Broadway’s 15 Shortest-Running Shows That Won Tony Awards

Lists   Broadway’s 15 Shortest-Running Shows That Won Tony Awards
 
These shows didn’t last long, but they still left as winners on Broadway’s biggest night.
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It may seem shows that run longer are more likely to win Tony Awards, but history proves some of Broadway’s most short-lived productions have earned Broadway’s top honors.

We take a look at the Broadway shows with the shortest runs that walked away with Tony Award gold—be it for an actor in their production, a designer, or the full production. The list progresses in descending order based on the production’s performance count.

Editor’s note: In the Tony Awards’ earliest years, the honors for Best Scenic Designer and Best Conductor (and others) were awarded to individuals for their body of work over the course of a season. Because of this, some may say Sleepy Hollow (which ran for 12 performances in 1949) and a quartet of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas (which collectively ran for 36 performances in 1953) “partially” won Tony Awards as one production in the body of work of their winning scenic designer (Jo Mielziner) and conductor (Lehman Engel), respectively. Because both winners were honored for their entire body of work from that season, these shows have been omitted from this list.

Cyrano Playbill - May 1973
Cyrano Playbill - May 1973

15. Cyrano
Opened May 13, 1973, closed June 23, 1973
49 performances

This musical version of Edmond Rostand’s novel featured music by Michael J. Lewis with book and lyrics by Anthony Burgess. Christopher Plummer starred in the title role, and won a 1974 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. When Plummer accepted his Tony, the production had been closed for nearly a year.

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Sweet Bird of Youth

14. Sweet Bird of Youth
Opened December 29, 1975, closed February 8, 1976
48 performances

The sole Broadway revival of this Tennessee Williams play starred Christopher Walken, who—at the time—was a few years away from becoming a film star in movies like Next Stop Greenwich Village and The Deer Hunter (for which he won an Academy Award). But it was Walken’s co-star, Irene Worth, who won Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her performance in the production, the second of her three career Tony Awards.

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The Rivals Playbill

13. The Rivals
Opened December 16, 2004, closed January 23, 2005
45 performances

Lincoln Center Theater brought this limited-engagement revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy of manners to Broadway. Despite a short run, Jess Goldstein won a Best Costume Design of a Play Tony Award for his work. (Dana Ivey was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance as Mrs. Malaprop.)

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Cafe Crown

12. Cafe Crown
Opened February 18, 1989, closed March 26, 1989
45 performances

This revival of Hy Craft’s 1942 comedy about a group of squatters holding court at a Second Avenue restaurant transferred from Off-Broadway’s Public Theater, and starred Eli Wallach, Walter Bobbie, David Carroll, Fyvush Finkel, and Anne Jackson. The production was nominated for Best Revival, and Santo Loquasto won for Best Scenic Design—the second of Loquasto’s now four career Tony Awards.

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Redwood Curtain Playbill

11. Redwood Curtain
Opened March 30, 1993, closed May 2, 1993
40 performances.

This Lanford Wilson play was his penultimate original work on Broadway, and debuted (as many of his plays did) at Off-Broadway’s Circle Repertory Company, of which Wilson was a co-founder. Wilson’s longtime collaborator, Marshall W. Mason, directed a three-person cast: Jeff Daniels, Sung Yun Cho, and Debra Monk. Monk won a 1993 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play. John Lee Beatty’s Scenic Design and Dennis Parichy’s lighting design were recognized with nominations.

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King Henry VIII

10. King Henry VIII
Opened November 6, 1946, closed February 21, 1947
40 performances

This Shakespeare history play has only hit Broadway three times: in 1799, 1916, and 1946. American Repertory Theatre presented the most recent production, part of a program that also included What Every Woman Knows, John Gabriel Borkman, and A Pound on Demand / Androcles and the Lion. That puts this production in an unusual situation; the full suite of plays ran 122 performances, but it was David Ffolkes—scenic and costume designer solely on King Henry VIII— who was honored with a Tony Award at the first-ever Tony Awards ceremony in 1947, for his scenic design specifically. (Although his body of work for the season was recognized, since King Henry VIII was his only production as scenic designer that season, we count this as a win for the show.)

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Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?

9. Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?
Opened February 25, 1969, closed March 29, 1969
39 performances

Concerning teen drug addicts at a rehab center, Don Petersen’s play didn’t enjoy much of a run on Broadway, but it turned out to have quite the impact; the production gave Al Pacino his Broadway debut and is credited with launching his career. It couldn’t have hurt that Pacino won his first Tony Award for his work, winning Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play. (He won a second in 1977.) Pacino’s co-star Lauren Jones was also nominated for her performance, along with director Michael Schultz.

A Trip to Bountiful Playbill - Nov 1953
A Trip to Bountiful Playbill - Nov 1953

8. The Trip to Bountiful
Opened November 3, 1953, closed December 5, 1953
39 performances

The original production of Horton Foote’s classic play—about an elderly woman who returns home to the rural Texas town where she grew up—was not a huge hit when it debuted on Broadway in 1953, although it followed a successful live television production from a few months earlier. It nevertheless won Jo Van Fleet, the work’s original Jessie Mae Watts, a Tony Award for Distinguished Supporting or Featured Dramatic Actress—analogous to today’s Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play category.

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My Favorite Year Playbill

7. My Favorite Year
Opened December 10, 1992, closed January 10, 1993
36 performances

Based on the film of the same name, My Favorite Year marked Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ second musical to hit Broadway, premiering two years after Once On This Island. They teamed up with book writer Joseph Doughtery for the original musical. It came to Broadway courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater, which presented the show as a limited run. Andrea Martin won a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her work on the show, and her co-stars Lainie Kazan and Tim Curry were nominated for their performances, as well.

All My Sons Playbill - Opening Night, April 1987
All My Sons Playbill - Opening Night, April 1987

6. All My Sons
Opened April 16, 1987, closed May 17, 1987
31 performances

This short-lived revival of the Arthur Miller classic starred Richard Kiley, Joyce Ebert, Jamey Sheridan, and Jayne Atkinson. Kiley and Sheridan’s performances both received Tony Award nominations, but the production as a whole was 1987’s Tony Award-winning Best Revival—there weren’t separate categories for plays and musicals then.

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Darling of the Day

5. Darling of the Day
Opened January 27, 1968, closed February 24, 1968
31 performances

This musical featured a score by Jule Styne and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg; the book was uncredited at its Broadway opening, because Nunnally Johnson had his credit withdrawn. This is indicative of the show’s troubled development process, one that included three separate directors and five bookwriters trying to make it work. Ultimately, critics praised the score but liked the uncredited book less, and the show had only a brief run on Broadway. Even with only 31 performances, Patricia Routledge (now best known as Keeping Up Appearances’ Hyacinth) won Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical at the 1968 Tony Awards—Routledge tied for the honor with Leslie Uggams, awarded for her performance in Hallelujah, Baby!.

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The First Gentleman

4. The First Gentleman
Opened April 25, 1957, closed May 18, 1957
28 performances

This British historical drama chronicles the reign of the real-world Prince Regent—the so-called First Gentleman of Europe—who served as king while King George III, his father, was mentally ill. Even while boasting direction from Tony winner and Guthrie Theatre-namesake Tyrone Guthrie and a reportedly-impressive physical production, the content of the play itself proved unsuccessful with audiences; the play ran only 28 performances. Part of that physical production—the costume design—was honored with a 1958 Tony Award, given to the all-female design firm Motley, which consisted of Elizabeth Montgomery, Margaret Harris, and Sophia Harris.

<i>Liza&#39;s at the Palace</i> Playbill - Opening Night
Liza's at the Palace Playbill - Opening Night

3. Liza’s at the Palace
Opened December 3, 2008, closed January 4, 2009
22 performances

After nearly a decade away from Broadway, Liza Minnelli played a concert engagement at the Palace Theatre in 2008, echoing her mother Judy Garland’s famous concert dates at the same venue. This special Broadway concert was always planned to be brief—its performance count should not be construed as any comment on its quality or success—but its Tony win as 2009’s Best Special Theatrical Event nevertheless lands it on this list; the next-shortest run for a Special Theatrical Event winner is Elaine Stritch At Liberty, which ran for 69 performances.

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Slapstick Tragedy

2. Slapstick Tragedy
Opened February 22, 1966, closed February 26, 1966
7 performances

When this double bill of two one-act plays premiered on Broadway, playwright Tennessee Williams had already published his (now) most-loved works, including The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. The critical consensus on Slapstick Tragedy was that Williams re-treaded themes from his earlier work but with less success, and the production ran only seven performances. Zoe Caldwell won her first of four career Tony Awards for her performance in Slapstick’s second play, The Gnädiges Fräulein, winning Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play. Kate Reid was also nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her performance in the first one-act, The Mutilated.

HR - Carnival In Flanders - Playbill Title Page (Broadway 1953)

1. Carnival in Flanders
Opened September 8, 1953, closed September 12, 1953
6 performances

This musical—based on a comedic 1935 French film—had a lot going for it, including a score by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, a cast led by John Raitt and Dolores Gray, and choreography by Jack Cole. (Cole was replaced prior to the Broadway bow.) During the show’s pre-Broadway development process, the production also replaced its original director and a number of bookwriters. Despite much work to get things right, the show opened to mostly negative reviews and closed just six performances later. Dolores Gray, who had received positive notices for her performance as Cornelia, went on to win the 1954 Tony Award for Distinguished Musical Actress—analogous to today’s Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical category.


BONUS STATS:
Shortest-running Best Play Winner: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
Opened October 4, 1981, closed January 3, 1982
98 performances
This original production of the two-part epic play has an official performance count of 49, but that’s 49 performances each of parts one and two of the work.

Shortest-running Best Revival of a Play Winner: All My Sons (as listed above)
Opened April 16, 1987, closed May 17, 1987
31 performances

Shortest-running Best Musical Winner: Passion
Opened May 9, 1994, closed January 7, 1995
280 performances

Shortest-running Best Revival of a Musical: Assassins
Opened April 22, 2004, closed July 18, 2004
101 performances
Though this production did mark its first time on a Broadway stage, it was deemed a revival by the Tony nominating committee.

Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. @loganculwell

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