EXCLUSIVE: In competitive Tony Awards contests, can producers who vote for their own shows have an outsized impact? Apparently.
I obtained a list of voters in the 2017-18 season — which I’m told is largely current — and cross-referenced it with names above the title of this year’s Best Musical nominees.
I counted 17 Tootsie producers and co-producers who were eligible to vote, 16 on Ain’t Too Proud, 12 on Hadestown and nine on The Prom. With just 831 voters, those margins aren’t negligible.
“It could actually make a big difference, depending on how evenly matched the shows really are,” said Jeffrey Simonoff, a statistics professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, who has studied Broadway.
Michael Paulson of the Times and Lee Seymour of Forbes polled voters and reported that Hadestown is the favorite on Sunday for the big award. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s a tight four-musical race, with each one having a 25 percent probability of getting the vote. (Insiders don’t consider Beetlejuice — the adaptation of the 1988 movie — a serious contender.)
After accounting for the producer and co-producer votes, and for the fact that four of the co-producers are on two shows in contention, that leaves 781 votes that are theoretically less biased or unbiased. Divide that by four and you’re left with 195 expected votes per show.
Then add back those votes by producers. (Lead producers are in charge of a show; co-producers primarily raise and/or invest money.) Simonoff calculated that Tootsie has a 33 percent probability of winning, Ain’t Too Proud has a 31 percent shot, Hadestown is at 21 percent and The Prom’s chances are 15 percent.
“The question that’s being answered by these probabilities is about the process itself: how much of a built-in advantage does a show get by having more producers among the voters when no show should have an advantage at all,” Simonoff said in an email. “This effect would eventually wash out as the number of voters increased, but it would take vastly more voters than 831 for it to not make a difference. This is of course why in many voting situations people are not allowed to vote for themselves, or recuse themselves.”
Shawn Purdy, a spokeswoman for the Tonys, which is a co-production of the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League, didn’t return an email for comment.
To be sure, there are caveats to consider. Beetlejuice will surely get a few votes. The other four shows may have nowhere near an equal chance of winning. And in my tally, I excluded the John Gore Organization, a major force in promotion, sales and tours that’s on the production team of four of the nominated musicals; and the Independent Presenters Network, a consortium of out-of-town theaters and presenters that is a co-producer of three of the musicals. Both entities account for many votes.
Hamilton had only four voters above the title — Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman, Sandy Jacobs as well as Oskar Eustis of the Public Theater — and it won 11 Tonys. But in a close race, an abundance of voters affiliated with a show provides an advantage.
Members of the nominating committee are required to sit out any season in which they have a show in contention. The Tonys have implicitly taken the position that if all voters were required to recuse themselves when they have conflicts, there’d be no one left to fill out a ballot.
Yet as the number of co-producers rises along with Broadway budgets, so does the potential for voting being swayed by insiders with a financial stake in the results.
Editor: Alice Scovell