When 'Evita' Won Seven Tonys in 1980, It Was a Big Win for Brits

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Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice taking a tea break during rehearsals in July 1978.

It marked the first time that British artists wrote book, music & lyrics of a Tony winner for best musical.

Evita made history at the 34th annual Tony Awards, becoming the first British import to win for best musical. Even Oliver! had come up short, losing the 1963 award for best musical to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Andrew Lloyd Webber knew that he and his collaborator, Tim Rice, were breaking new ground. Accepting the award for best original score, he said, "It's always said the British can't write musicals. We've been trying, and to do it on Broadway, really, that's all one can ask."

Evita won seven Tonys at the ceremony, which was held at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York on June 8, 1980 -- 39 years ago next week. Mary Tyler Moore and Jason Robards hosted the show.

Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin won for their performances in Evita. Rice was a double winner, for best book of a musical and best original score. Harold Prince won for direction of a musical. David Hersey won for lighting design. The best musical award went to the show's producer, impresario Robert Stigwood.

LuPone led the company in a performance of "New Argentina" on the Tony telecast. When a tearful LuPone later won her award, she noted, "I would like to thank the writers of Evita for creating the challenge of my lifetime. And I would like to thank the cast of Evita…If I'm any good, it's because I must match their standard."

Evita focuses on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón. The musical began life as a rock opera concept album, which was released in the U.K. in 1976. (Lloyd Webber and Rice had launched their previous show, Jesus Christ Superstar, with a 1970 album.)

Evita opened on London's West End on June 21, 1978, with Elaine Paige and David Essex in the lead roles. It opened on Broadway on Sept. 25, 1979, at the Broadway Theatre.

The most famous song from the show, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," is one of the few theater songs in modern times that was recorded by top artists even before the show opened. Olivia Newton-John and Carpenters both recorded it for 1977 albums. The song first made the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980 for the disco group Festival. Madonna's version, from the 1996 film version in which she starred, made the top 10 on the Hot 100 in March 1997. The song has also been covered by such varied artists as Sinéad O'Connor, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Nicole Scherzinger and Il Divo.

The film version of Evita, which also starred Antonio Banderas, won three Golden Globes: best motion picture, musical or comedy; best actress, musical or comedy; and best original song for "You Must Love Me," which Lloyd Webber and Rice wrote for the film. The ballad also went on to win an Oscar. It marked the first and, to date, only time that the creators of a stage musical won an Oscar for a song they wrote for the film adaptation. And so the musical that made Tony history also made Oscar history.

The 2019 Tony Awards are set for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.