Monday, December 2, 2013

Two Great Ladies – One Great Show

Left, a portrait of Eva "Evita" Perón and right, Caroline Bowman as Eva 
in the National Tour of EVITA. Photo by Richard Termine.

EVITA was the first British show to win a Tony Award® for Best Musical. It is possible that more people today know who Eva “Evita” Perón was because of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, but how many people know who ‘Tony' was?

The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, was named after Antoinette Perry, actress, director, producer and wartime leader who co-founded the American Theatre Wing. The Tonys recognize achievement in live Broadway theater. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. 

Antoinette "Tony" Perry
Toni, as she originally spelled her nickname, scored an enviable list of hits and became one of theater’s most influential women. Well into the 1970s, she was the only woman director with a track record of Broadway hits. At the peak of her acting career, she married Frank Frueauff, vice president of Denver Gas and Electric, which he merged with Cities Service (now CITGO). Unbeknownst to Mr. Freuhauff, his wife had not put aside her passion for dabbling in theater. She invested in a production by Brock Pemberton – a comedy by Zona Gale called Miss Lulu Bett – which won the Pulitzer Prize and become a huge hit. 

Antoinette "Tony" Perry
Perry, who by then had changed the spelling of her name to Tony, continued to support the theater, including such philanthropic gestures as providing financial assistance to actors and playwrights who had fallen on rough times. In 1939 she helped to found The Wing, which operated the famed Stage Door Canteen in the basement of the (now razed) 44th Street Theatre, where stars worked as dishwashers, waiters, waitresses, and entertainers for the armed forces. The sale of film rights for a story about the canteen, and a six-figure check from Perry along with support from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, provided USO tours of shows to overseas troops. During and after the war, The Wing, under her leadership, underwrote auditions for 7,000 hopefuls. Perry was also president of the National Experimental Theatre and financed, with Actors Equity and the Dramatists Guild, the work of new playwrights. 

Perry died suddenly just short of the age of 58. Pemberton suggested the name for the award when they made their official debut at a dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947.

To learn more about Ms. Perry, please visit

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