All awards shows have similarities: The advance handicapping, the opening of the envelope, the winner’s list of thank-you’s (weeping is optional).
Here are three key similarities, and a difference:
1. Conspiracy theories
All three announce winners without revealing the tally. This leads to some advance guesswork and a lot of post-award misperceptions. For example, some onlookers assume everyone in Hollywood voted “12 Years a Slave” as best picture and nobody voted for the other contenders. In truth, the runner-up might have missed out by one vote — or by a thousand. But without results, there seems to be one winner, with the others left in the dust.
In terms of Tony voting, one person told me flatly, “The key to a victory is the road people.” This person explained that theater owners and others involved in touring productions want to make sure Tony will go to a show that can capitalize on that honor in the hinterlands. Another voter sniffed, “The importance of the road voters is exaggerated. It’s a myth. They’re only 10% and they don’t vote as a block.” So who is right? Without the tallies, we’ll never know. Similarly, common wisdom says Tony voters have an aversion to stars. But unless we can look at the numbers, we don’t know if Denzel Washington and Daniel Radcliffe missed a nomination by one vote, or whether they were totally shut out.
2. Numbers crunching
It’s easy to find many examples of an Oscar or Tony boosting the box office of the winner. On the other hand, Tony runner-up “Rock of Ages” continues to thrive on Broadway while 2009 winner “Billy Elliot” is long gone. The 1994 “Beauty and the Beast” ran 5,461 performances but that year’s Tony winner, “Passion,” ran just 280. Like the devil citing scripture, people can juggle awards facts and statistics to prove any point.
3. Blurred lines
Is “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” a play or a musical? Is “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (debuting on Broadway this year, even though it played in New York in 1998) a new show or revival? Committees have to decide these things. Emmy this year is undergoing its own issues, ruling that “True Detective” is a series, not a miniseries, and “Orange is the New Black” is a comedy, not a drama.
So yes, there are a few similarities, but there is also a key difference. As Emmy voting looms, ATAS members can binge-view on TV offerings via DVR or discs to see shows they missed. Film voters often have 60 or more screeners to catch up on the year’s movies. Tony voters don’t have that luxury. When the nominations were announced April 29, four of the five new-play contenders were still running, but “Outside Mullingar” had closed. If you don’t go to the Lincoln Center tape archives, you’re out of luck. Similarly, all three musical-revival contenders are currently playing; but only two of the four play revivals are around: “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” Both “The Glass Menagerie” and “Twelfth Night” are gone.
So Tonys are a good life lesson: Do it while you can, and see it while you can, because you might not have the opportunity again.