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Tony awards 2012: The Convergence of Old and New

June 12, 2012

On Sunday night (June 10th), Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 66th Annual Tony Awards for his third year in a row at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. In the weeks before the big night, Harris was reportedly slightly worried about seeming too “redundant” with his participation in the traditional types of big, showy musical numbers that tend to be a staple of the awards ceremony. But given his past popularity in a realm where glitz and glam might never go out of style, theater junkies across the country expected that ratings and views would still be even higher this year. An analysis with Topsy’s historical trending capabilities predicted the same result: seen below, the monthly buildup of Tony-Awards-mentions on Twitter before the 2012 ceremony shows a peak that is considerably taller than the one seen in 2011.

Twitter results from the days directly before and after awards night display the same predicted conclusion, with 2012’s total Twitter mentions much higher than 2011’s:

Don’t let all of this focus on the newness of 2012 fool you, though; this year featured quite a number of historical musicals and plays that had been recently revived, and the program also stressed the importance of the time-honored theatre tradition by having distinguished personalities as presenters.  Guests such as Christopher Plummer, Angela Lansbury, and Bernadette Peters served as a reminder of the fact that talent is timeless. In fact, the race for best musical—though required to be between new musicals—was really between one completely new storyline, Once, and one new remake of a 20-year old Disney Classic, Newsies.

Both Once and Newsies had multiple nominations, and were expected to be equally capable of winning. Newsies had slightly higher total mentions on Twitter before the show started, but as the awards night played out, it took a back seat to Once, which came out on top. Seen below is a minute-by-minute tweet volume graph generated by Twitter data from Topsy, with peaks corresponding to precisely the times awards were announced during the show:

All in all, the newer musicals received most of the attention on Twitter, as the focus of the ceremony historically tends to lie on the awards for best new musical and best new play. Still, some of the enduring classics came through with a respectable percentage of the mentions:

It seems, then, that though Twitter users have given the new works their due credit, the value in age-old classics is not all forgotten. As Christopher Plummer stated in an interview with The Associated Press, the theatre “always will come back” because “it’s lasted 2,500 years.” In that sense, Neil Patrick Harris and other theatre personalities don’t have to worry about being “redundant”: the social web has proven that the glamor of the stage will stand the test of time. As the old transitions into the new—and as the most recent hits incorporate aspects of the classics—Topsy’s unique capacity to sift through data from the social web can reflect such transitions in real-time.

Posted by jenna