The Tony Awards are considered by many to be the equivalent of the Academy Awards for the theater world. Since 1947, Tonys have been awarded annually to plays, musicals and revivals in the American theater scene. Currently, awards are given in 27 categories at an annual show, though some additional awards are presented at separate ceremonies.
Though commonly called Tonys, the awards granted by the American Theater Wing and The Broadway League are properly called the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theater. The awards are named for Antoinette Perry, a legend in American theater and co-founder of the American Theater Wing. Though first awarded in 1947, the Tony Awards did not gain true recognition until 1949, when the famous medallion statuette was first awarded.
Much like the Academy Awards, winners are chosen by designated members of the American theater community. Nominations are made by a select group of about 30 theater professionals and voted on by approximately 750 invited theater professionals. With the exception of a few discretionary categories, such as the award for best regional theater, the winners are announced at a ceremony in April of each year. Since 1967, the award show has been broadcast on television, and since the turn of the 21st century, has gained considerable popularity as a variety show.
Categories for Tony Awards cover many areas of theater, both technical and creative. The top awards are for Best Play and Best Musical, honors considered comparable to winning the Best Picture Academy Award. Other major categories include acting, directing and design awards. In 2008, the importance of sound design for theater was finally recognized with the introduction of Tony Awards for Best Sound Design in both play and musical categories.
Because of the incredible tradition of history in the theater world, Tonys are also given and furiously sought for Best Revivals. This allows theater companies to receive notice for outstanding productions of plays and musicals that have previously been produced. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Noel Coward’s Private Lives have both been awarded Tonys in recent years for Best Revival of a Play. The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret all have the distinction of winning Tony Awards for both their original productions and in the Best Revival of a Musical categories.
The Tonys do suffer from a certain amount of criticism similar to that leveled at the Academy Awards. Critics believe that the awards promote the work of a handful of qualifying theaters, ignoring the equal or superior work of theater companies that do not meet eligibility requirements. Only 39 theaters in the Broadway area of New York City are designated as eligible for Tony consideration, leaving theaters outside the geographic area without potential for the beneficial commercial exposure gained by receiving nominations and awards.
Despite criticism, the Tonys are considered a vital part of bringing business and audiences to live theater productions. In an era when it is simpler and more accessible to visit a movie theater, influencing people to choose to spend the additional money and effort to see a stage performance is necessary to keeping all live theater afloat. The Tonys serve an important purpose in the theater community, for while it is true that off-Broadway and regional shows may be overlooked by the glamorous award show, it continues to bring exposure to live theater as a whole and welcome new audiences to the world of the stage.