Everybody loves Tom Hanks — and that includes nearly every theater award nominating committee. For his role in “Lucky Guy,” Hanks has been nominated for a Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Award.
So has Christopher Durang’s play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”
What are these awards? How do they differ? And which shows and individuals have been nominated in each this year? Below my opinionated guide, with links to this year’s lists of nominees.
The Tony Awards
This year’s list of Tony Award nominees was headed by Kinky Boots, with 13 nominations, and Matilda, with 12.
The Tonys, established by the American Theatre Wing in 1947, are named after Antoinette Perry, an actress, director and producer — and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing. (The award was named in her honor after her death.) The Tony Awards annually honor work on Broadway, and are the only awards ceremony broadcast on television — this year on CBS on June 9th — which helps explain their prominence.
There are currently 26 competitive categories. There are also several special awards each year. For example, the Regional Theater Award is selected based on a recommendation by the members of the American Theatre Critics Association.
The competitive nominees are selected by a rotating group of up to 42 theater professionals. The 868 Tony voters are theater professionals and press agents, and a handful of critics. A few years ago, The Tonys announced they would no longer allow any theater critics to vote. This caused such an outcry that they re-enfranchised the dozen or so members of the New York Drama Critics Circle (see below) , but still banned the rest of us.
The Pulitzer Prizes were established in 1917 at Columbia University, and, although most of the awards are given for works of journalism, from the start, they included an annual award for a new work by an American playwright that premiered either in New York or regionally within the previous calendar year.
The 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. The two finalists: Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo, and 4,000 Miles by Amy Herzog.
The winner and finalist are recommended by a different annual group of four theater critics and a theater academic, but can be overridden by the Pulitzer Board — which was most infamously done in 1963, when the board rejected the jury’s choice of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and gave no award in drama that year. In 2010, the board rejected all three of the jury’s recommendations, and chose the winner on its own, “Next to Normal.”
Given this flaw in the selection process, and the prize’s generally spotty record, I have a theory why the Pulitzer Prize in Drama have become widely accepted as the most prestigious award that a dramatist can receive (short of the Nobel Prize in Literature, which is only occasionally given to playwrights — to Dario Fo in 1997 and Harold Pinter in 2005, for example.) Since the Pulitzers are largely journalism prizes, they are the most publicized awards in the United States.
Drama Desk Awards
The list of Drama Desk Award nominees this year is headed by “Giant” and “Hands on A Hardbody,” which each got nine nominations.
The Drama Desk Awards, begun in 1955, will take place this year on May 19th. The members of the Drama Desk are almost all theater critics and journalists. The Drama Desk Awards are the only awards that consider Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows together in the same competitive categories. This has the advantage of giving attention to often-obscure nominees. This year, for example, Daniel Everidge is one of the nominees for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his role as a young man with autism in the Off-Broadway play, Falling — right up there with Tom Hanks, and Nathan Lane and Tracy Letts. You see the problem here right away: The winners almost inevitably are the better-known (Broadway) competitors.
The Outer Critics Circle Awards
Founded in 1959, The Outer Critics Circle is made up of theater critics and journalists from out-of-town, national and online publications. It, too, recognizes both Broadway and Off-Broadway, but considers them in separate categories with just a few exceptions.
This year’s list of Outer Critics Circle Award nominations includes 11 nominations for Pippin, nine for Kinky Boots, and eight apiece for Chaplin: The Musical and Cinderella. The awards will be announced on May 13th and the annual awards ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 23rd at Sardi’s.
New York Drama Critics Circle Awards
Update: The New York Drama Critics Circle has given the following awards:
Best play: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang
Best musical: Matilda
Soho Rep, New York City Center’s Encores!, and scenic designer John Lee Beatty.
The 25 critics of the New York Drama Critics Circle, originally established in 1935 as an alternative to the Pulitzers, will meet this Friday, May 3 to determine the best play, foreign play, and best musical of the season, as well as usually a couple of “special citations.” They choose from any New York theater, and frequently pick Off-Broadway shows.
Theatre World Awards
Every year since 1945, the Theatre World Awards have honored 12 performers (6 men, 6 women) making their Broadway debuts.
Lucille Lortel Awards
The Lucille Lortel Awards was founded in 1985 by the Off-Broadway League, named after a prominent actor, and thus focuses exclusively on achievement Off-Broadway. The list of Lucille Lortel nominees this year included both Jake Gyllenhaal and Vanessa Redgrave, with the Signature revival of The Piano Lesson earning the most nominations (six).
The Lortel Award nominees and winners are determined by a committee made up of theater professionals, journalists and educators. This year’s Lucille Lortels will be announced on May 5 at NYU’s Skirball Center
Founded in 1955 by the Village Voice cultural editor, the Obie Awards annually honor Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows and individuals. This year’s ceremony will be held at Webster Hall on May 20, when Meryl Streep will present 2013 Lifetime Achievement Awards to Lois Smith and Frances Sternhagen. There are no nominees for Obies, only winners, and, according to their press releases, “in the conviction that creativity is not competitive, the judges select outstanding artists and productions and may even invent new categories to reward artistic merit.”
Drama League Awards
The Drama League Awards, as the list of Drama League Award nominees this year makes clear, selects five winners in five competitive categories, and also gives special awards. Although founded way back in 1922, this is the least regarded of the major theater awards because the voters are any audience members who join the Drama League, and because they have a single performing category (“distinguished performance”) with some 60 nominees but only one winner.
There are many other theater awards — such as the New York Innovative Theatre Awards honoring achievement in independent (aka Off-Off Broadway) theater, the Henry Hewes Awards , honoring theatrical design, and the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, honoring excellence in dance and choreography.
*I am a voting member of the American Theatre Critics Association, the Drama Desk Awards, and the Outer Critics Circle.