50 Years of Golden Tony Awards | Playbill

Tony Awards 50 Years of Golden Tony Awards
From the Tony Playbill: Introduction

From the Tony Playbill: Introduction

On the gala occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Tony Awards, one is reminded of the remark made by Katharine Hepburn when the Oscars celebrated their half-century mark: "Well, there must be something to it. It's gone on for 50 years. It must be healthy."

On their 50th birthday, June 2, 1996, the Tony Awards are very much alive and kicking. To pay tribute to this gilded event, PLAYBILL has invited a host of theatre experts to render their choice memories of Tony Award highlights through the years in a special souvenir program.

This memento does not aspire to be a comprehensive study of five decades of Tony Awards, but rather an anecdotal overview of some of the magical moments.

Five chapters of retrospect include remembrances of Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Musical (including Best Book and Best Score), Best Performers (leading and featured) in plays and musicals, Best Directors (in both categories) and Choreographers and Best Designers (scenic, costume and lighting).

In addition, there is an inside and historical look at how the awards have evolved, featuring interviews with Isabelle Stevenson, President of the American Theatre Wing; Cy Feuer, President of The League of American Theatres and Producers; and Roy A. Somlyo, Managing Producer of the Tony Awards telecast and a 30-year veteran of the event. A feature on Antoinette Perry pays tribute to the actress/director whose name graces the Tony Awards. Finally, there is a complete list of Tony Award winners in all categories from 1947 to 1995, a stunning retrospective of great theatrical achievements on Broadway for the past 49 years.

In discussing plays that have won Tony Awards, Mervyn Rothstein enriches his comments about selected winners with quotes from artists connected with their productions who vividly recall their historic opening nights. The hysteria that greeted the first night of Mister Roberts is contrasted with the moving silence at the conclusion of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Many other aspects of winning plays are captured in his recollections. Patrick Pacheco also recaptures the thrill of Tony Award-winning musicals, from the first one Kiss Me, Kate in 1949 to the 1995 winner Sunset Boulevard-with a series of amusing and dramatic anecdotes about their creators and stars. Harry Haun contributes dazzling vignettes that spotlight Tony Award-winning actors and actresses in leading and featured roles in both plays and musicals. Such luminaries as Katharine Cornell, Richard Burton, Ingrid Bergman, Carol Channing, Jessica Tandy and Yul Brynner, plus many others are radiantly recalled in their moment of triumph.

Tony Award-winning directors from George Abbott to Jerry Zaks are lauded by Sheryl Flatow in a series of deft profiles that cover not only directors of plays and musicals, but also such celebrated choreographers as Agnes de Mille, Gower Champion, Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett, Tommy Tune, Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse and Susan Stroman.

John Wolfe appraises the great artists who have won Tony Awards for their inspired scenic, costume and lighting designs, beginning with Jo Mielziner, who was cited for five Broadway productions in 1949. Many of these designers are deceased, but their artistry is honored by their surviving families, friends and assistants. The living designers interviewed reveal fascinating problems involved in the creation of sets, lighting and costumes for their award-winning shows.

The two major forces responsible for the annual Tony Awards Isabelle Stevenson and Cy Feuer are interviewed by Ellis Nassour. Ms. Stevenson discusses her long-term involvement with the Awards as well as with the greatly admired Working in the Theatre Seminars sponsored by the Wing. She also recalls with great amusement Anne Bancroft's reaction to receiving her 1958 Tony for Two for the Seesaw from no less than Laurence Olivier. Cy Feuer extols the achievements of Harvey Sabinson, former Executive Director of The League, and recalls with great nostalgia the Tony Award-winning musicals he co-produced with Ernie Martin (Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying).

Nassour's cameo of Antoinette Perry is based on an interview he conducted with her daughter, Margaret, in which you will discover why Antoinette changed her nickname from Toni to Tony. After losing a fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, Antoinette became the only woman director in the theatre with a record number of hits that played for more than 500 performances. She was the first Board Chairman of the American Theatre Wing in 1939 and also set up a drama school for vets under the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Roy A. Somlyo contemplates his 30 years with the Tony Awards and discusses changes that have taken place in the rules and in the great technical progress made by television during the past three decades. He offers an in-depth vision of the great complexities involved in producing the annual Tony Award telecast and the singular honor of winning the coveted award in any category. For any member of the theatrical profession to be honored by his or her peers is the most satisfying accolade bestowed on him/her, and the fact that the awards are now viewed around the world by millions is especially noteworthy on Tony's 50th anniversary.

-- By Louis Botto

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