Updates: May 2018


May 1, 2018


Chapter 6: (Tony Awards)


Nominations for the past season have just been announced. A little perspective is in order: What is the real effect on the ticket-buying public?

According to a recent study by Utah Professor Russell Warne (all statistic to be taken with a questioning eye, of course), Broadway musicals that are nominated for the top prize are almost 60% less likely to close quickly than the musicals that are not nominated. (Not sure about the time frame since all shows eventually close except perhaps Phantom of the Opera!“ There is one Tony that matters: Best Musical,” Ad exec Nancy Coyne remarked. Publicist Chris Boneau echoed her observation: “The one award that really counts is the one for Best Musical.”

For the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, being nominated is often not enough. The winner might get a longer run, but those who ONLY get a nomination often end up with a shorter run. The public may see the revivals that don’t win an award as “losers”.

Reviewing over 400 shows from between 1988 and 2017, Professor Warne observed, for example, that “nominations for the directing awards are also associated with longer runs of Broadway plays but not for musicals.” He estimated that plays whose directors are recognized are about three times less likely to close than plays whose directors are snubbed.

Positive effects of a Tony nomination on the show’s longevity: 1) lead actor/musical; 2) featured actress/musical; leading actress/play. Negative impact: 1) leading actor/play (strange). No particular effect at all: 1) featured actors/play.

This new research could possibly help Broadway producers and their marketing teams make better decisions when designing expensive marketing campaigns for the Tony Awards. Personally, most Tony campaigns have little effect on good performances, great word of mouth, or a stand-out winner in the public’s eyes.

CHAPTER 6: (Tony Awards plus Pulitzer and other awards)

In 1918, the first Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama went to a forgotten—and forgettable—comedy entitled “Why Marry?” The Pulitzer Drama Prize was so often laughable that in 1935 a group of Broadway reviewers formed the New York Drama Critics Circle expressly to give better awards. One of the founders, Brooks Atkinson, summed up the Circle’s accomplishment almost thirty years after its beginning, writing, “The average taste of the Critics Circle is no more discerning than the average taste of the Pulitzer judges. Neither the Circle nor the Pulitzer prizes can be intimidated by genius.

In the late 1940s, the Tony Awards began as a small event for the theater community sponsored by the American Theatre Wing, a charitable group from the war years. The presentation happened at a banquet with dancing in a hotel ballroom, with the prizes chosen by an ad hoc handful of people. In the first year, a Tony was given to Vincent Sardi, Sr., in thanks for Sardi’s Restaurant!

Twenty years later the Wing was in financial trouble and it joined with the Broadway League to continue the Tony Awards. Within a year, the ceremony morphed into a big television event. That changed everything about the Tonys and a lot about Broadway theater.

Still, the televised Tony Awards has also made major gaffes and provokes debate. For example:

  • Harveywon over The Glass Menagerie
    • Hello, Dolly! won over Funny Girl
    • The Music Man won over West Side Story
    • Nine won over Dreamgirls
    • The Sound of Music won over Gypsy

Today, there are six major, very different organizations giving best play and best musical awards, for diverse reasons, chosen by very unalike procedures. It feels great if your show gets one, but does it have any sure, lasting meaning?

In short: so many prizes; so little to celebrate. Even after 100 years.

(Adapted from Tim Donahue, the author most recently of Playing for Prizes: America’s Awards for Best Play and Best Musical.)

CHAPTER 15 (Actors)

Actors’ Equity votes to change the name of the Gypsy Robe. After hearing concerns about the insensitivity of the name, the union has voted to rename the robe that is awarded to the chorus member with the highest number of Broadway credits on opening night of a show. The 60-year-old tradition of the robe will continue with a new name next season.

BONUS: The nominees for the 2018 Tony Awards