Group of Eight

Group of Eight Reflecting on the Best Musical Tony winners that are still running on Broadway.
The Phantom of the Opera is still going strong on Broadway.
The Phantom of the Opera is still going strong on Broadway. Photo by Joan Marcus

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The June 10 Best Musical Tony Award winner will join seven previous winners still enjoying their original runs: The Phantom of the Opera (1988), Rent (1996), The Lion King (1998), Hairspray (2003), Avenue Q (2004), Monty Python's Spamalot (2005) and Jersey Boys (2006). There had been eight winners until April, when the 2001 honoree, The Producers, closed — more than at any time in history. That means nearly a quarter of all Broadway theatres currently in use are housing Tony Award-winning musicals. (And that's not counting this season's major revivals of two more Tony-winning musicals, A Chorus Line and Les Misérables.) Talents associated with these productions share their thoughts about their shows winning the Tony Award.

Michael Greif, director of Rent: "The Tony was the greatest validation of Jonathan's work [referring to the late Jonathan Larson, who wrote the score and libretto]. I know, very personally, what it would have meant to him and what joy he would have derived from it. The cast had spent significant time with Jonathan's parents, sister and nephews, and we were all terribly moved by Julie's words [when Larson's sister accepted the Tony]. The world has missed out on many great musicals [due to Larson's premature passing]. The Tony elicited great joy and great sorrow; it was a double-edged sword."

David Schrader, Disney Theatrical Productions' Senior Vice President, Managing Director and CFO, on The Lion King: "If we remember back where we were in time, the show was unexpected. We had opened in November and were building up steam by the time we got to [the Tony nominations in] May. Having people see part of the show on national television gave them a sense of what the musical is, probably converting some skeptics. Winning Best Musical really sent us off down the road, kind of setting the standard in other people paying attention. Two other things were also happening. Julie Taymor was the first woman director to win [a Tony for directing a musical]. It was about her vision, as opposed to some Disney company person. Being able to personify who had the vision was kind of a confirming message. Ragtime and Lion King were frontrunners [for the prize]. That added a bit of drama. The [theatrical] community supported what audiences and critics had been telling us."

Angie Schworer, who started in The Producers as an ensemble member and progressed to the role of Ulla: "I don't think there's anything better than to have seen the original cast members create it from the beginning. It was a very nice six-year chapter in my life. I was very lucky. It's the greatest job I ever had. Nothing could top the feelings of the cast on Tony night. We won the most Tonys [12] in history. I was very proud. I feel privileged to have been part of something so great." Marc Shaiman, composer and co-lyricist (with Scott Wittman) of Hairspray: "It's such a challenge for a show just to get on, and to attract an audience. [The Tony] changed our lives and continues to change our lives. I don't like competition. I have such a strong ego. It surprises me that the awards exist. How can you compare apples and oranges every season? You're put in an odd contest you never asked to be in. The show and the audience reaction are the rewards. But Scott and I felt like little boys up there [on Tony night]. The Tony for Best Musical was a fantastic cherry on top of the cake."

Jeff Whitty, Tony-winning librettist of Avenue Q: "We were doing fine, but we weren't playing to capacity. After we won the Tony, we were brought up to capacity. The premise [of the show] is so hard to get across. People thought it was a children's show, and it is adolescent and smutty. Winning the Tony pushed people over their initial reluctance to see a show with puppets."

Bill Haber, of Boyett Ostar Productions, co-producers of Monty Python's Spamalot: "While it's great just to be nominated, winning is always better. The show was already doing well before the awards. The broadcast introduced Spamalot to a national audience that knew little about the show. The Tony brand has real value, like the Academy Award. Winning Best Musical brought [the show] global attention."

Rick Elice, co-librettist of Jersey Boys: "Our goal was to make something good, and our hope was that it would be popular. As soon as audiences started coming, we could tell our hope was fulfilled. But the Tony for Best Musical was certification that we had achieved our goal. We set out to make the story compelling; you don't think about the Tony Award at that time. But winning the Tony Award [as Best Musical] was a great milestone."

Harold Prince, who received one of his 21 Tonys as director of The Phantom of the Opera: "I wish I could say that the Tony Award had genuine impact . . . but I think we were running strong even before we arrived in America [from London]. It didn't make much [immediate] difference [at the box office]. However, had we lost it . . . who knows?"

This story appeared in the 2007 Tony Awards Playbill at Radio City Music Hall.

J. Robert Spencer, John Lloyd Young, Daniel Reichard and Christian Hoff in <i>Jersey Boys</i>, the 2006 Tony winner for Best Musical.
J. Robert Spencer, John Lloyd Young, Daniel Reichard and Christian Hoff in Jersey Boys, the 2006 Tony winner for Best Musical. Photo by Joan Marcus