Here are my preferences – not predictions – for the 2017 Tony Awards, in keeping with a tradition I’ve been maintaining for a decade. I am a critic, not a seer or a bookie. We’ll learn the choices of the Tony voters soon enough.
I also continue another annual tradition, a survey of my readers for their preferences (again, not their predictions), which at least helps gauge the nominees’ popularity.
Tony winner: Dear Evan Hansen
Poll pick: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
My pick: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
A musical of Tolstoy’s War and Peace would seem more like a punch line than a viable Broadway production, especially with such an awkward title, and no spoken dialogue. How would such a show stand out amid the thirteen new musicals of this season, the most in 35 years? But Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is a great crowd pleaser, thanks to Dave Malloy’s tuneful, eclectic score, some great performances, and, above all, its innovative stagecraft, which comes very close to translating onto a Broadway proscenium stage the kind of immersive theater that’s lately been intriguing theatergoers all over the world. Great Comet is not just an entertaining show, then; it promises to be an influential one.
Dear Evan Hansen is admittedly a more emotionally satisfying musical, and Come From Away is a feel-good show about 9/11. Both of them have developed intensely ardent fans.
Tony Winner: Oslo
Poll pick: A Doll’s House, Part 2
My pick: Sweat
Like Grapes of Wrath, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat offers a devastating look at social and economic breakdown, told not with rants or statistics, but through a riveting tale about good people in a bad situation. The characters in Sweat live in Reading, Pennsylvania, which 2010 U.S. Census data identified as the poorest city in America.
All the nominees in this category are so wonderful – well-acted, entertaining, substantive — that it’s baffling to me why Broadway audiences – and, for that matter, the Tony broadcast – give such short-shrift to straight plays. I’d like them all to win. (Wouldn’t that be great – a four-way tie!) I give the edge to Sweat in part because it grapples with some urgent issues, and because playwright Lynn Nottage has committed to working with the community in Reading.
Best Revival of a Musical
Tony Winner: Hello, Dolly!
Poll pick: Hello, Dolly!
My pick: Hello, Dolly!
I’m selecting the best of the three choices, a production that offers moments of unsurpassed entertainment, but not enough of them for me to share in the over-the-top ardor for this un-reimagined revival. And what they are charging for tickets is an outrage.
Best Revival of a Play
Tony Winner: Jitney
Poll pick: Jitney
My pick: Jitney
Jitney was the first play August Wilson wrote in his epic ten-play American Century Cycle, but the last of the ten to be produced on Broadway. The revival was superbly acted and directed. Like Sweat, Wilson’s play focuses on the lives of a group of people in a particular place, in this case a jitney station in Pittsburgh. We see them grappling with racism, poverty, and gentrification.
Best Book of a Musical
Tony winner: Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen
Come From Away
Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day The Musical
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen focuses on a lie that gets out of hand, which seems more relevant now than ever. It also offers insights into adolescent insecurity, the struggle of parenting, family dynamics, sibling resentment, the delayed effects of grief, the self-interest of altruism, and even income inequality. But Levenson manages to explore all this, and unspool what in less capable hands would feel like a fanciful plot, while keeping us emotionally engaged with the characters.
There is much affection for the feel-good Come From Away, and much admiration for Dave Malloy’s work in Natasha, Pierre …, but the book of the first is full of stock characters and the book of the second is full of lyrics (no dialogue.) That doesn’t mean there’s no book – but it’s by Tolstoy, it’s just a sliver of War and Peace, and the plot (such as it is) is not what’s best about the musical.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics)
written for the Theatre
Tony winners: Music & Lyrics: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen
Come From Away
Music & Lyrics: Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Dear Evan Hansen
Music & Lyrics: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Groundhog Day The Musical
Music & Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Music & Lyrics: Dave Malloy
My pick: Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Malloy’s songs are catchy, eclectic and inspired, with crafty lyrics that defy tradition and expectation – and they completely carry this sing-through musical.
Best Lead Actress in a Musical
Tony winner: Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Denee Benton, Great Comet
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello Dolly
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon
Poll pick: Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
My pick: Patti LuPone, War Paint
Whether or not War Paint is her last Broadway show, as she has been promising/ threatening, Patti LuPone deserves recognition for her impressive performance as cosmetics tycoon Helena Rubinstein. This veteran of 27 Broadway plays and musicals knows how to commit fully to her character; she wins over the audience not with winks or asides as her diva self but with her mastery of gesture, inflection and nuance of the come-to-life historical figure she is embodying. LuPone is always taking risks as an actress. And her voice soars.
(Yes, I know, I’m going against the inevitable tide.)
Best Lead Actor in a Musical
Tony winner: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Great Comet
David Hyde Pierce, Hello Dolly!
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Poll pick: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
My pick: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Platt is heartbreaking as an anxious high school student, his golden voice making such lovely songs as “Waving Through A Window” and “Words Fail” unbearably sad and powerful. What’s in some ways most impressive about his performance on Broadway is how much it improved from the show’s Off-Broadway run. He toned down his nervousness, fidgeting less, making his portrayal even more persuasive.
Best Lead Actress in a Play
Tony winner: Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Poll pick: Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
My pick: Laura Linney, The Little Foxes
Let’s put aside the tour de force of Linney and Cynthia Nixon switching roles on any given night in the delectable revival of The Little Foxes. The nominations are based on the roles the actresses were portraying on opening night, and Laura Linney was Regina, the malevolent heart of Lillian Hellman’s play. Linney seemed to be playing against type: An eleven-time Broadway and accomplished screen actress, Linney has, in previous roles, given off a flower child vibe (she played Mary Ann Singleton in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the Cities miniseries.) It made her portrayal of Regina all the more impressive – at times calculatedly charming, at other times sarcastic or bitter or venomous, at all times hardened steel.
I share in the wide admiration for Laurie Metcalf’s performance.
Best Lead Actor in a Play
Tony winner: Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo
Poll pick: Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
My pick: Jefferson Mays, Oslo
Jefferson Mays, celebrated for his quick-change artistry such shows as I Am My Own Wife and The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, here digs deep down into his character, a Norwegian who with his wife instigated the secret negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians. He’s shown he can be flashy. What appeals to me about his performance in Oslo is he shows he doesn’t have to be.
Shout out to Gideon Glick, who gave a standout performance as the perpetually single gay guy in Significant Other, but inexplicably was not nominated.
Best Featured Actress in a Musical
Tony winner: Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Kate Baldwin, Hello Dolly
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia
Poll pick: Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
My picks: Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen and Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia
An individual Tony voter, of course, can’t split his vote in this way. But I need to acknowledge Jones’ affecting, spot-on portrayal of Heidi Hansen, the overwhelmed single mother of an unhappy son, who has lost the strong connection she once had with her son, in part because she is too busy working in order to support both of them.
At the same time, I was taken with Mary Beth Peil, who may be a familiar face on TV (the governor’s sassy mother in The Good Wife) and on stage (her Anna in The King and I in 1985, the first of eight roles on Broadway.) But her performance as the Empress Dowager offers the sort of jolt that accompanies a new discovery. Her voice is strong, her feelings clear; she makes you weep for a Romanov, a considerably greater challenge than winning our sympathy as a single mother.
Best Featured Actor in a Musical
Tony winner: Gavin Creel, Hello Dolly
Gavin Creel, Hello Dolly
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Great Comet
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos
Poll pick: Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
My pick: Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
I suspect that my pick in this category is the least likely of all my picks actually to win a Tony, but I have to acknowledge being mesmerized by Faist’s uncompromising depiction of Connor Murphy, a teenager who is so troubled that nobody likes him. His part feels smaller than it actually is; Faist actually plays two Connor Murphy’s – the bafflingly unpleasant character that Evan Hansen encounters, and the haunting character that Evan imagines.
Best Featured Actress in a Play
Tony winner: Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
Johanna Day, Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell, A Dolls House Part 2
Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
Condola Rashad, A Dolls House Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat
Poll pick: Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
My pick: Jayne Houdyshell, A Dolls House Part 2
What an impossible category! How rude to pit these deeply talented actresses against one another.
I realize that Jayne Houdyshell won a Tony for The Humans just last year, her first in a 40-year career, but I couldn’t get enough of her quietly hilarious and completely credible performance as Anne Marie, Nora’s long-ago nanny and the surrogate mother of her abandoned children, whose life-long deference can’t completely mask her resentment.
Best Featured Actor in a Play
Tony winner: Michael Aranov, Oslo
Michael Aranov, Oslo
Danny DeVito, The Price
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney
Poll pick: Danny DeVito, The Price
My pick: John Douglas Thompson, Jitney
I consider John Douglas Thompson an insufficiently heralded national treasure. As Becker, the man in charge of the car service station that gives Jitney its name, he deals fairly and calmly with everybody with whom he comes into contact – except his son. Their explosive encounter, wrapped up in their differing notions of what it means to have dignity, is one of the most memorable scenes of the season.
Nathan Lane single-handedly carried The Front Page, Danny DeVito steals The Price, Michael Aranov and Richard Thomas each ground their respective plays with their thoroughly believable portrayals. It’s a strong category
Tony winner: Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day
Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Poll pick: Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
My pick: Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Andy Blankenbuehler, who won Tony Awards for his choreography of both In The Heights and Hamilton, seamlessly nods to 1940s popular dances like the jitterbug in coming up with some lively, inventive move. One number, “Right This Way,” is an effective and moving comment in dance on the veterans’ plight: A band member struggles to move forward, weighed down by a man leaning on each shoulder, until he takes a pill, and they gracefully fall away – the horrid memory of his fallen comrades tempered, at least temporarily, by medication.
Best Direction of a Musical
Tony winner: Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day The Musical
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!
Poll pick: Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
My pick: Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Director Rachel Chavkin is one of the two people (see set design) most responsible for the groundbreaking stagecraft of this show, which will show future creative teams how to bring century old Broadway proscenium theaters into the cutting edge of the theatrical arts. Chavkin has helped create a show in which each ensemble member gets to be the star for one section of the audience, and she coordinates the busy proceedings like a consummate ringmaster.
Best Direction of a Play
Tony winner: Rebecca Taichman, Indecent
Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, August Wilson’s Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent
Poll pick: Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2
My pick: Rebecca Taichman, Indecent
I could not feel stronger about my pick of Rebecca Taichman, although every director in this category did a terrific job. Taichman was a full-on collaborator with playwright Paula Vogel in the development of Indecent, inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance. (Taichman had written her thesis on God of Vengeance.) As with Great Comet, much of what’s most remarkable about the production is in the staging, which enhances the emotional impact of the story. Taichman was able to maintain the Off-Broadway sensibility – simple, haunting – in the transfer to Broadway.
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Tony winner: Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
David Gallo, August Wilson’s Jitney
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo
My pick: Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Hook is really the star of this odd comedy, which is about nothing so much but the inventively malfunctioning set being meticulously destroyed, piece by piece.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Tony winner: Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day The Musical
David Korins, War Paint
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
My pick: Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
There is no clearer pick in this year’s Tony Awards. More even than the director, Lien is responsible for having transformed Broadway’s staid Imperial Theater into a Russian nightclub and the feel of a downtown immersive experience. She functioned as much as an interior architect as a set designer – breaking up the stage, adding little platforms throughout the orchestra, installing ramps to the mezzanine. The “set” extends to the walls of the auditorium covered with red velvet and adorned with oil paintings , and even the entranceway, plastered with peeling posters for bands in Russian. We are simultaneously transported to 19th century Imperial Russia and 21st century Punk.
Best Costume Design of a Play
Tony winner: Jane Greenwood, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Jane Greenwood, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Leslie James, August Wilson’s Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll’s House, Part 2
My pick: Toni-Leslie James, August Wilson’s Jitney
There’s no denying the sumptuous designs in some of the other shows, but James’ costumes attain what you could consider a higher calling – they palpably evoke a specific time and place (the Hill District of Pittsburgh in the 1970s), and reveal character, with clarity and occasional hilarity. Harvey Banks as Shealy the numbers runner is dressed in one colorful now cringe worthy monochromatic 70’s disco/pimp suit after another.
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Tony winner: Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint
My pick: Catherine Zuber, War Paint
Nothing can beat those hats!
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Tony winner: Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, August Wilson’s Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll’s House, Part 2
My pick: Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
In collaboration with the director, Akerlind is responsible for establishing the mix of moods of the play, mournful and celebratory.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Tony winner: Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Howell Binkley, Come From Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen
My pick: Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
When Great Comet began at Ars Nova, the small Off-Off Broadway theater, King eschewed any traditional theatrical lighting, relying on the odd chandeliers, ordinary lightbulbs and simple table lamps that were part of the simulated Russian nightclub that set designer Mimi Lien had created. King has managed to keep that aesthetic in the show’s transfer to the much larger Imperial Theater on Broadway, and yet effectively illuminate the entire theater, including all the little stages scattered throughout, reaching even to the mezzanine. And the “natural” aesthetic makes the climactic Great Comet of the title all the more enchanting.
Tony winner: Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
My pick: Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
The actors in Bandstand portray jazz musicians, and they actually play their own instruments, but they are also backed by an unseen 13-piece orchestra. The orchestrators’ seamless integration of these separate sounds is one of those everyday magic acts that theater routinely pulls off with nary a notice. But attention should be paid.