Though they have represented the pinnacle of theatrical excellence since their inception, the Tony Awards have evolved over the years. In particular, the number of categories and their designations have changed. For example, although the awards were established in 1947, there was no Tony for Best Play until the following year when Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan was honored. Similarly, the first Best Musical award had to wait two years to make its debut. Kiss Me, Kate was the first musical to receive that award, in 1949.
There are currently 24 competitive categories of Tony Awards:
Best Book of a Musical
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Best Revival of a Play
Best Revival of a Musical
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Best Costume Design of a Play
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Best Direction of a Play
Best Direction of a Musical
In addition to competitive awards, the Tony Awards Administration Committee may bestow several varieties of special honors on deserving individuals or institutions.
The Tony Awards Nominating Committee is a rotating group of up to 50 theatre professionals selected by the Tony Awards Administration Committee. Nominators serve for overlapping three-year terms. They are asked to see every new Broadway production and then meet each year shortly after the Tony eligibility deadline. They determine the nominations based on secret ballots supervised by an accounting firm. The results are announced early the following morning.
When the Tony Awards were established in 1947, voting was limited to members of the boards of the American Theatre Wing and entertainment industry performer and craft unions. In 1954, voting eligibility was expanded to include other theatre professionals.
Today there are approximately 846 eligible voters, a number that fluctuates slightly from year to year. These include voting members of The Broadway League and the board of directors and designated members of the advisory committee of the American Theatre Wing, along with members of the governing boards of Actors' Equity Association; the Dramatists Guild; SDC, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society; United Scenic Artists; and the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. Other eligible voters include members of the Theatrical Council of the Casting Society of America, the New York Drama Critics' Circle, the board/council of the National Association of Talent Representatives, and the Tony Awards Nominating Committee.
Voters are expected to attend all nominated productions; or at least to refrain from voting in any category in which they have not seen all of the nominees.
Voting by secret ballot takes place in the weeks before the June awards ceremony. Strict precautions are taken to assure that no one, save a limited number of representatives from the accounting firm that manages the voting, knows the name of the winners until they are announced on the Tony telecast.
Ties occur from time to time. For example in 2009, Billy Elliot, the Musical and Next to Normal shared top honors in the Best Orchestrations category.