How important is the Best Musical Tony Award?

The end of the 2013-14 Broadway season has just ended with the annual night of nights, The Tony Awards. Many shows have adjusted their advertisements and social media banners to highlight their award wins while many others have downplayed the importance of these awards and focussed on the brilliant opportunity to perform on the live telecast to an audience of over seven million. But it got me thinking . . . how important are these awards?

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder - the 2014 Best Musical Tony Award winner

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – the 2014 Best Musical Tony Award winner

The most prestigious award of the night is the Tony Award for Best Musical. This is awarded to the show which received the most votes from Tony voters who believe that it was the best all-round offering to open on a Broadway stage in the past year. And this year that prize went to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

As soon as this award is announced social media goes bananas. Not just from fans who love or hate this decision, but also from the musicals themselves. There are gracious posts describing how honoured the production teams feel to have won an award, there are pictures from the big night and for the winners there is the obligatory banner change. The advertising from the production crowned Best Musical is sure to feature the phrase ‘Winner of the 2014 Best Musical Tony Award’ next to a picture of the award itself, and this is featured across all aspects of advertising from social media to print.

It is said that this slogan is a guaranteed ticket seller. But I wonder just how powerful it is?

So I have done the maths!

Let’s start with the longest running musicals in Broadway history. Out of the top five, all five won the Best Musical award. Out of the top ten, thanks to the non-Best Musical award winning inclusions of Oh, Calcutta!, Mamma Mia and Beauty and the Beast, only seven won the Best Musical Award. Expanding further to the top twenty, due to powerhouses such as Wicked, Miss Saigon and Grease who also did not win the Best Musical Tony Award, that number slows to thirteen.

Not bad for the Best Musical Tony Award. It still represents the majority of shows in the top 20, but it there have been plenty of shows who have missed out on the award and still made it towards the top of this prestigious tally.

What about run lengths? Does the Best Musical Tony Award gain the show greater notoriety as the best show on Broadway and therefore give it a much longer run length?

I have taken all the run lengths from each Tony Award Best Musical winning show for the last twenty years. Added, divided and then found the average. And it is interesting.

Thanks to huge hits such as Rent, The Lion King and Jersey Boys, the average run for a Best Musical is 1858.85 performances. Let’s call it 1859 unless they only got half way through the second act on the last show. That average would rank 35th on the list of longest-running shows which is pretty admirable.

To get a better overall picture, the median run length of these shows comes out as 1174. This doesn’t rank quite as highly as the average (which is pulled up by those big blockbusters) coming in at 93rd on the list of longest-running shows and providing quite a different picture.

Interesting, huh?

So a Best Musical Tony Award certainly encourages a memorable run of a couple of years, but it by no means guarantees that a show will be a success. There are, as always, a multitude of factors which determine the success of a show. It is more than just awards, celebrities, reviews. And even if a show didn’t win this prestigious title, it doesn’t seal its fate to a closing notice – sometimes they will even do better than their award wining competitor!

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