Tony AwardsCan You Name the 10 Trailblazing Women Who Won Tony Awards for Directing?A look back at the women directors who broke ground with their Broadway work and continue to do so today.
June 09, 2019
This year, Rachel Chavkin won her first Tony Award for her direction of Anaïs Mitchell's folk opera Hadestown, making her, remarkably, only the fourth woman to win the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical in the Tony Awards’ 73-year history.
In celebration of Chavkin’s achievement—and of her upcoming gigs (including a Moby-Dick musical with Dave Malloy and the in-development Lempicka)—we look back at the talented directors who paved the path for women in directing. These 10 women won Tony Awards for Direction of a Play or Musical—five of them winning for their Broadway debuts.
The 52nd Tony Awards were historic in two ways: a woman took home the Tony Award for Direction in both play and musical categories (Julie Taymor for The Lion King and Garry Hynes for Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane)—marking the first time a female director had won in either. Taymor earned two Tony Awards that evening: Direction of a Musical and Costume Design for The Lion King. Her work on the groundbreaking Disney musical is still celebrated today; the musical marks its 20th anniversary on Broadway this year and is now the third-longest running show in Broadway history. Prior to The Lion King, Taymor had received her two Tony Award nominations for her direction and scenic design of Juan Darien, for which she also co-wrote the book. The multi-talented theatre artist returned to Broadway with a revival of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly.
As for Hynes, since winning for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, she earned another Tony nomination for Direction of a Play the very next year, for 1999’s The Lonesome West. She also directed Sixteen Wounded in 2004 and Translations in 2007 for Broadway.The Tony-winning director continues to prove she is ahead of the theatrical curve. Hynes, who is the artistic director of the acclaimed Irish theatre company Druid, led the internationally acclaimed gender-bending DruidShakespeare, and directed a “completely multi-ethnic” production of the musical 1776 as part of the New York City Center Encores! season.
In another history-making year at the Tony Awards, The Producers broke the record for the most Tony Award wins ever. At the helm of the acclaimed musical was Susan Stroman, who took home the Tonys for both Direction of a Musical and Choreography. Though it was her first win for direction, Stroman was already a three-time Tony winner for her choreography of Crazy For You, Show Boat, and Contact. In terms of direction, she received Tony nominations in 2011 and 2014 for The Scottsboro Boys and Bullets Over Broadway, respectively. The legendary director and choreographer boasts 18 Broadway credits to her name.
Mary Zimmerman, 2002
Directors often strive to be bold, and what could be more bold than adapting and staging Ovid’s Metamorphoses—the history of the world—in a swimming pool on a Broadway stage? The woman behind this out-of-the-box idea was Mary Zimmerman, who not only made her Broadway directorial debut with the production, but also took home the Tony Award for her direction. The Chicago-based director is a MacArthur “Genius” winner with a reputation for highly original concepts and her approach of building productions from the ground up.
Anna D. Shaprio, 2008
Though she’d built up quite the reputation in Chicago already, Anna D. Shapiro burst onto the Broadway scene in 2008 with August Osage County, Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning family drama. The production marked her first Tony Award win and also launched her Broadway career—August was followed by Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf**ker with the Hat (2011), John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (2014), Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth (2014), and Larry David’s Fish in the Dark (2015).
Marianne Elliott, 2011 (and 2015)
In 2011, British director Marianne Elliott wowed American audiences with her production of War Horse (co-directed with Tom Morris), a show that marked her Broadway debut and changed the game for puppetry on the Broadway stage. In 2015, the Tony- and Olivier Award-winning director did it again with her innovative staging of Simon Stephens’ The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a kinetic and affecting adaptation of the novel of the same name that also took home the Tony Award for Best Play. Her acclaimed National Theatre staging of Angels in America won the Tony in 2018, and her gender-reversed take on the musical Company won an Olivier earlier this year.
Diane Paulus & Pam MacKinnon, 2013
It may have taken another 15 years for two women to win the both directing Tony Awards on the same night, but what a duo it was: the imaginative Diane Paulus, who won for her revival of Pippin, and Pam MacKinnon, who won for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
After directing a slew of plays Off-Broadway, MacKinnon made her Broadway debut in 2012 with Clybourne Park, followed the next season by Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She received a nomination for each, but won in 2013 for Virginia Woolf. Since her win, MacKinnon has directed Albee’s A Delicate Balance (2014), David Mamet’s China Doll (2015), Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (2015), Amélie, A New Musical (2017), and the Uma Thurman-led The Parisian Woman by Beau Willimon.
Paulus, who has been the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 2009, is currently represented on Broadway with audience favorite Waitress; and this winter, her A.R.T stage adaptation of Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the World played Manhattan Theatre Club Off-Broadway. She brings the Alanis Morissette musical Jagged Little Pillto Broadway later this season.
Rebecca Taichman, 2017
As a director, Taichman refuses to be categorized. Her career to date features an eclectic range of works—from new plays to outdoor operas. After Indecent, she directed Time and the Conways on Broadway plus two world premieres Off-Broadway: Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play at MCC Theater, and Lindsey Ferrentino’s This Flat Earth at Playwrights Horizons.
Chavkin takes this list to double digits as the tenth woman to win a Tony Award for direction, but she is only the fourth women to win Best Direction of a Musical (and while pregnant!). Her win for Hadestown was her second nomination, after Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. In her acceptance speech she said, “I wish I wasn’t the only women directing a musical on Broadway this season. There are so many women who are ready to go and so many people of color who are ready to go. This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job it is to imagine the way the world could be.” She spoke more about this in the press room after her win: “Inclusion has long been a particular passion of mine. Our field is filled with progressive people but our field is not exemplary,” she said. “It’s not a call for altruism, it’s a call for hiring people.”
See photos of the directors and their works below:
Look at the 10 Women Who Have Won Tony Awards for Best Direction