A Look at How Many Drama League Distinguished Performance Award Winners Went on to Win Tony Awards

Last updated May 22nd, 2017 by Josh Ferri
A Look at How Many Drama League Distinguished Performance A…

Dear Evan Hansen

star Ben Platt made history on Friday when, at age 23, he became the youngest performer to win the Drama League Distinguished Performance Award. It’s the oldest and most exclusive theatrical honor in North America and it's awarded to a single performer from over sixty nominees from the Broadway and Off-Broadway season.
Ben Platt- Drama League
Photo by Caitlin McNaney for Broadway.com

One would think that there would be a direct line from Distinguished Performance Award to Tony Award (ya know, considering it’s given to one person a season…) but surprisingly that’s not always the case. Take a look as we go back to 1990 and see how many Distinguished Performance winners went on to win Tony Awards for that same performance, and when they didn’t, who did.

2016: Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton) 😕

Hamilton GIF- Leslie Odom Jr GIF- Lin Manuel Miranda GIF- Duel GIF

The Hamilton creator sure took home some Tony Awards in 2016, but Best Actor in a Musical went to co-star Leslie Odom Jr for his performance as Aaron Burr.

2015: Chita Rivera (Claire Zachannassian in The Visit)😕

Chris Newcomer GIF- Chita Rivera GIF- The Visit GIF

The stage icon didn’t take home a third Tony Award, but instead Kelli O’Hara took home her first for The King and I.

2014: Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch) 😀

Yup, the How I Met Your Mother star snatched wigs and a Tony for his Hedwig.

2013: Nathan Lane (Chauncey in The Nance) 😕

Nathan Lane GIF- Drag- The Nance- Broadway

Nathan’s incredible performance was recognized by the Dram League, but the Tony that year went to Tracy Letts for his performance as George in the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

2012: Audra McDonald (Bess in Porgy and Bess)😀

Girl, she won it all for Bess—that legit voice, that dress, blowing fake coke off the stage of the Richard Rodgers. How could you resist?!

2011: Mark Rylance (Johnny “Rooster” Byron in Jerusalem) 😀

The Oscar-winning Brit won his second of three Tony Awards for this epic, disturbing stage performance.

2010: Alfred Molina (Mark Rothko in Red) 😕

alfred molina Gif- red - broadway- painting gif

Alfred Molina lost the Tony that year to Denzel Washington, who picked up the award for his performance in Fences.

2009: Geoffrey Rush (King Berenger in Exit the King) 😀

Geoffrey took home Tony and the Drama League for this tour-de-force.

2008: Patti LuPone (Rose in Gypsy)😀

History will remember that Gypsy brought La LuPone her second Tony Award and her Drama League Award. #ThisTimeForMe

2007: Liev Schreiber (Barry Champlain in Talk Radio) 😕

Talk Radio GIF- Liev Schreiber GIF- Radio GIF

Live has a Tony Award but not for Talk Radio. That year, he lost to Frost/Nixon star Frank Langella.

2006: Christine Ebersole (Little Edie Beale in Grey Gardens)😐 😀

This one is tricky. She won for the off- Broadway run and won the Tony a year later for the Broadway transfer. In 2006, The Color Purple star LaChanze won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical.

2005: Norbert Leo Butz (Freddy Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)😀

That year Norbert took home some great big stuff: A Tony and a Drama League Award.

2004: Hugh Jackman (Peter Allen The Boy from Oz) 😀

They don’t call it the Hugh Jackman effect for nothing. For The Boy From Oz, Jackman swept the awards and packed the houses.

2003: Harvey Fierstein (Edna Turnblad in Hairspray) 😀

Harvey picked up his fourth Tony Award for his history-making performance as the Baltimore mom in Hairspray.

2002: Liam Neeson (John Proctor in The Crucible) 😕

The Crucible

Liam’s Proctor lost the Tony Award to Alan Bates’ Vassily Semyonitch Kuzovkin in Fortune’s Fool.

2001: Mary-Louise Parker (Catherine in Proof) and Gary Sinise (Randle P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) 😐

Photo by Joan Marcus

This one is interesting. It was a tie and only one won the Tony Award that year. Ms. Parker took home a Tony for Proof but Sinise lost to Richard Easton (The Invention of Love). Also, this is the last time a woman won for her work in a play.

2000: Eileen Heckart (Gladys Green  in The Waverly Gallery) 😕


The show never moved to Broadway and Eileen Heckart passed away the following year. The Tony in 2000 went to Jennifer Ehle for The Real Thing.

1999: Kathleen Chalfant (Vivian Bearing in Wit) 😕

Kathleen Chalfant- Wit GIF

The original production of Wit never made it to Broadway (insane!) so Judi Dench won the Tony for Amy’s View.

1998: Brian Stokes Mitchell (Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in Ragtime) 😕

Brian Stokes Mitchell GIF- Ragtime

Stokes is a Tony Award winner but that happened in 2000. In 1998, Alan Cumming won the Tony for his now iconic performance as the Emcee in Cabaret.

1997: Charles Durning (The Gin Game) and Bebe Neuwirth (Velma Kelly in Chicago) 😐

1997 Drama League

Crazy year! Not only was it a tie, but when it came time for Tony Awards, Bebe won the Tony and Charles Durning wasn't even nominated. In 1997, Christopher Plummer won for Barrymore.

1996: Uta Hagen (Mrs. Klein in Mrs. Klien) 😕

Uta Hagen GIF- Mrs Klien

The famed actress didn’t win a Tony that year because the play didn’t transfer. Zoe Caldwell won in ’96 for Master Class.

1995: Cherry Jones (Catherine Sloper in The Heiress)😀

Cherry won her first Tony Award for this performance that year.

1994: Sam Waterston (Abe Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois) 😕

Sam Waterston GIF- Abe Lincoln

Sam Waterston lost the Tony in ’94 to Stephen Spinella, who won for his performance as Prior Walter in Angels in America: Perestroika.

1993: Stephen Rea (Edward in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me) 😕


Another Angels in America star beat Stephen Rea in 1993. That year Ron Leibman won for his Roy Cohn.

1992: Glenn Close (in Paulina Salas Death and the Maiden) 😀

Death Glenn

The Sunset Boulevard headliner won her second of three Tony Awards in 1992 for this play.

1991: Stockard Channing (Ouisa in Six Degrees of Separation) 😕

Though she will be forever linked with the role (thanks to her Oscar-nominated star turn in the film adaptation), Stockard lost the Tony that year to Mercedes Ruehl and her performance as Bella Kurnitz in Lost in Yonkers.

1990: Robert Morse (Truman Capote in Tru) 😀

The Mad Men star won his first Tony for How to Succeed and his second for Tru.