How well do Drama Desk Awards predict Tony winners for musicals?

The off-Broadway smash “Hamilton” won Best Musical at Sunday’s Drama Desk Awards over, among others, the Tony frontrunner “An American in Paris” as well as Tony nominees “Something Rotten” and “The Visit.” The fourth Tony nominee — “Fun Home” — was ineligible at the Drama Desk as it had contended here last year for its off-Broadway run. (At the bottom of this post, be sure to make your Tony predictions and be in with a chance to win our $100 prize and a place on our leaderboard). 

That the Drama Desk champ is not in contention at the Tonys is a shame since these kudos have a strong record of predicting the Tony winner for Best Musical. Since 1975, when it began naming nominees and winners as opposed to just presenting citations for distinguished work, the Drama Desk has previewed 26 of the 39 Best Musical winners at the Tony Awards.

Robert Fairchild (“An American in Paris”) and Kristin Chenoweth (“On the Twentieth Century“) won the lead acting awards at the Drama Desk. While these kudos have a solid track record at predicting the Tony winners in these races (as detailed below), neither of this year’s winners had to face off against their main Tony rivals here as Michael Cerveris (“Fun Home”) was ineligible and Kelli O’Hara (“The King and I“) was snubbed. 

That “Hamilton” won this year is especially noteworthy given that the Drama Desk has only awarded Best Musical to one other Off-Broadway show in the past four decades: 1983’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” The Tony champ for that year, “Cats,” was snubbed by the Desk.

There have been three other instances when the Tony winner for Best Musical was eligible at the Drama Desks that same year but was not nominated:

1984: “Sunday in the Park with George” (DD); “La Cage Aux Folles” (Tony)

1997: “The Life” (DD); “Titanic (Tony)

2013: “Matilda” (DD); “Kinky Boots” (Tony)

And there were two years when the Tony pick was in contention at the Drama Desk but lost to another Broadway show:

1988: “Into the Woods” (DD); “Phantom of the Opera” (Tony)

2006: “The Drowsy Chaperone” (DD); “Jersey Boys” (Tony)

In 1999, the Tonys named “Fosse” as Best Musical, but the DDs awarded it Best Revue and gave Best Musical to “Parade.”

Two other discrepancies between the two groups occurred when the transfer of an off-Broadway tuner took the top Tony after losing out in a previous season at the Drama Desk. In 2003, “Avenue Q” was trounced by “Hairspray” at the Drama Desks but won the Best Musical Tony the following year over, among others, DD champ “Wicked.” Likewise, the off-Broadway run of “In the Heights” lost the Drama Desk race to “Spring Awakening” in 2007 before triumphing at the Tonys the next year; its rivals there included DD winner “Passing Strange.”

And the Drama Desk has named a revival as Best Musical on two occasions. In 1981, the DD Best Musical winner was “The Pirates of Penzance” but it was deemed a revival by the Tonys. “42nd Street” was the Tony winner. Similarly in 1995, due to a dearth of worthy candidates, the DDs considered new musicals and revivals together: the winner was Harold Prince’s acclaimed revival of “Show Boat. The Tony went to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard.”

In the musical acting categories, the Tonys and the DDs have agreed more often than not.

With Best Actress in a Musical, there have been 26 Drama Desk/Tony double winners in the last 39 years. (29 if you count Nell Carter of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in 1978 who won in featured at the Tonys, but lead at the Drama Desks, and Dorothy Loudon in “Annie” in 1977 and Joanna Gleason of “Into the Woods” in 1988 who did the reverse.)

Eight Broadway leading ladies won over Drama Desk voters but lost their nine Tony bids: 

Clamma Dale in “Porgy and Bess” (1977);

Teresa Stratas in “Rags” (1987);

Julie Andrews in “Victor/Victoria” (1996), but she refused her Tony nomination in protest over a lack of Tony recognition for the rest of the cast and the creative team;

Marla Schaffel in “Jane Eyre” (2001);

Donna Murphy in “Wonderful Town” (2004) and again in 2007 for “Love Musik” when she tied with Audra McDonald for “110 in the Shade” who also lost at the Tonys;

Allison Janney in “9 to 5” (2009); and

Laura Osnes in “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (2013).

Two of the DD champs starred in off-Broadway productions: 

Toni diBuono in “Forbidden Broadway” (1989); and

Christine Ebersole for the Playwright Horizons run of “Grey Gardens” in 2006 before it moved to Broadway the following season and she won the Tony as well.

And in 1981, Lena Horne won a Drama Desk as Best Actress but was awarded a special Tony Award for her concert “The Lady and Her Music.”

For Best Actor in a Musical, the two awards have been in alignment 29 times over 39 years (32 if you count Lenny Baker in “I Love My Wife” in 1977 and Ron Richardson in “Big River” in 1985 who won in lead at the Drama Desk and featured at the Tonys and George Rose for “My Fair Lady” in 1976 who did the reverse.)

A half dozen of Broadway’s leading men won over Drama Desk voters but lost their Tony bids: 

Ian Richardson for “My Fair Lady” (1976);

Robert Cuccioli in “Jekyll and Hyde” (1997);

Brent Carver in “Parade” (1999);

Raul Esparza in “Company” (2007);

Brian d’Arcy James in “Shrek” (2009); and

Danny Burstein in “Follies” (2012). 

In addtion, Ken Page won the DD for “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (1978) but was snubbed at the Tonys; John Cullum of “On the Twentieth Century” won that year.

Since 1975, an Off-Broadway performer has never won this category.

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