Tony Award winners often reap the benefits of victory

Host Neil Patrick Harris and Sandy from "Annie."
(Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images)

NEW YORK — For Broadway shows, a Tony Award can spell the difference between a long life and an untimely demise.

Just ask the producers of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”

A day after winning the Tony for best play over the Tom Hanks-anchored “Lucky Guy,” the Christopher Durang comedy announced Monday that it had extended its run. Rather than close July 28, the show will now play another four weeks, until Aug. 28.


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The extension provided fresh evidence that a Tony-season gamble had paid off. In March, producers moved “Vanya,” which stars David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver, from the smaller off-Broadway confines of Lincoln Center to Broadway’s more expensive Golden Theatre in the hope of landing Tony nominations and capitalizing on related attention. (Weaver will be replaced by Broadway mainstay Julie White for the additional performances.)

“Vanya” is one of several productions that will benefit from honors bestowed during Sunday night’s CBS telecast from New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The Oscars provide, at best, a small “bump” that enhances the box office of a movie typically long out in the marketplace, while ratings rewards for a TV show’s Emmy win are small or nonexistent. But with the exposure to millions of TV viewers who had previously not heard of a stage show, a Tony can be essential for a production both during its Broadway and touring life.

The dark British import “Matilda, the Musical,” which took four awards including best book, got a much-needed boost from its attention Sunday. In addition to its prizes the production was showcased in a well-received medley featuring many of the show’s stars, and also reaped attention from repeated reference to the four young actresses who switch off playing its grade-school protagonist. A spokeswoman said ticket sales were up Monday but did not provide figures.

Meanwhile, the elaborate revival of “Pippin” enjoyed several moments in the Tony spotlight Sunday, with wins for director Diane Paulus and stars Patina Miller and Andrea Martin and a stand-alone number late in the telecast that featured the production’s trademark acrobatics. The feeling among Broadway insiders in Radio City was that it was receiving chunks of free airtime that would help to sell tickets.

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Hopes were further lifted Monday with news that this edition of the Tonys, hosted for the third consecutive year by Neil Patrick Harris, was the most-watched telecast in four years. According to early Nielsen estimates, about 7.2 million viewers tuned in, up 20% from 6 million last year.

Conventional Broadway wisdom has it that the best musical Tony pays the greatest dividends. While the award certainly can increase a show’s profile, often the best musical winner is well on its way to blockbusterdom by the time the Tonys roll around. (That was certainly the case for “The Book of Mormon” two years ago.)

For this year’s winner, “Kinky Boots,” a catchy score and an effective viral campaign — not to mention the tireless promotional efforts by the show’s creators, Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein — were already moving tickets, with the show selling a Broadway-best $1.4 million last week. Still, the musical trophy and five other wins offer a Tony seal of approval to help with the cross-dressing comedy’s ongoing Broadway run — a spokesman cited $1 million in sales after its big Tony night — as well as its road tour, which producer Daryl Roth said will likely begin next year.

On the other hand, a lack of Tony wins can doom a show. Closure announcements are expected in the coming weeks as producers either come to the conclusion that they can’t sell enough tickets without a Tony stamp, or simply finally announce a long-planned closure they had refrained from revealing during Tony season.

Among the shows that were shut out of the Tonys and did not enjoy a high-profile Sunday were the Nathan Lane period burlesque show “The Nance” and Holland Taylor’s one-woman Ann Richards show “Ann”; both actors were nominated but did not win and received little screen time.

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“Nance” and “Ann” are each limited runs, “Nance” is set to close Aug. 11 and “Ann” on Oct. 1, but a Tonys shut-out can affect sales just the same.

Conversely, principals in a long-closed show can see a ripple effect from the awards period. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” the well-regarded revival of Edward Albee’s classic, closed in early March. But as the drumbeat of attention picked up — the show on Sunday wound up winning best revival of a play, director and leading actor — it generated rewards for its star, Tracy Letts, who took home the acting prize.

The actor-playwright told The Times that a season of glad-handing had worn him out and he was ready to return to Chicago, where he lives.

“I leave Tuesday. I can’t wait,” he said, a twinkle in his eye. But he won’t stay in the Midwest for long. As “Woolf” gained momentum in the days leading up to the Tonys, Letts was announced as a series regular on the third season of Showtime’s “Homeland,” which shoots this summer in Charlotte, N.C.