IT’S TONY SEASON
Now that the 2022 Tony Awards nominations have been announced and campaigning is in full swing, as usual, I can’t get enough of it all. My obsession began in 1967 when, at age ten, I viewed the first nationally televised ceremony on ABC, which aired in a one-hour time slot that presented every single award as well as the four nominated musicals (the ceremony is slotted for four hours straight in June, three in prime time on CBS from 8–10 p.m. and the 7–8 p.m. pre-show exclusively on the network’s app, Paramount Plus). This should (hopefully?) allow for all categories to be handed out on camera, something the Grammys excised years ago and the Oscars mimicked this past March. It makes sense from a producing standpoint to allow for less talk and more entertainment, but for me, the speeches are always the emotional high points of the broadcast. And the Tonys offer the best of any awards show since theatre people are used to standing in front of hundreds, even thousands, wearing their heart on their sleeve.
When it comes to speeches, few delivered as many as Harold Prince. As fans and mega fans know, Prince is the winner of the most Tony Awards, as both a producer and a director, with eighteen competitive trophies and three honorary ones. However, until researching this column, I was unaware that someone had topped Prince’s record of twenty-one with twenty-five Tonys (all competitive, no less). His name was Roger Berlind who, though not quite the preening showman as Prince, was a solid and graceful presence on Broadway for four decades. Berlind was the type who would accede the microphone to his producing partners at the Tonys, but was nonetheless a major force. Among personal triumphs he helped spearhead to Broadway were the 1992 Best Musical Crazy for You and the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie in addition to a hundred more (not a typo).
Berlind, who passed away in 2020 at the age of ninety, began as a successful financial broker on Wall Street before launching an extensive career in the New York theatre, not only amassing shelves full of Tonys, but good will among his colleagues. His career in the theatre, sadly, was informed by tragedy. When Berlind was forty-five, his wife and three of his four children died in a plane crash, transforming his sense of purpose and trajectory. Continuing to build a business and make money made little sense to him, so instead he took a passion for the arts and devoted the next forty-five years of his life to Broadway. “I know it’s not worth it economically,” he told the New York Times in 1998. “But I love theatre.”
It should come as no surprise the names of the two gentlemen who are the recipients of more Tony Awards than anyone else in their requisite fields: Stephen Sondheim tops every other composer and lyricist (seven) and Bob Fosse has won the most for Choreography (eight). In addition, Sondheim has an additional Tony for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, and Fosse has an additional Tony as Best Director for Pippin. Sondheim’s first came in 1971 for Company with a “Best Music for a Musical” award (the one and only time the category was split between composer and lyricist). Before exiting into the wings he mentioned not thinking very highly of awards but that “it’s awfully nice to win one.” He then returned moments later and quipped “it’s even nicer to win two.”
With one more Tony in his arsenal than Sondheim, I’m going to give Fosse the honor of the YouTube treatment here with the speech he made when he won Best Choreography for Dancin’, one that is among my favorites. Self-effacing and magnanimous, Fosse’s pretty damn charming.
With seventy-four years of the Tonys behind us now, it’s interesting to note who currently holds records in the acting categories. Boyd Gaines and Frank Langella are the only males to win four Tonys for acting, which is impressive. Gaines won his in under a twenty year period while Langella’s were spread out over twice as long (he was seventy-eight when he won for The Father in 2016). Of the ladies, Audra McDonald has six competitive Tonys (all won between the ages of twenty-three and forty-three, which is… I don’t know what that is). Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris each won five competitive Tonys, with Harris receiving a sixth in 2002 for Lifetime Achievement at age seventy-six. She is also tied for the most nominations of any actress (ten) with Chita Rivera, who has two Tonys for The Rink and Kiss of the Spiderwoman (as well as a Lifetime Achievement Tony, presented in 2018).
The actor with the most Tony nominations (eight) goes back a long ways, having last gotten a nod in 1978 and died in 2000. It is the unmatchable Jason Robards, a winner just once as Best Actor in a Play for The Disenchanted in 1959.
Things start to get super interesting when you look at the renaissance men (as the Tonys website call them) who have managed four wins in as many different categories: Tommy Tune, Harvey Fierstein and South Park’s Trey Parker (who did it with one single show, The Book of Mormon).
Tommy Tune’s four, covering an overall total of nine wins, are Best Actor in a Musical (My One and Only); Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Seesaw); Best Choreography (A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, My One and Only, Grand Hotel: The Musical, and The Will Rogers Follies; and Best Director of a Musical (Nine, Grand Hotel: The Musical, and The Will Rogers Follies). He also received a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2015.
Harvey Fierstein received Tonys as Best Actor (Torch Song Trilogy) and as its author when it won Best Play; Best Book of a Musical (La Cage aux Folles) and Best Actor in a Musical (Hairspray.) Four categories, nicely done.
And as mentioned, Trey Parker won his four on a single night for The Book of Mormon: Best Book, Best Score, Best Direction, and (as a producer) Best Musical.
Besides her haul of six, Audra McDonald holds yet another unique distinction in that she has won in all four acting categories (Best Actress in a Play and Musical singularly, and Best Featured Actress in a Play and Musical twice). No other actor has achieved that. Sutton Foster has just received her seventh Tony nomination last week (The Music Man), all in one category for Best Actress in a Musical. And, at only forty-seven, she might very well pile up some Julie Harris/Chita Rivera numbers over the next few years. Also, never count out such seasoned pros as Bernadette Peters with seven nominations (and two wins, Song and Dance and Annie Get Your Gun), and Patti LuPone who, with Company, just received her 8th nomination (which will probably be keeping her Evita and Gypsy Tonys some… well, company). Add Kelli O’Hara to the mix (six); Nathan Lane with the same number of nominations (and three Tonys, Forum, The Producers, and Angels in America), along with Donna Murphy (five noms with two trophies for Passion and The King and I) and you got some genuine star power still very much in the game.
As for any record breaking that will happen on June 12th when the Tonys are handed out at Radio City Music Hall, we’ll just have to wait. Although no one in Tony history waited as long as Jane Greenwood who finally got to the stage in 2017 on her twenty-first nomination (after two, count them two, special Tonys).
Oh, and last week, Ms. Greenwood received her twenty-second nomination for Best Costumes for the hit revival of Plaza Suite. She just turned eighty-eight years old. ❤️
If you enjoy these columns, check out Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, available at Amazon.com in hardcover, softcover and e-book. Also, follow me here on Medium and feel free to email me with comments or questions at Ron@ronfassler.org.