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Women Making History at the Tony Awards

Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori
Lisa Kron (L) and Jeanine Tesori at the 2015 Tony Awards. Photo by: Shevett Studios
By Marielle Young

The Tony Awards® are named after a woman history-maker - Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer, and dynamic wartime leader of the American Theatre Wing. With the all-female creative team of Waitress, the all-female ensemble cast and creative team of of Eclipsed, and other women artists leading the industry, this Broadway season marks several exciting milestones for women in the theatre. Below the Tonys highlight some of the women who made history at the awards and contributed to the advancement of the theatre on Broadway and beyond.

Lisa Kron & Jeanine Tesori

Lisa Kron (Best Book, Best Score - lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (Best Score - music) made "herstory" in 2015 when Fun Home became the first show written entirely by women to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. Fun Home's source material is the award-winning 2006 graphic memoir of the same name by Alison Bechdel.

Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald won her record-setting sixth Tony Award in 2014. She has taken home more Tonys for performance than any other individual. Her diverse Tony-winning roles have included portrayals of a millworker, a Juilliard soprano, and a legendary jazz singer. She is the only person to have won Tony Awards in four different acting categories, and the only African American performer to be nominated in all four acting categories. She won most recently for her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill in 2014. Additionally, the late Julie Harris also earned six Tony Awards. She won five competitive awards for performance, and received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera reigns as the performer with the most Tony nominations. In 2015 she was recognized for the 10th time, for The Visit. Her first nomination came back in 1961 for Bye Bye Birdie. Rivera's iconic Broadway performances include a roller skating rink owner in The Rink (1984) and Spider Woman/Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993). She is pictured here with John Kander, who wrote the Tony-nominated music for The Visit.

Angela Lansbury

The Tonys hostess with the mostess is Dame Angela Lansbury. She has presided or co-presided over more Tony telecasts than any other individual, with five telecasts (1968, 1971, 1987, 1988, and 1989). She has also won 5 Tony Awards, most recently in 2009 for Best Featured Actress in a Play for portraying Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. Her other Tony-winning performances include portrayals of the free-wheeling bohemian Mame Dennis in Mame (1966), Countess Aurelia, The Madwoman of Chaillot in Dear World (1969), the iconic stage mom Rose in Gypsy (1975), and the musical meat-pie maker Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd (1979). Lansbury is pictured here with presenter Madonna backstage at the 1988 telecast.

Cyndi Lauper

Everybody say yeah! In 2013, Cyndi Lauper became the first solo woman to win best original score for her music and lyrics for Kinky Boots. Lauper made her Broadway debut as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera in 2006. She also contributed songs to Patti LuPone’s solo show on Broadway, Matters of the Heart, in 2000.

Wendy Wasserstein

In 1989, Wendy Wasserstein became the first solo woman playwright to win the Tony Award for Best Play for The Heidi Chronicles. The play explored the impact of feminism on members of the baby boom generation of the 1970s and 1980s. She is pictured here (at right) at the 1989 ceremony with actress Betty Buckley. The first female Best Play-winning author was Frances Goodrich, who won for The Diary of Anne Frank in 1956. Goodrich wrote the piece in collaboration with her husband, Albert Hackett.

Juanita Hall

Juanita Hall was the first African American woman to win a Tony Award. She was honored as Best Featured Actress in a Musical in 1950—the first year the category was introduced—for South Pacific. She portrayed Bloody Mary, whose iconic songs included "Bali Ha'i" and "Happy Talk."

Julie Taymor

Julie Taymor became the first female to earn a Tony for Best Direction of a Musical in 1998, for The Lion King. She also won the Tony for Best Costume Design award for her work on the show. Her other work on Broadway includes Juan Darien (1996), The Green Bird (2000), and Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark (2011). Taymor frequently designs the puppets and masks for her shows as well. 1998 was a historic year for women directors as they won in both direction categories (see Garry Hynes below).

Garry Hynes

Also in 1998, Garry Hynes earned a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh, the first woman to win in that category. The production was also her directorial debut on the Great White Way.

Diahann Carroll

The sweetest sounds! The first African American woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical was Diahann Carroll in 1962 for her portrayal of Barbara Woodruff in the Richard Rodgers musical No Strings. In 1969, Carroll became the first African American woman to host the Tony Awards.

Rita Moreno

The first Latina to win a Tony Award was Rita Moreno, who was honored in 1975 for her portrayal of Googie Gomez in Terrance McNally's The Ritz. She reprised the role in the 1976 film of the same name. Moreno made her Broadway debut in 1945 as Angelina in Harry Kleiner's Skydrift. In 1977 she became the second woman to become an EGOT (Helen Hayes was the first), having earned Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards. It took her just 16 years to be honored with all 4 of the top show-business awards!

Lea Salonga

With her Broadway debut in 1991, Lea Salonga enchanted Broadway as Kim in Miss Saigon—and became the first Asian American woman to earn a Tony for performance, when she won Best Actress in a Musical at that year's Tony Awards. Salonga was also the first actress of Asian descent to play the roles of Éponine and Fantine in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway, and was last seen on the Great White Way in Allegiance in 2015.

Phylicia Rashad

Phylicia Rashad made Tony history in 2004 when she became the first African American woman to win Best Actress in a Play, for her portrayal of Lena Younger in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. She was also nominated the following year for her performance of Aunt Ester in August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. Rashad was last seen on Broadway as Big Mama in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2008.


Which other inspiring Tony women can you name? Tune into the 70th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 12th at 8/7c on CBS to see who will join the ranks of the phenomenal Tony-winning Broadway women!

Revised Sunday, 09 April, 2017

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