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Predicting the 2019 Tony Award Nominations

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

‘Up in the Cheap Seats’ author Ron Fassler dishes his predictions

The Tony nominations will be announced Tuesday, April 30th and as someone who has been studying for fifty years or so, I have a few thoughts on who’s up and who’s down, who’s in and who’s out.

In terms of what kind of a season it’s been, the play’s the thing. It’s surprising, as this belies the current tourist-driven marketplace that is Broadway, which highly favors musicals. And even with a high count of eleven new musicals that have opened since last August, there were thirteen plays. That doesn’t happen very often. Of the musicals, two flopped (Getting the Band Back Together and Head Over Heels); two were poorly received by the critics, but nevertheless have proven popular enough with audiences that they are still running – I’m looking at you, King Kong and Pretty Woman – and three were well reviewed (Ain’t Too Proud, Hadestown and Tootsie). The rest received mixed notices, some good and some bad: Beetlejuice, Be More Chill, The Cher Show and The Prom.

Of the thirteen new plays, the surprise “Little-Engine-That-Could” is Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize earlier this month), which transferred to Broadway after two back-to-back Off-Broadway runs that began last October. Even though its detractors have called it a glorified Ted Talk, it’s much more than that, as its stellar reviews and audience response have proven. The Manhattan Theatre Club’s limited engagement of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy was a lovely new work from the playwright,t upon whose play the Academy Award-winning Moonlight was based. There were two excellent British imports The Ferryman (Jez Butterworth), Ink (James Graham) and the film-to-theater adaptations of To Kill a Mockingbird and Network, both of which have been setting new records for weekly grosses. Not to mention offbeat gems such as Mike Birbiglia’s one-person play The New One, the entirely fabricated play about the very real Hillary and Clinton (from the highly creative imagination of Lucas Hnath), and Taylor Mac’s thoroughly original Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus. A very rich and rewarding time for playwrights, to be sure.

‘Ain’t Too Proud’ is among the contenders for a 2019 Tony Nomination for Best Musical (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

‘Ain’t Too Proud’ is among the contenders for a 2019 Tony Nomination for Best Musical (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

So which will land the all-important Best Play and Best Musical nominations? If there are five to a category (sometimes it’s just four), I think things will play out like this:

Best Play
Choir Boy
The Ferryman
To Kill a Mockingbird
What the Constitution Means to Me

To Kill a Mockingbird
is the powerhouse here, breaking every record the Shubert Theatre’s ever had for a straight play, and it is well liked by many. But it’s an adaptation of a novel, and not a wholly original piece of work, which might make voters think twice. The Ferryman got the best reviews, with What the Constitution Means to Me a close second, but because it’s so epic, I think The Ferryman has the goods to take the prize, especially as it will most probably win Sam Mendes the Best Director Tony for his extraordinary staging.

Best Musical
Ain’t Too Proud
The Prom

Four of these are definitely going to make it to the top five, and the fifth slot could just as easily go to Be More Chill or The Cher Show over Beetlejuice, but I’m picking as it came in as the final show of the season and is fresh on voters’ minds (those that liked it, of course). Two of these titles were the best-reviewed musicals of the season, which make them the front-runners. Tootsie is a laugh-a-minute romp, based on the classic 1982 film, that may just prove irresistible to voters. It’s put the “comedy” back in “musical comedy,” which is a sharp contrast to the dramatic Hadestown, a modern rethinking of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, stunningly brought to life by a gifted creative team. As the most daring and original musical of the group, Hadestown is poised to grab the Best Score Tony, though it has a disadvantage for Best Book, since it is generally thru-sung, and Tootsie’s book is providing the kind of laughs on Broadway not heard since The Book of Mormon opened eight years ago. If such a split occurs between Hadestown and Tootsie, then we have a genuine toss-up for Best Musical.

As for the actors, there will undoubtedly be people left out, since there has been a plethora of great performances across the boards this season. Here’s where I think things will land in the leading role categories:

Best Actor (Play)
Bryan Cranston (Network)
Jeff Daniels (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Adam Driver (Burn This)
Jonny Lee Miller (Ink)
Jeremy Pope (Choir Boy)

Damn! Can this be a five-way tie? And keep in mind that it’s highly possible Paddy Considine (The Ferryman), Ethan Hawke (True West), as well as a Tony winner from last year, the formidable Nathan Lane (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus), could all find their way into this group. But the one performance that towers among them is Bryan Cranston’s Howard Beale in Network. In what should have been an impossible act to follow, he all but erases memories of Peter Finch’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1976 film. Cranston also enjoys a well-deserved high standing in the theater community, and this performance should bring him his second Tony, having already won in this same category five years ago for his portrayal of Lyndon Johnson in All the Way.

Best Actress (Play)
Annette Bening (All My Sons)
Glenda Jackson (King Lear)
Elaine May (The Waverly Gallery)
Janet McTeer (Bernardt/Hamlet)
Laurie Metcalf (Hillary and Clinton)

Like the actors, these five women are all worthy of the award (as is Heidi Schreck for the play she wrote for herself, What the Constitution Means to Me). After Glenda Jackson returned to Broadway in spectacular fashion last year in the revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women (and won the Tony), the announcement that she was returning this season to portray King Lear had people thinking she would be a shoo-in for back-to-back Tony’s. But last fall, Elaine May came back to Broadway as an actress and, at age eighty-six, has made Jackson’s taking on Lear at a mere eighty-two close to unremarkable in comparison. Even with The Waverly Gallery having already closed after its limited engagement, the memory of her performance is likely to burn bright with voters. I believe she is going to win it.

Best Actor (Musical)
Brooks Ashmanskas (The Prom)
Reeve Carney (Hadestown)
Damon Daunno (Oklahoma!)
Santino Fontana (Tootsie)
Ephraim Sykes (Ain’t Too Proud)

Alex Brightman might very well score here for his turn in Beetlejuice, as might Will Roland for his starring role in Be More Chill. As for the five actors I’m going with, there’s a near-endless supply of charm they provide in their varied roles. Ashmanskas is hilarious in The Prom; Daunno strumming his guitar throughout Oklahoma! takes your breath away with his sexy style and beautiful voice; Reeve Carney hits the highs and lows of Hadestown with enormous skill, and Ephraim Skyes is a wily, unreliable narrator as David Ruffin in Ain’t Too Proud. But Santino Fontana has the part that almost guarantees a Tony, playing both Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie. It will be a surprise if he doesn’t take home the trophy.

Best Actress (Musical)
Stephanie J. Block (The Cher Show)
Rebecca Naomi Jones (Oklahoma!)
Caitlin Kinnunen (The Prom)
Eva Noblezeda (Hadestown)
Kelli O’Hara (Kiss Me, Kate!)

This is one tough category, and I could be very wrong, what with these five picks forcing my having to leave off Samantha Barks (Pretty Woman), Beth Leavel (The Prom) and Lilli Cooper (Tootsie). That said, with two previous nominations under her belt, the sensationally talented Stephanie J. Block should finally get a much-deserved Tony for her captivating elder Cher in The Cher Show. She’s a knockout, and even with having to sharing the role with two other actresses playing Cher at different ages, Block somehow makes it all about her without any ego. It’s a magic trick for sure, and I for one will be cheering her on from my seat at Radio City Music Hall in June (full disclosure: I’ve known her for twenty years).

With only two musicals revived – and with a minimum of two required to make the category viable – there is a possibility the nominating committee may choose not to give the award at all. But if they decide to go with it, then it’s not going out on a limb to “predict” the nominees will be Oklahoma! and Kiss Me, Kate!. And even though this thoroughly new take on the 75-year-old Rodgers & Hammerstein musical has audiences somewhat divided (you either love it or hate it), it is a major rethinking, whereas Kiss Me, Kate! is a somewhat by-the-numbers revival. I don’t doubt Oklahoma! will be victorious, and I think will be nominated for its magical re-orchestrating of the score to an eight-piece bluegrass sound, that will send Daniel Kluger home with a Tony for Best Orchestrations.

There were seven play revivals, with most of them well received. That will leave two out of the running. I don’t think that the mixed reviews for Torch Song Trilogy and King Lear will allow them to sneak in, which leaves these five as the likely nominees:

Best Play (Revival)
All My Sons
The Boys in the Band
Burn This
True West
The Waverly Gallery

Even though revivals that are currently running often take this award, I don’t see it as a hindrance in taking the prize from The Waverly Gallery (one of three of these five that have already closed). The others in this category all had their detractors, save for Waverly Gallery, which received near-unanimous praise, which should provide enough horse power to take it across the finish line.

There are many more categories (sixteen, to be precise), so I’ll have to leave it here. Check my results when the nominations are announced on April 30th and if I do great, chalk it up to a keen eye and great taste. If I do badly, then I was just plain wrong.
For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in May 2019.

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