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Tonys Trivia: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Broadway’s Biggest Awards

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |


From landmark wins to retired categories

Who will win the 73rd Annual Tony Awards? We will know soon enough when the awards are presented on June 9, 2019. With big musicals like Tootsie, Hadestown, The Prom, Beetlejuice and Ain’t Too Proud in contention for Best Musical, and innovative new plays plays like Choir Boy, The Ferryman, Gary, Ink and What The Constitution Means to Me in the running for Best Play, it is sure to be a riveting evening. Until then, one way to build excitement is to brush up on your trivia about the awards and their legacy. Here are 10 fun facts about the Tony Awards, including some important “firsts.”  

The 73rd annual Tony Awards will be presented on June 9, 2019 at Radio City Musical Hall (Photo: The Tony Awards)

The 73rd annual Tony Awards will be presented on June 9, 2019 at Radio City Musical Hall (Photo: The Tony Awards)

Who is “Tony”?
The Tony Awards are named after Antionette Perry, who lived from 1888 – 1946. She was a successful actress who was also one of the co-founders of the American Theatre Wing, which served at the time as both a charity and an organization that promotes arts excellence and education. Upon her death, the Antoinette Perry Awards were founded in her remembrance, and were subsequently dubbed the “Tony Awards,” Tony being a nickname for “Antoinette.”

The First Tony Awards
The first Tony Awards ceremony was held on April 6, 1947 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan. In the first year of the Tonys, Best Play and Best Musical awards were not handed out (those categories would be added a year later). Musicals that were represented at the affair included Finian’s Rainbow, Street Scene and Brigadoon. Winners were not presented with the statuettes that we know now, but instead they were given a scroll, and ladies were given sterling silver compact cases and men gold money clips or cigarette lighters. Brock Pemberton, who hosted the ceremony, is credited with being the first person to abbreviate the award’s title from “The Antoinette Perry Award” to “The Tony,” which he did during the ceremony.

Performer with the most Tony Award Wins
The performer who has won the most Tony Awards is Audra McDonald, who has received the accolade in every possible category: Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Carousel), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Masterclass), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Ragtime), Best Featured Actress in a Play (A Raisin in the Sun), Best Actress in a Musical (Porgy & Bess) and Best Actress in a Play (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill). She is currently performing on Broadway in Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.

Musical with the most Tony Award Wins
The 2001 Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan musical The Producers, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, holds the record for the most Tony wins. Winning Best Musical, Best Director, Best Choreographer, Best Actor (Nathan Lane), Best Featured Actress (Cady Huffman), Best Featured Actor (Gary Beach), Best Book, Best Score, Best Orchestrations, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design and Best Lighting Design. Incidentally, Hamilton holds the record for the most Tony nominations, with 16.

First African-American to win a Performance Tony
The Tony Awards gave the first Tony Award to an African-American performer in 1950, when Juanita Hall was bestowed the Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony for her role as Bloody Mary in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. The first African-American male performer to win was Harry Belafonte, in 1954, for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.

First woman to win Best Direction of a Musical
In took many decades before the Tony Awards recognized a woman as Best Director of a Musical. The opportunities for women in leading roles were far and between, particularly in a male-dominated business. Ultimately, it was Julie Taymor who broke the barrier at the 1998 Tony Awards, winning for her direction of Disney’s The Lion King. 1998 was a big year for women in directing, as it was also the year in which Garry Hynes became the first woman to win the Tony for Best Direction of a Play for The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Tony Ties 
There has occasionally been a tie in Tony Award history. In 1962, Anna Maria Alberghetti for Carnival! tied with Diahann Carroll for No Strings in the Best Actress in a Musical category. 1993 found Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Who’s Tommy sharing the Best Score honor. However, the most contentious race was at the 1960 Tony Awards in the Best Musical category, with Fiorello! and The Sound of Music hand-in-hand besting Gypsy with their tie. 

Retired Categories
Some Tony Award categories that used to be awarded have been retired. These include Best Conductor and Musical Director, Best Newcomer, Best Stage Technician and Best Theatrical Event.

Host of the most Tony telecasts:
The Tony Awards telecasts have enjoyed many hosts over the years, but only one holds the distinction of having done it five times. Angela Lansbury, a five-time Tony winner, has hosted the show 5 times. Lansbury holds four Best Actress in a Musical Tonys for her roles in Mame, Dear World, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd, and a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Blithe Spirit.

Person with the most Tony Award Wins
For the individual with the highest total number of Tony Awards, we need to look no further than director and producer Harold Prince, who has 21 Tonys to his name. As producer, he has won for The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Fiorello!, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. For Best Director of a Musical, he won for Cabaret, Company, Follies, Candide, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera and Show Boat. At one time, there was a category for Best Producer, which Prince won for Forum and Fiddler on the Roof. Prince has also been presented with two special Tony Awards, one for Fiddler on the Roof and one for Lifetime Achievement. 

For more of the best of Broadway this awards season, check out our full list of the 2019 Tony Award Nominees

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.

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