What is popularly called the Tony AwardŽ but is formally the "Antoinette Perry Award" is an annual American award celebrating achievements in theater, including musical theater. Awarded by a panel of approximately 700 judges from various areas of the industry and press, it is generally regarded as the theatre's closest equivalent to the Oscars. While the award was founded in 1947, it was at the third awards ceremony in 1949 that the first actual Tony medallion was given to award winners.
The award ceremony is broadcast on television, and includes songs from the nominated musicals, as well as video clips of or presentations about nominated plays.
Winning a Tony award in a major category--best play, best musical, best play revival, best musical revival, or best actor or actress--can dramatically increase a show's ticket sales. A shortlist for the award is published several weeks before the award ceremony; between then and the announcement of the winners, plays advertise how many Tonys they have been nominated for. Often this advertisement is disingenous, as many shows are nominated by default in years where there are few new plays and musicals.
The awards are named after Antoinette Perry, a founder of the American Theatre Wing.
Eligibility for the awards is restricted to shows playing on Broadway during the season in question. (Having closed does not make a show ineligible, though the voters generally favor shows that are still running when the awards are given.) For the purposes of the award, a "new" play or musical is one that has not previously been produced on Broadway and is not part of the "historical or popular repertoire." This phrase has been the subject of some controversy as some shows have been ruled ineligible for the "new" categories, meaning that their authors did not have a chance to win the marquee awards of Best Play or Best Musical (or best score or book for musicals). On the other hand, some people feel that allowing plays and musicals which are commonly produced to be eligible as new gives them an unfair advantage, because they will have benefited from additional development time as well as additional familiarity with the Tony voters. Shows recently transferred from Off-Broadway or London are eligible as new; so are productions based closely on movies.
In 2004, awards were given in the following categories:
- Tony Award for Best Play
- Tony Award for Best Musical
- Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical
- Tony Award for Best Original Score
- Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
- Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical
- Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
- Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
- Tony Award for Best Scenic Design
- Tony Award for Best Costume Design
- Tony Award for Best Lighting Design
- Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play
- Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical
- Tony Award for Best Choreography
- Tony Award for Best Orchestrations
- special categories:
- Regional Theatre Tony Award
- Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre (in categories not otherwise covered)
- Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Other categories used in past years include:
- Tony Award for Best Revival
- Tony Award for Best Director
- Tony Award for Best Conductor and Musical Director
- Tony Award for Best Performance By Newcomers
- Tony Award for Best Stage Technician
- Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist
In 2005 the awards for scenic, costume, and lighting design will be split into separate categories for play and musical.