Of the 100 plus shows that were eligible this season, 39 received some recognition from these kudos, which are named for the renowned actress turned producer. (Read the full report on the nominations here.)
These awards are presented by the Off-Broadway League, a collection of producers who stage shows in smaller venues than those on Broadway. A successful off-Broadway run can lead to a transfer to Broadway and a chance to contend at the Tony Awards. For example, the big winner at the 2015 Lortels, “Hamilton,” went on to sweep last year’s Tonys.
The Tony Awards, which date to 1947, salute Broadway. Conversely, the Drama Desk kudos were begun in 1955 to honor the rest of the New York theater world. And for the first 14 years they did just that with winners coming exclusively from the burgeoning off-Broadway scene.
Beginning with the 15th festivities in 1968, those appearing on Broadway became eligible for consideration. For the next five years, long lists of outstanding performances both on and off-Broadway were named as the year’s best.
When the Drama Desk Awards turned 21 in 1975, they began naming nominees before announcing the eventual winners. Since then, these nominees have tended to be those who would go to compete at the Tonys, leaving the off-Broadway performers in the wings until the Lortels came along.
Indeed, in 1975 three of the four lead-acting winners at the Drama Desk took home Tonys too: Angela Lansbury (“Gypsy”), Ellen Burstyn (“Same Time Next Year”), and John Cullum (“Shenandoah”).
While a performer from an off-Broadway show will still win the occasional Drama Desk award — as did Christine Ebersole in 2006 for the original run of “Grey Gardens” and Linda Lavin in 2008 for “The New Century”– the proceedings are now little more than a dress rehearsal for the Tony Awards.
Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.