It’s Tony season and who better to educate us about the wonderful world of theatre than Thomas S. Hischak, author of The Oxford Companion To The American Musical: Theatre, Film and Television. Hischak is a Professor of Theatre at the State University of New York College at Cortland. He is the author of sixteen books on theater, film, and popular music as well as the author of twenty published plays. In The Oxford Companion To The American Musical Hischak offers over two thousand entires on musicals, performers, composers, lyricists, producers, choreographers and much more. In the original post below Hishak reflects on Tony favorites. Be sure to check back every week on Tuesday for more from Hischak on Tony.
Over the years the voters for the Tony Awards have had their favorites. Just as critics and patrons have their pet productions, so do the Tonys. Sometimes it’s a performer, occasionally a director, or even a character. Look back at the awards from decades past and the favorites pop out at you.
Female musical stars have always caused the most fervent reactions from audiences and Tony voters are no different. Gwen Verdon, Angela Lansbury and Audra McDonald are tied for the most musical performance Tonys; each has won four times. Even more impressive is the fact that Gwen Verdon only appeared in six musicals and was nominated every time while Lansbury only performed in five. One of McDonald’s Tonys was for singing in the non-musical Master Class and another for a non-singing role in A Raisin in the Sun; but she has been nominated every time she has appeared in a musical and didn’t even start on Broadway until 1994. Turning to male musical stars, Zero Mostel, Hinton Battle, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Robert Preston, and Robert Morse are among the multiple winners, although none can compete with such a record. Most of them won for plays as well as musicals.
Director-choreographers have the edge over other creators since it’s possible to win two Tonys for one show. And if you’re Tommy Tune, you can sometimes sneak a performance award in as well, as he did with My One and Only. Other multiple winners in these categories include Jerome Robbins, Susan Stroman, Gower Champion, Bob Fosse, and Michael Bennett. Michael Kidd also directed but his four Tonys were for choreography. George Abbott would probably hold the Tony record for directing musicals if the first thirty years of his career hadn’t fallen before the directing category was regularly presented. As it is, Abbott still won twice before his best years were behind him. Instead, that record goes to Harold Prince who, between his producing and directing, has won 16 Tonys. Talk about a favorite!
Prince’s one-time collaborator Stephen Sondheim holds the record for the most Tonys for music and lyrics. In fact, during the 1970s the two men frequently worked together and repeatedly helped each other bring home an armful of awards. Other songwriters with multiple wins include Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jerry Herman, Cy Coleman, Bock and Harnick, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Cole Porter managed to win once, for Kiss Me, Kate (1947), the first year the musical score award was given. Irving Berlin however, was not so lucky. His career was winding down when the Tonys started so America’s favorite songwriter never won a Tony for a score, just a special award in 1963 after he’d retired.
Tony voters love certain characters as much as they love the performers who play them. Anyone who plays Mama Rose in Gypsy gets nominated. Ethel Merman originated the role and lost out to Mary Martin’s Maria in The Sound of Music. Bernadette Peters as Rose was edged out by Marissa Jaret Winokur (Hairspray), but Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly both won. Will Patti LuPone follow in their footsteps? The clever slave Psuedolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is also a favorite. Play Pseudolus, win a Tony. Just ask Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Nathan Lane, and Jason Alexander (who won with only the prologue in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway). Other musical roles that have won Tonys for multiple performers include Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Anna in The King and I, and the Emcee in Cabaret. Perhaps the current revival of South Pacific will add a few more characters to the list of repeat winners. Nellie Forbush? Emile de Becque? Bloody Mary? Luther Billis? They were all Tony-winning roles the first time around.
So there you have some of Tony’s favorites. But what about those people who Tony doesn’t love? The ones often nominated but never awarded? Or the ones who rarely get nominated at all? That’s a story for next time.