Drama Desk Awards shun Off-Broadway shows again as Tony frontrunners dominate

Off-Broadway fare accounted for more than half of the nominees (83 of 152) for plays and musicals at the Drama Desk Awards. However, as in years past, they were virtually shut out as just one Off-Broadway show — “Here Lies Love” — prevailed winning three of the 25 awards.

Otherwise, only Broadway shows and stars took to the stage of the Town Hall Sunday night to claim their awards. (See full list of winners here.)

“Here Lies Love” is the high profile new musical about Imelda Marcos by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. It won for its music as well as both lighting and production design. 

Of the 22 Drama Desk Awards won by big budget productions, five went to “Matilda” including Best Musical while “Pippin” won four including Best Musical Revival and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” claimed three, including Best Play Revival. “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” won its only bid, but it was a biggie – Best Play. 

Last year, Off-Broadway fare accounted for just over half of the nominees (76 of 150) for plays and musicals at the Drama Desk Awards, but claimed just one of the 25 prizes. “Tribes” won Best Play but that race was skewed as all four of the year’s Tony nominees were ineligible at the Drama Desks as they had contended at these kudos for their Off-Broadway runs. 

Two years, Off-Broadway productions made up more than 40% of the nominees (64 of 151) but won just two of the 26 prizes. Those wins came in two of the creative categories — Best Musical Book (“See Rock City and Other Destinations”) and Best Play Music (“Peter and the Starcatcher”).

Three years ago, there was a similar breakdown between Broadway (54%) and off-Broadway (44%) contenders. Yet only three of the 26 winners came from beyond Broadway. One of those wins was by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb for Best Lyrics to “The Scottsboro Boys” which transferred to Broadway this season. Likewise, the award for Best Musical Book went to “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which also moved uptown. The well-financed Lincoln Center Theater production of “When the Rain Stops Falling” won Best Play Sound Design.

Contrast these kudos with the Lucille Lortel Awards which are devoted exclusively to off-Broadway productions. Their nominees and winners are decided by a panel of 20 experts drawn from both the theatrical community and academia.

Conversely, the Drama Desk nominations are determined by committee chair Barbara Siegel (TalkinBroadway.com, TheaterMania.com) and five others: David Kaufman (author and freelance), Samuel L. Leiter (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center), Martha Wade Steketee (urbanexcavations.com; editor and contributor, Chance Magazine), Adrian Wattenmaker (Theater Faculty, Brooklyn College; Director, School of Creative and Performing Arts) and James Wilson (Professor of Theatre, CUNY; co-editor of Journal of American Drama and Theatre).

This marks the 10th year that Siegel oversaw the nominations. During the first nine years of her tenure, Broadway contenders represented between 47% and 63% of the nominees and went on to win all but 16 of the 229 awards bestowed on plays and musicals.


When non-Broadway nominees have managed to prevail, they tend to have prestigious reputations, as was the case with the winner of Best Play in 2009. “Ruined” had already claimed the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Among the other non-Broadway champs that year was “Road Show,” which won Best Lyrics for seven-time Tony champ Stephen Sondheim. At those 2009 awards, Broadway shows accounted for a staggering 102 of the 161 nominations (63%) and claimed 21 of the 26 prizes.

In 2008, only 84 of the 158 nominations (53%) went to Broadway productions, but 25 of the 26 eventual winners for plays and musicals came from there. The sole exception was the award for Best Featured Play Actress, which went to Tony champ Linda Lavin (“Broadway Bound”) for “The New Century.”

In 2007, Broadway shows accounted for 98 of the 158 nominations (62%) and 25 of the 26 winners. The one outlier: Andy Blankenbuehler, choreographer of the off-Broadway run of “In the Heights.” Just how bad was this bias in favor of Broadway? In the Best Play Actress race Eve Best was the sole nominee appearing in a Broadway production — “A Moon for the Misbegotten” —  and she won.

In 2006, Broadway shows only accounted for 67 of the 144 nominations (47%), but they took 23 of the 25 awards.

In 2005, Broadway pulled off a clean sweep, winning all 25 awards, with 80 of the 148 nominations (54%).

And in Siegel’s first year at the helm back in 2004, Broadway shows received 80 of the 137 nominations (58%) and won 24 of the 25 awards.

More News from GoldDerby

Loading