The Tonys Awards are Sunday — So How Do The Winners Get Selected?

by Michael Mahany | 6/4/2019 3:20 AM

James Corden hosts the 73rd Annual Tony Awards. Photo credit: Jason Bell/CBS.

Can you believe it?! The Tony Awards are almost here! The 73rd Annual Tony Award ceremony airs this Sunday, June 9, live on CBS, and will be emceed by Tony winner and host of ‘The Late Late Show’, James Corden.

As we zero in our focus on Broadway’s biggest night, we at Dance Network wanted to take the opportunity to field one of the most burning questions out there among dance and theatre fans — how are the Tony winners actually selected?

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Before we get too deep into it though, we thought we might offer you the facts on the Tony nominations and voting from the Tony Awards themselves:

— “The Tony Awards Nominating Committee is a rotating group of up to 50 theatre professionals selected by the Tony Awards Administration Committee.”

— “Nominators serve for overlapping three-year terms. They are asked to see every new Broadway production and then meet each year shortly after the Tony eligibility deadline.” This year, that date was April 25.

And once the nominees are selected and announced, the Tony voters go to work:

—“Today there are approximately 846 eligible voters, a number that fluctuates slightly from year to year.” The voters are comprised of members of the American Theatre Wing, the league of producers, and members of the unions representing Broadway performers, creatives, designers, and stagehands.

— “Voters are expected to attend all nominated productions; or at least to refrain from voting in any category in which they have not seen all of the nominees.”

— “Online balloting takes place in the weeks before the June awards ceremony.” 

—“Strict precautions are taken to assure that no one, save a limited number of representatives from the accounting firm that manages the voting, knows the name of the winners until they are announced on the Tony telecast.”

But, you might be asking, how does this select (and very lucky) group of theatre pros go about making their decisions? How are the actual winners determined? 

Well, we got the chance to speak with one Tony voter who gave us an inside look at how they treated their responsibility.

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“I absolutely vote based on my gut,” the voter told Dance Network, opting to remain anonymous due to the upcoming ceremony. “For me, the best theatre and the best performances are what create the greatest impact.”

Last year’s hosts, Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles. Photo credit: Kevin Mazur.

Tony nominating committee members and Tony voters are invited by producers to see all new shows throughout the year, which with 34 new eligible Broadway productions opening in the 2019 season alone, can be a pretty daunting task. 

“Since this season started early in the summer last year, I’ve kept mental notes,” the voter told us. “There are performances from the summer and early fall that have remained in my mind. [And], in a season with 30+ shows, it’s not always possible to see everything, especially if something closes quickly or has a very limited run.”

“This season I missed only two (non-nominated) shows,” the voter continued, “so, I’ll be able to vote in every category. I personally take this privilege very seriously.”

But, Tony voters have to talk to each other though, right? They must discuss their thoughts with other voters? 

“Theatre is a community event,” the voter said. “Discussing theatre and its impact is one of the great things about that shared experience. Like anyone, I love to discuss the great work being done — but, while I might discuss a show with a fellow voter, I don't talk about how I’m going to vote, and I don’t let their opinions influence me.”

“If I don’t like something,” they added, “I tend to keep my mouth shut." 

When there's such a variety in a performance category, how does a voter go about making a decision? For instance, the choreography in 'Tootsie' is a lot different than the choreography in ‘Hadestown' — both great for their respective pieces — but different nonetheless. How does one weigh a decision like that?

'Hadestown' on Broadway, choreographed by David Neumann. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

“In the performance categories it’s all about the impact that was created.” the voter said. “When it comes to choreography, I vote for the show that uses dance to help tell the story to the greatest effect.” 

“The level of dancing on Broadway is unparalleled so I don’t compare the quality of the dancers — it’s about the storytelling,” they continued. “I also pay special attention to how the choreographer handles the principal actors.”

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One of the biggest questions, then, stems from the idea that since members of different parts of the theatrical community are voting in award categories that aren’t necessarily in their specific area of practice— (for example, you might have costume designers voting on Best Orchestrations, or actors voting on Best Lighting Design of a Musical) — so, how do voters handle that responsibility?

“Once again, it’s all about the story,” the voter said. “For me, it’s not the flashiest set or lighting design, it’s about the work that supports that main goal — that’s who I vote for. And, sometimes that means that the design isn’t obvious.” 

“And, everyone has an opinion on performance,” the voter added. “All of the nominees are at such a high level, it becomes a matter of taste and personal preference.”

But, does the “best” person usually win?

“For the most part, yes,” the voter said. “I’ve had favorites that lost to an equally worthy nominee, but that’s just the nature of awards.”

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So — is it fair? Does the nominating and voting process create as level a playing field as possible?

“The process I’m involved in is as fair as it can be,” the voter explained. “We are required to register our attendance in a portal and are only allowed to vote in categories in which we have seen every nominee.”

“[And, because] winning a Tony Award can have a significant positive impact on a show, there’s quite a bit of campaigning that goes on — and there are certainly industry factors in play here —but I’m continually surprised when the “best” often ends up being something that isn’t necessarily the most commercial.”

James Corden hosts the 73rd Annual Tony Award ceremony this Sunday, June 9, live on CBS. Stay with Dance Network for all the latest on the Tonys.

Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York City correspondent. He is also a professional actor, singer, dancer, writer, and host. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.