The Power of Controversy

The Tony Awards are always controversial. With so many deserving nominees it is a shame that talented individuals have to miss out. But not often are the actual nominations this controversial!


This current season has been HUGE on Broadway. Not often do you see twelve new musicals hitting the boards in the space of one year. And the other categories haven’t been much easier with many new plays and revivals also taking up space in Broadway theatres.

While this may increase the number of deserving recipients of Tony Awards, it has also led to stiff competition for the Tony Award nominations. Competition that could be comparable to the awards night itself!

To meet the demand of this season, a new rule has been introduced to allow a fifth nominee to be added to the major four categories (Best Musical, Best Musical Revival, Best Play and Best Play Revival). This rule came into action in the less-crowded Best Play award, but surprisingly was not introduced into the Best Musical category.

But regardless of this possible expansion the intense competition has increased the drama and hence the interest in the simple announcement of the nominations. And when there is increased interest in a competition it leads to increased groups of disappointed supporters . . . and that leads to controversy!

Controversy may not always be a good thing. Certainly political controversy is a very serious event. But controversy does create one thing . . . conversation. If, as an audience member or consumer, you feel disappointed or cheated in any way, then you are going to talk about it with any other interested party you can find. And that is exactly what happened.

The Best Musical category (arguably the most hotly contested award of the night) only featured four nominees: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, After Midnight, Aladdin and Beautiful. I reckon there is a blog in here about the importance of having a show that gets listed towards the beginning alphabetically – but that’s for another time.

Surrounding these deserving four musicals are several shows that missed out: Big Fish, Bridges of Madison County, Bullets over Broadway, First Date, If/Then, A Night with Janis Joplin, Rocky and Soul Doctor, and with them an entire contingent of fans (especially the star-studded shows like Bullets and If/Then). An entire contingent of young fans who are rather vocal across cyberspace – thanks to youth-targeted celebrities like Idina Menzel and Zach Braff. Plus, for extra measure, throw in the new Broadway shows Violet starring Sutton Foster and Hedwig starring the ever-popular Neil Patrick Harris which should have been considered in this category.

And when these passionate (and cheated) fans take to Twitter and Facebook to vent about how wonderful these shows are and why they deserved the Tony Award nomination (and the Tony Award), it creates a rather powerful effect. All these personal recommendations and word-of-mouth advertisements for the shows are exactly what marketers want their fans doing all the time – and by denying them a nomination the Tony Awards staff have actually given these missed shows even more publicity than if they got the nomination in the first place!