×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tony Nominations: Are the Awards Elitist?

Glenn Close’s return to Broadway in “Sunset Boulevard” was one of the tentpoles of the theater season: A big star earning big raves in a big-selling show that has grossed more than $1 million a week since it began performances. But it was shut out entirely in the Tony nominations.

“Anastasia,” a commercially promising new offering for Broadway’s sizeable family demographic, was also left off the list for the major awards. Ditto “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Both those shows have started out strong at the box office and done well with spring-break tourist crowds, but were largely ignored by nominators.

Given those omissions, and after seasons in which the Tonys anointed “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” over “Beautiful,” or “Avenue Q” over “Wicked,” it can look to outside observers like nominators are turning up their noses at popular crowdpleasers in favor of snob hits.

Which leads to the question: Are the Tonys elitist?

That critique will have a familiar ring for organizers of the Oscars, for whom the perception of elitism became such a concern that they decided to supersize the category for best picture, expanding the field to a possible 10 so that high-profile blockbusters could rub shoulders with the arthouse faves.

But when it comes to the Oscars vs. the Tonys, it’s not apples to apples.

For one thing, this year’s nomination frontrunners, from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” to “Dear Evan Hansen” to “Hello, Dolly!,” were all box-office heavy hitters, too – often even stronger than shows like “Sunset Boulevard” and “Anastasia.” And there are plenty of seasons when Broadway’s biggest selling crowdpleaser is also the awards-season champion. Take last year’s “Hamilton,” for instance, or “Billy Elliot” or “The Lion King” in prior seasons.

In some ways, it’s not just the Tonys but all of Broadway that could be elitist. For one thing, it’s entirely localized, available to a relatively small number of New York City residents and city visitors. Beyond that, the number of those people who can actually get in to see a show is limited even further, because each Broadway show plays eight performances (or less) in just one theater with, at most, 2,000 seats (and often fewer).

For the biggest hits, high demand and limited availability drive ticket prices far higher than $15 a pop for a movie. With premium tickets hitting $849 for “Hamilton” and $748 for “Hello, Dolly!” — and top non-premium prices at most shows ranging between $150 and $200 — Broadway can seem far from affordable for the masses.

But while Broadway, and by extensions the Tonys, can seem insular, theater itself isn’t. For one thing, today’s biggest Broadway hits will soon hit the road in productions that can be seen across the country. Theater lovers who couldn’t catch “Hamilton” on Broadway, for instance, now have the chance to see it in Chicago, and soon in San Francisco and on the road. And even on Broadway, ultra-high prices are generally balanced by more affordable tickets for other shows, often during times of the year when overall demand is lower.

Besides all that, theater, as an art form, is the opposite of elitist: Anyone can put on a show, in a living room or in a college auditorium. It may be hard to get into “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway right now, but a high school kid can get into their drama club’s production of the classic musical. And plays like “A Doll’s House, Part 2” and last year’s Tony winner “The Humans” are destined to be seen around the country in amateur and regional productions, allowing even broader access for both audiences and budding creatives.

So are the Tonys elitist? Probably, in that they honor work that’s only currently accessible to a small percentage of the general populace. But for nominated shows that become the next “Hello, Dolly!,” the Tonys are often the first step toward entering the canon — and thereby reaching the masses.

More Legit

  • Ethan Hawke

    Listen: Ethan Hawke on 'True West' and the Ghost of Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Ethan Hawke had a long relationship with Sam Shepard and his work — but he never thought he’d end up on Broadway in “True West.” That’s because Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly had already put their stamp on the show in the 2000 Broadway revival of the play. “I kind of felt that that [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Kaye Ballard, Star of 'The Mothers-in-Law,' Dies at 93

    Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93. She had recently attended a screening of a documentary about her life, “Kaye Ballard: The Show [...]

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content