Drama Desk Awards to off-Broadway: Drop dead

Off and off-off-Broadway productions accounted for 41% of the nominees (68/165) at the Drama Desk Awards but were completely shut out of the 27 awards bestowed on plays and musicals. This wholesale snubbing is nothing new at these kudos that boast of being the only ones to fete productions both on the rialto and elsewhere in the city. But this year was particularly egregious. 

Drama Desk Awards: Complete list of winners 

Last year, 55% of the nominees (83 of 152) were for non-Broadway productions but just one Off-Broadway show — “Here Lies Love” — prevailed winning three of the 25 awards. “Here Lies Love” was a high profile musical about Imelda Marcos by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. It won for its music as well as both lighting and production design. 

In 2012, 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. 

In 2011, Off-Broadway productions made up 42% 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”).

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In 2010, 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 19 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 six others: Morgan Jenness (Dramaturg; Columbia & Pace University Professor), Samuel L. Leiter (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre, CUNY), Sandy MacDonald (freelance; TheaterNewsOnline.com), Chad McArver (Lighting and Set Designer; Professor, Fordham University), Martha Wade Steketee (Editor and Contributor, Chance Magazine; UrbanExcavations.com) and James Wilson (Theatre Professor, CUNY; Co-Editor of JADT).

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The entire membership of the Drama Desk decides the winners. As the organization says on its website, “the awards are then voted on ‘by impartial media people only,’ without any vested interests in the results. Today, more than 130 New York theater critics, reporters, writers, and arts editors vote on the Awards.” To cast your eye over the credentials of these 134 voters click here. It is well worth the effort. [CORRECTION: The original version of this post made mention that the membership as a whole was not disclosed.]

This marks the 11th year that Siegel oversaw the nominations. During her tenure, Broadway contenders have represented between 47% and 63% of the nominees and won 235 of the 254 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.

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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.

Drama Desk Awards betray reason for creation

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.

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