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Drama Desk Awards slap Off-Broadway -- again

May 24, 2011 | 11:37 am

Drama Desk Award newsThe unfairness of the Drama Desk Awards was apparent again when trophies were doled out Monday at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan Center. Even though Off-Broadway shows accounted for 40% of the nominees, they won only two of the 26 awards. Both victories were in the crafts categories: best musical book ("See Rock City and Other Destinations") and best play music ("Peter and the Starcatcher").

Glam Broadway shows claimed all other top kudos. "The Book of Mormon" nabbed five: best musical, lyrics, music, director and orchestrations. "Anything Goes" won best musical revival and lead actress (Sutton Foster). The trophies for best play and revival went to "War Horse" and "The Normal Heart," respectively, as widely expected. See the full list of winners.

This year's bias against Off-Broadway is consistent with the history of the Drama Desk Awards. Last year, 44% of the nominees were Off-Broadway shows, but they won only three of the 26 prizes. The reason for the lopsided vote result is the balloting process. A small jury of journalists chooses nominees while the full membership picks winners. The list of Drama Desk members is kept secret, but Awards Tracker has seen the rundown in years past. Quite a few members are from obscure media outlets, including personal websites, and many admit that they don't see the Off-Broadway nominees. Many also admit that they belong to the Drama Desk just to get free VIP tickets to prestigious Broadway shows.

It's bad enough that Off-Broadway contenders are consistently snubbed on awards night, but they pay a high price for the insult. Nominees are given free seats, but their friends, family and colleagues pay for tickets costing $375 and $475 and tables priced around $10,000. The expense might be easier to justify if they had a realistic chance of winning, but they don't.

-- Tom O'Neil


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Photo: Drama Desk