts proudly to Dot: "Look, I made a hat! Where there never was a hat!" In the dramatic build-up of the story, it's one of the greatest scenes in one of Sondheim's greatest shows. ("Sunday" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, but, alas, lost the Tony for best musical to "La Cage aux Folles." Tonight it was nominated for best revival and lost to "South Pacific.")

By doing a rap riff on that "Sunday" scene in his own acceptance speech for "Heights," Miranda was more than just paying homage to a master. Miranda was showing us that he has the potential to be the next Sondheim — and the Latin one at that. It was a bravura, bone-chilling moment and, it turns out, that much of it may have been impromptu at that. Which makes it all the more impressive still.

"I had several couplets in my head, was too superstitious to write them down, and halfway through the speech, they went out of my head," he confessed. "I am in a hip-hop group and have had four years of practice of making up rhymes. " And now his show, first written in his sophomore year of college, has four Tony Awards, including best musical.

Now all Miranda has to do next is to win best musical four more times in order to tie Sondheim's record. The maestro's triumphs: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1963), "Company" (1971), "A Little Night Music" (1973), "Sweeney Todd" (1979) and "Passion" (1994). Five more of Sondheim's shows were nominated: "Gypsy" (lyrics, 1960), "West Side Story" (lyrics, 1957), "Follies" (1971), "Sunday in the Park with George" (1984) and "Pacific Overtures" (1976).


(L.A. Times photo by Tom O'Neil)