The Broadway Tradition

By | Jun 28, 2013

The first American Theatre Wing award to celebrate excellence in the theatre was held on Easter Sunday April 6, 1947. Eleven awards were presented in seven categories. There are presently 25 categories of awards, plus several special awards. The award was named for Antoinette Perry, an actress, director producer and the wartime leader of the American Theatre Wing who passed away on June 28, 1946.

The first year awards consisted of a scroll, an initialed sterling silver compact case for the women, and an engraved gold bill clip or cigarette lighter for the men. In the second it was for the women was a gold bracelet, each with a disc inscribed with the actress’ initials and the name of the prize, and the men again received a gold bill clip, similarly inscribed.

In 1949 United Scenic Artist sponsored a contest to design the model for the award. The winning entry was by Herman Rosse. His design was a medallion that had the masks of comedy and tragedy on one side and the profile of Antoinette Perry on the other. It was first presented at the 3rd annual dinner. Since 1967 the medallion has been mounted on a black pedestal. After the ceremony each award is numbered and engraved with the winner’s name.

Julie Harris has won the most Tony Awards, and been nominated more than any other performer. She has won five awards for her roles in “I Am a Camera” 1952, “The Lark” 1956, “Forty Carats” 1969, “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” 1973, and “The Belle of Amherst” 1977. She has been nominated a total of ten times. The most Tony Awards ever received by a musical was “The Producers” with 12 awards including best musical.

The musicals that fared most poorly on Tony night were Chicago (1976) and Steel Pier (1997), both of which received 11 nominations but won no awards. Coincidentally, both shows have scores by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Chicago had the misfortune of competing against A Chorus Line, which dominated the musical categories with nine awards. Ironically, Steel Pier saw several of its nominations lose to the revival of Chicago, which, on its second outing, took home six awards.

Since 1967 the awards have been presented on television and includes songs from the nominated musicals. The tapes of past shows are some of the only recorded performances of famous broadway numbers by their Broadway performers.


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