Where Else Have the Tony Awards Been Held?

Jennifer Ashley Tepper Is answering your questions with Broadway Deep Dive!

By: Dec. 03, 2023
Where Else Have the Tony Awards Been Held?

Do you have a burning Broadway question? Dying to know more about an obscure Broadway fact? Broadway historian and self-proclaimed theatre nerd Jennifer Ashley Tepper is here to help with her new series, Broadway Deep Dive. Every month, BroadwayWorld will be accepting questions from theatre fans like you. If you're lucky, your question might be selected as the topic of her next column!

Submit your Broadway question in the comments here!

This time, the reader question was: Where has the Tony Awards ceremony been presented in the past?

Following the announcement that this season’s Tony Awards would take place at The David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in June, this question came in about the history of the Tony Awards venue.

When the Tony Awards began in 1947, they were held in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. The 1st Annual Tony Awards were not televised, although they were broadcast on the radio. The American Theatre Wing named their new awards celebrating excellence on Broadway after the late Antoinette Perry, a multi-faceted artist who was a co-founder of the Wing.

Until 1953, the Tony Awards were held at the Waldorf-Astoria. In the 1940s and 1950s, the theatre community congregated more frequently on the eastern side of midtown. Artists were far more likely to dine, party, live, work, have meetings, and otherwise spend time east of Broadway back when the western avenues were less safe and populated.

The 8th Annual Tony Awards in 1954 took place at the Plaza Hotel. Migrating westward, the  ceremony was held at the hotel’s Grand Ballroom near 5th Avenue and 58th Street through 1956. In 1956, the Tony Awards were televised for the first time, on a local New York City channel.

The 1957 Tony Awards (11th Annual) returned to the Waldorf-Astoria, where they stayed until 1959.

The first year of the 1960s found the Tony Awards moving to the Astor Hotel, closer to the theatre district. The Astor Hotel, which once occupied Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets, was a central Times Square location, later demolished in the late 1960s for One Astor Plaza, which contains the Minskoff Theatre. 1961 and 1962 found the Tony Awards boomeranging back to the Waldorf-Astoria.

The 17th Annual Tony Awards in 1963 were held at the Hotel Americana, which is now the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, at 7th Avenue near 52nd and 53rd Streets. During these early decades of the Tony Awards, the location of the award presentation was not as integral to the award show’s branding as it became in later years. The Tony Awards were still only broadcast locally. While industry and local folks might be aware that Broadway’s illustrious award show was often held at the Waldorf-Astoria, or of where a given year’s ceremony was, the venue was not widely publicized due to an association with the Tonys. Each year’s location was somewhat dictated by availability.

In the following years of the mid-1960s, the Tony Awards were held at the Hilton Hotel, Astor Hotel, and the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.

In 1967, the Tony Awards were widely televised for the first time. The 21st Annual Tonys aired on ABC, and were one hour long. This move to network television was accompanied by the Tony Awards being held in a Broadway theater for the first time. This new era for the Tonys had Alexander H. Cohen producing the ceremony, which he continued to do for two decades. At the Shubert Theatre, Cabaret and The Homecoming walked away with top prizes, Mary Martin and Robert Preston (currently starring in I Do! I Do!) co-hosted, and the Broadway League partnered with the American Theatre Wing for the first time.

The Tonys stayed at the Shubert for one more year before moving to another Broadway house, the Mark Hellinger. In 1969, the Tonys were first held at this glorious Broadway theater, which these days is now the Times Square Church. The Hellinger had a larger capacity than the Shubert, and the Tonys were held there in 1970 as well.

The next Tony Awards ceremonies of the 1970s happened at the Palace, the Broadway, the Imperial, the Shubert (five times), and the Winter Garden. It was now tradition for the Tonys to be held in a Broadway house, and while this was sometimes dependent on what theater was empty and/or able to be utilized at the time of the ceremony, the Shubert was a particular favorite. Audiences across America who tuned in to the first years of the Tony telecast saw the given season’s shows celebrated at an actual Broadway house. In 1978, the Tony Awards began being televised by CBS.

The Tony Awards of the 1980s took place at the Hellinger (three times), Imperial, Gershwin (twice), Shubert, Minskoff (twice), and Lunt-Fontanne. These Broadway houses with larger capacities were perfect homes for the Tonys in those years. Increasingly elaborate televised programs filled with live performances could not have been adequately presented in the hotel ballrooms of decades past.

The final years that the Tony Awards could be regularly contained in a Broadway house were in the first part of the 1990s, as the Lunt-Fontanne, Minskoff (twice), Gershwin (three times), and Majestic acted as host to the ceremonies.

In 1997, the Tony Awards were held at Radio City Music Hall for the first time. Radio City Music Hall, with its enormous backstage space and capacity of almost 6,000 seats is exponentially larger than any Broadway theater that the Tonys had previously been held in. Between 1997 and 2010, the Tonys were held at Radio City Music Hall every year except 1999, when they were at the Gershwin. This made Radio City the venue most consistently associated with the awards show in history. Most who tuned in to their first Tony Awards in the late 1990s or throughout the 2000s assumed that the awards were never held anywhere else.

In 2011, the Tony Awards were held at the Beacon Theatre, on Broadway near 74th Street, for the first time. The 65th Annual and 66th Annual were in fact both held at the Beacon, due to Radio City being occupied by Cirque du Soleil. The booking conflict cleared in 2013 and the Tonys returned to Radio City for every other broadcast of the 2010s except for 2016, when Hamilton swept the awards held at the Beacon.

For the unconventional 74th Annual Tony Awards, held in the fall of 2021 following the long industry-wide shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tonys set up shop at the Winter Garden Theatre. This marked the first time since the 1990s that the Tonys were held at a Broadway house. The eligible shows had opened on Broadway as part of the abbreviated 2019-2020 season, which had initially planned a June 2020 ceremony at Radio City before the March shutdown that year. Because of the truncated season and the circumstances of the pandemic, there were fewer shows and artists up for awards and fewer current productions set to perform, which was part of what allowed the return to the relatively smaller Winter Garden.

In 2022, the Tony Awards returned to Radio City, and in 2023, the Tony Awards were held for the first time at the United Palace Theatre, a historic theater in Washington Heights. The United Palace’s interior was originally designed by Harold Rambusch, who was also the designer for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, bringing the design of the Tony Award venue full circle. (Rambusch and his company also designed the interior of the Mark Hellinger Theatre.)

Where Else Have the Tony Awards Been Held?

The 2024 Tony Awards ceremony at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center will mark the first time the Tonys are held within the Lincoln Center complex. The Koch seats about 2,500. While the Koch is not technically a Broadway venue, under its original name The New York State Theater, it did host three productions in 1978, 1980, and 1981 that, based on their contracts, were deemed eligible for Tony Awards. (These were revivals of Stop The World - I Want To Get Off, Camelot, and Fiddler on the Roof.)

After 19 years at hotels (1947-1965), 1 year at the Rainbow Room (1966), 32 years at Broadway theaters (1967-1996, 1999, and 2021), 20 years at Radio City (1997-1998, 2000-2010, 2013-2015, 2017-2019, and 2022), 3 years at the Beacon (2011-2012 and 2016), and 1 year at the United Palace (2023), the Tony Awards are set to make new history, held at the David H. Koch Theater and Lincoln Center for the first time on June 16, 2024.