The American theater industry, still struggling to bounce back after COVID, had a minor collective freakout recently when it briefly seemed as though the Hollywood writers’ strike was going to delay, cancel, or disrupt this year’s Tony Awards. Which is maybe understandable: the awards show is the American theater’s one big nationwide advertisement for its wares, one that gets ticketbuyers into seats and touring shows into regional houses.
But the Tonys’ importance is arguably overstated. Only shows that run in one of the 41 Broadway houses in New York City are eligible, after all, so it’s not a celebration of the best in American theater so much as it is a celebration of the best of the theater within fourteen square blocks in one particular metropolis. It’s like if they only gave Emmys to TV shows that people watched in one neighborhood in Findlay.
There’s theater going on every night in cities and towns throughout the country. And Broadway benefits directly from the research and development and risk-taking that happens in all those far-flung theaters; that’s where a lot of the shows that end up on Broadway come from. Many of this year’s nominees, including Fat Ham, Cost of Living, and Kimberly Akimbo, developed and premiered on American stages far from the lights of Broadway and are being celebrated now because of the labor and inspired creativity of a whole community who shepherded these works into their final form.
So in a sense the Tony Awards are a celebration of all the theater artists in that nationwide ecosystem, even if only a fraction of a fraction of them will be present in the United Palace auditorium on Sunday night. And there are other reasons to pay attention to the Tonys: host Ariana DeBose is always delightful. Theater professionals, with their training in improv and live performance, always seem funnier and more relaxed and more personable than the actors at other awards shows. Also, maybe this year if we’re lucky they won’t make playwrights go on camera and talk about their plays. Because that’s never fun for anyone.
Here are books by or about some of the theater artists — actors, writers, directors, designers — who’ve won one or more Tonys over the years. Some of these folks have gone the distance and achieved EGOT status. Some just have the T part of EGOT. But no judgment: either way, that’s more than I’ve got.