Our February 22 and 23 concert features a celebration of Tony-winning Broadway hits: the best of musical theatre over the last several decades. But how much do you know about the Tonys?
The first Tonys were given out in 1947 to theatre professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, and the Tony Awards remain the highest honor in American theatre, commanding theatre’s recognition as a timelessly relevant art form for advancing national culture and personal human experience.
The formal name of the Tony Award is the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre. Antoinette Perry (1888-1946) was an actress, stage director and philanthropist who was a founder of the American Theatre Wing, an organization dedicated to education and the advancement of theatre in service of community. Perry staged the original production of Mary Chase's comedy Harvey (some of you may know the classic Jimmy Stewart movie version). The year after she died, the Tony Awards began in her honor.
The American Theatre Wing’s partner in the Tonys is the Broadway League, the national trade association for the commercial theatre industry. Together, they present the Tony Awards each year in June, broadcast on CBS since 1978. By the way, this year’s Tony Awards are on Sunday, June 7!
In the first two years of the Tony Awards, there was no physical trophy. The winners were presented with a scroll, and men received a money clip and a cigarette lighter while women were stuck with a compact! Apparently, the female winners didn’t have any need for a money clip. Fortunately, a proper trophy was unveiled in 1949. The Tony Awards medallion is a silver disk depicting the masks of comedy and tragedy on one side and the winner's name, the award category, the production, and the year on the reverse. The medallion spins so you can view both sides! Since 1967, the medallion has been mounted on a curved armature atop a black pedestal, and the whole thing stands nearly ten inches tall and weighs 3.5 pounds.
Fun Facts about the Tonys:
Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America holds the most Tony nominations for a play, with 11 for the 2018 revival. With 16 nominations, Hamilton is the record-holder for a musical production – of course! But, it might surprise you to know that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cultural phenomenon didn’t win the most Tonys ever – The Producers won 12 Tonys in 2001.
Actress Audra McDonald has six Tonys, the most for a performer. But Angela Lansbury and Gwen Verdon have each won four Tony Awards in the musical categories, more than any other actress. Lansbury won for Mame (1966), Dear World (1969), Gypsy (1975), and Sweeney Todd (1979), and earned a fifth Tony for the Noël Coward play Blithe Spirit in 2009. Verdon won for Can-Can (1954), Damn Yankees (1956), New Girl in Town (1958) and Redhead (1959).
Bob Fosse is the choreographer with the most Tony awards – eight, plus one for directing Pippin. Meanwhile, Stephen Sondheim received more honors than any other composer – seven Tonys for his compositions plus an eighth for Lifetime Achievement.
All the actors who played Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music were nominated for one 1960 Tony Award.
No surprise, the Tony Award-winning best musical with the longest Broadway run to date is the 1988 winner, The Phantom of the Opera, which opened on January 26, 1988 and is still going strong.