The Tony Awards are famously circumscribed in their purview: Only productions that played in the past year in theatres of a certain size within about a dozen city blocks on the island of Manhattan are eligible (but there are no guarantees even then). What could be more provincial than that?
Actually, of course, theatre may be an inherently local art, but it’s also a hugely collaborative medium—and for better or worse, relatively few shows make it to Broadway, or stay there, without infusions of capital and talent from America’s regional theatres. Take a look at this week’s Tony nominations, for instance. Three of the four best new musical nominees got their start out of town: American Idiot at Berkeley Rep, Memphis at La Jolla Playhouse and Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo Theatre in Chicago, where it’s still running. And only the last of these was in a commercial rather than a nonprofit house. And at least one of these shows, the unexpected hit Memphis, is slated to hit the road in the fall of 2011.
Berkeley Rep also premiered one of the four best play nominees, Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play. Another of the four best play nominees, Time Stands Still, debuted in a regional house, at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse.
Play-revival nominees this year are comprised of entirely entirely New York-based productions, while the musical-revival department has two imports from London’s Menier Chocolate Factory (La Cage aux Folles and A Little Night Music) and one from D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Ragtime.
Though it received precious few nominations, The Addams Family has already announced a national tour. It’s no stranger to the road; its initial run was at Chicago’s Ford Theatre. And represented among the other Tony nominees are Looped (Pasadena Playhouse), Superior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre Company) and Come Fly Away (the Alliance Theatre).
So remember as you watch the awards this year: The annual regional theatre award (this year’s goes to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn.) is not the only way the Tonys reflect the American theatre. All of the world’s a stage, and the stage is all the world—even on Broadway.
Rob Weinert-Kendt is associate editor of American Theatre magazine. He also co-runs the site StageGrade.com and is father to a strapping infant named Oliver.