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The Most Useless Musical Theater Statistic

Calculator in hand, Filichia figures out the Tony-winningest Broadway musicals relative to total number of performances. logo

There was something that stayed with me after I read A Cat's Diary: How the Broadway Production of Cats Was Born, by Stephen Mo Hanan. He noted toward the end of the book that Cats won seven Tonys and then blithely said that that represented more than 1,000 performances for each Tony.

Hmmm, I wondered: Was that the highest average accumulated by any Tony-winning musical? Not long thereafter, I found myself checking an updated edition of The Tony Award by Isabelle Stevenson and Roy Somlyo. In it, every Tony-winner is starred, and I just counted up the stars. This doesn't necessarily equal the sum total of trophies awarded, but it seemed the fairest way to compute wins.

For performance numbers, I went to David Sheward's It's a Hit, which details every show that's run longer than 500 performances. Alas, that wasn't much help with Passion, Hallelujah, Baby! and a few others, but Show Tunes by Steven Suskin took up the slack. Finally, since my ability with long division is long-gone, I grabbed my calculator. And I found that Cats wasn't the highest-ranked after all. And the winners were:

1. 42nd Street (original production)--2 Tonys; 3,486 performances; 1,743 average
2. Cats--7 Tonys; 7,485 performances; 1,069.29 average
3. The Phantom of the Opera--7 Tonys; 5,789 performances so far; 827 average so far
4. Les Misérables--8 Tonys; 6,078 performances so far; 759.75 average so far
5. A Chorus Line--9 Tonys; 6,138 performances; 682 average
6. Rent--4 Tonys; 2,344 performances so far; 586 average so far
7. Crazy for You--3 Tonys; 1,622 performances; 540.67
8. Ain't Misbehavin'--3 Tonys; 1,604 performances; 534.67 average
9. Raisin--2 Tonys; 847 performances; 423.5 average
10. 1776--3 Tonys; 1,217 performances; 405.67 average
11. Fiddler on the Roof--9 Tonys; 3,242 performances; 360.22 average
12. Fosse--3 Tonys; 1,080 performances; 360 average
13. Annie--7 Tonys; 2,377 performances; 339.57 average
14. The Lion King--6 Tonys; 1,906 performances so far; 317.67 average so far
15. Two Gentlemen of Verona--2 Tonys; 627 performances; 313.5 average
16. My Fair Lady--9 Tonys; 2,717 performances; 301.88 average
17. Man of La Mancha--5 Tonys; 2,328 performances; 465.6 average
18. La Cage aux Folles--6 Tonys; 1,761 performances; 293.5 average
19. Hello, Dolly!--10 Tonys; 2,844 performances; 284.4 average
20. The King and I--5 Tonys; 1,246 performances; 249.2 average
21. The Wiz--7 Tonys; 1,672 performances; 238.86 average
22. Applause--4 Tonys; 896 performances; 224 average
23. Evita--7 Tonys; 1,567 performances; 223.85 average
24. Kiss Me, Kate--5 Tonys; 1,070 performances; 214 average
25. South Pacific--9 Tonys; 1,925 performances; 213.88 average
26. How to Succeed...--7 Tonys; 1,417 performances; 202.7 average
27. The Pajama Game--6 Tonys; 1,063 performances; 177.17 average
28. Contact-- 4 Tonys; 708 performances so far; 177 average so far
29. The Music Man--8 Tonys; 1,375 performances; 171.87 average
30. The Sound of Music--8 Tonys; 1,343 performances; 167.87
31. The Will Rogers Follies--6 Tonys; 983 performances; 163.83
32. Titanic--5 Tonys; 804 performances; 160.8 average
33. A Funny Thing...Forum--6 Tonys; 964 performances; 160.67 average
34. Guys and Dolls--8 Tonys; 1,200 performances; 150 average
35. Nine--5 Tonys; 732 performances; 146.4 average
36. City of Angels--6 Tonys; 878 performances; 146.33 average
37. Cabaret--8 Tonys; 1,165 performances; 145.63 average
38. Big River--7 Tonys; 1,005 performances; 143.56 average
39. Sunset Boulevard--7 Tonys; 977 performances; 139.57 average
40. Kiss of the Spider Woman--7 Tonys; 906 performances; 129.43 average
41. The Mystery of Edwin Drood--5 Tonys; 608 performances; 121.6 average
42. Fiorello!--6 Tonys; 795 performances; 115.85 average
43. Company--6 Tonys; 690 performances; 115 average
44. Damn Yankees--9 Tonys; 1,019 performances; 113.22 average
45. Jerome Robbins' Broadway--6 Tonys; 634 performances; 105.67 average
46. Bye Bye Birdie--6 Tonys; 608 performances; 101.33 average
47. A Little Night Music--6 Tonys; 601 performances; 100.16 average
48. Kismet--6 Tonys; 583 performances; 97.17 average
49. Passion--4 Tonys; 280 performances; 70 average
50. Wonderful Town--8 Tonys; 559 performances; 69.88 average
51. Sweeney Todd--8 Tonys; 558 performances; 69.75 average
52. Hallelujah, Baby!--5 Tonys; 293 performances; 58.6 average
53. Redhead--9 Tonys; 452 performances; 50.22 average
54. The Producers--12 Tonys; 266 performances so far; 22.17 average so far.

Needless to say, The Producers will go higher as time goes on. Not enough, I'm sure, to break 42nd Street's stranglehold on the lead; does anyone expect even The Producers to run at least 20,917 performances? (Actually, I wouldn't bet against The Lion King; because it won but six Tonys, it only has to run 10,458 to break the average record, and I think it just might.)

As you may have already inferred, the system is terribly flawed. True, the more Tonys a shows gets, the better a chance it has to run; on the other hand, the more Tonys a show gets, the more its average is knocked down. 42nd Street managed only two Tonys, which is why it finishes first in number of performances per award. But it, along with such anthology shows as Ain't Misbehavin', Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Fosse, and Contact, didn't win more Tonys because they weren't eligible for book and score prizes--so they rank artificially higher, too. And not that I resent 1776 being where it is, for this show is one of the Broadway musical theater's crowning achievements, but...if there had been separate awards for book and score that year (there weren't), okay, Sherman Edwards would have lost to Bacharach and David, but is there any doubt that Peter Stone would have taken home a prize? Which means that 1776's average would have fallen to 304.25, and it would have ranked five positions lower on the list.

Yes, this may very well be the most useless musical theater statistic. But as Ruthie says in I Can Get It For You Wholesale--a show that does not make the list--"It's kinda fun to half-believe it; what's a person got to lose?"


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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