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Tony Awards Watch: Predicting the 2019 Tony Award Winners

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

‘Up in the Cheap Seats’ author Ron Fassler predicts all 26 winners

The upcoming Tony Awards are quickly approaching, as the ceremony will take place on the evening of Sunday, June 9th. As I have for the past two years, I will be attending the ceremony at the fabled Radio City Music Hall, then it’s off to the always-memorable afterparty at the Plaza Hotel.

As for the Tonys themselves, I have been more than slightly obsessed ever since I watched the very first national broadcast on March 26, 1967. This ten-year-old was all hyped up, as I had a rooting interest in that year’s ceremony. My then-favorite actor, Robert Preston, was nominated for his performance in I Do! I Do!, which he starred in opposite Mary Martin (he won, she didn’t). Little did I know at the time that only a few months later, I would be taken by my Aunt to see this one-of-a-kind, two-character musical, which became my first Broadway show, and thus beginning a lifetime of theater attendance that is 52 years young, and still going strong.

Tony Nominees Stephanie J. Block (‘The Cher Show’), Bryan Cranston (‘Network’) and Andre De Shields (‘Hadestown’) (Photos: Joan Marcus; Jan Versweyveld; Matthew Murphy)

Tony Nominees Stephanie J. Block (‘The Cher Show’), Bryan Cranston (‘Network’) and Andre De Shields (‘Hadestown’) (Photos: Joan Marcus; Jan Versweyveld; Matthew Murphy)

Having seen just about all the shows nominated this season, and conferred with a number of colleagues and voters about who they are supporting, here are my thoughts about what might happen when the votes are counted, and the envelopes are opened Sunday night:

Best Play
Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney
The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus by Taylor Mac
Ink by James Graham
What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck

This really boils down to the two best-reviewed plays of the season: The Ferryman and What the Constitution Means to Me, each entirely different in concept, cast size and themes. One is epic, one is intimate. One is entirely fictional and by a Brit (with Irish characters) and one is by an American and is autobiographical. Constitution captures a moment in the zeitgeist and couldn’t be timelier, while Ferryman is good old-fashioned storytelling that leaves audiences breathless at the end of its three hour-plus running time. Prediction: Ferryman prevails, but I won’t be as surprised as some others if Constitution pulls out a win.

Best Musical
Ain't Too Proud
The Prom

Personal prejudice here, as I consider Hadestown heads and shoulders above all others in this category. It has the best score hands down, the best direction and the best ensemble (not to diminish the fine work done in some of these other shows). But Hadestown is in a class by itself. The physical production is arresting, the cast unbeatable, and the onstage band is out of this world. What more do you want in a musical? That being said, Tootsie has its admirers, as do the other three: Beetlejuice, Ain’t Too Proud and The Prom. But if one of these is going to upset the front runner, look to The Prom to seemingly come out of nowhere, just as it did the other night at the Drama Desk Awards, where it took home Best Musical.

Best Revival of a Musical
Kiss Me, Kate!
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!

With only two nominees in this category (the only two musical revivals all season), I have a 50-50 shot at getting this right. Trust me: it will be Oklahoma!, in spite of it not being everybody’s cup of tea. Many love it, many hate it, but there’s no denying that it went for broke and tried something entirely new and different. Kiss Me, Kate! on the other hand, played it safe, and that’s really not what wins awards these days.

Best Revival of a Play
All My Sons by Arthur Miller
The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley
Burn This by Lanford Wilson
Torch Song by Harvey Fierstein
The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan

You might think that since three of these shows were in limited engagements and already closed, that they are at a disadvantage, but this is not so. This award has been given four times in the last seven years to shuttered shows. And like the Best Play category, the best-reviewed productions here have the best chance, which brings it down to All My Sons, Boys in the Band and Waverly Gallery. And what with the Tony’s new decision that both the producer AND the playwright will receive this award, there might be many voters who will want to honor Mart Crowley with a personal Tony for his landmark 1968 off-Broadway play, only receiving its first Broadway production with this revival. The prospect of seeing the eighty-three year-old Mr. Crowley take to the stage and make a speech could be just be the ticket. Though Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery had the better production, sentiment may just carry The Boys in the Band, with its all-gay, all-out cast (a first for Broadway) to squeeze out the victory.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Brooks Ashmanskas (The Prom)
Derrick Baskin (Ain't Too Proud)
Alex Brightman (Beetlejuice)
Damon Daunno (Oklahoma!)
Santino Fontana (Tootsie)

This is a lovely group of actors, but Santino Fontana had the most challenging role in recreating an iconic performance (see: Bryan Cranston) and succeeding admirably. That said, if Off-Broadway performances were eligible for Tony Awards, my vote would go to Steven Skybell for his exceptional Tevye in the Yiddish-speaking revival of Fiddler on the Roof, currently playing at Stage 42.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Stephanie J. Block, (The Cher Show)
Caitlin Kinnunen (The Prom)
Beth Leavel (The Prom)
Eva Noblezada (Hadestown)
Kelli O'Hara (Kiss Me, Kate!)

Another sensational group here, all deserving of recognition. But it’s time to honor Stephanie J. Block, always the best thing in every show she’s in. Her work as Cher is a marvel. The award is hers.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Paddy Considine (The Ferryman)
Bryan Cranston (Network)
Jeff Daniels (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Adam Driver (Burn This)
Jeremy Pope (Choir Boy)

Again, I’m a fan of all these performances, but Bryan Cranston was under extraordinary pressure to drive this stage version of the 1977 film Network, and he does so with enormous craft and emotional skill. Even though he won five years ago in this same category for his portrayal of Lyndon Johnson in All the Way, it will be no impediment for him to triumph once again.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Annette Bening (All My Sons)
Laura Donnelly (The Ferryman)
Elaine May (The Waverly Gallery)
Janet McTeer (Bernhardt/Hamlet)
Laurie Metcalf (Hillary and Clinton)
Heidi Schreck (What the Constitution Means to Me)

When there is a tie, Tony rules allow for six to be nominated in a given category, hence the plethora of leading ladies here (and even with that, there still wasn’t room for Glenda Jackson starring turn in King Lear). To my mind, this is Elaine May’s award, as she not only gave a deeply detailed and riveting performance, but was also doing it at age 86 after not having appeared on a Broadway stage since her debut in 1960. A beloved actress/writer/director, when her name is called out, this will be one of the night’s well-deserved standing ovations.

Best Book of a Musical
Dominique Morisseau (Ain't Too Proud)
Scott Brown and Anthony King (Beetlejuice)
Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown)
Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin (The Prom)
Robert Horn (Tootsie)

The money is on Tootsie, as Robert Horn did a masterful job of avoiding reusing the classic lines from the original 1982 screenplay the musical is based upon, opting instead to create his own jokes. That takes talent (and guts), and since Tootsie is wildly funny, he may well be rewarded for the effort. However, watch out for The Prom, as its sometimes silly but often poignant storyline speaks to issues the theatre community cares passionately about.

Best Original Score
Joe Iconis (Be More Chill)
Eddie Perfect (Beetlejuice)
Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown)
Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Prom)
Adam Guetel (To Kill a Mockingbird)
David Yazbek (Tootsie)

Another category with six nominees (including one for Adam Guettel’s compositions for the non-musical To Kill a Mockingbird), but as I’ve already mentioned, Hadestown, with its mix of jazz, gospel, blues and Broadway styles, will be the winner.

Best Direction of a Musical
Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown)
Scott Ellis (Tootsie)
Daniel Fish (Oklahoma!)
Des McAnuff (Ain't Too Proud)
Casey Nicholaw (The Prom)

Rachel Chavkin’s imaginative and brilliant staging of Hadestown will be the winner.

Best Direction of a Play
Rupert Goold (Ink)
Sam Mendes, (The Ferryman)
Bartlett Sher (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Ivo van Hove (Network)
George C. Wolfe (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus)

In a lifetime of theatergoing, I have rarely seen a play as effortlessly and beautifully directed as The Ferryman. And with the recent Off-Broadway run of The Lehman Trilogy fresh in the minds of anyone lucky enough to catch one of its thirty-two performances at the Park Avenue Armory, this Mendes is most definitely going home with his first Tony for Directing.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
André De Shields (Hadestown)
Andy Grotelueschen (Tootsie)
Patrick Page (Hadestown)
Jeremy Pope (Ain't Too Proud)
Ephraim Sykes (Ain't Too Proud)

Another terrific group of performers, with four actors competing from the casts of the same two musicals (Hadestown and Ain’t Too Proud). Though you might that think would pave the way for Andy Grotelueschen’s hilarious performance in Tootsie to slip in, I don’t think that the seventy-three-year-old André De Shields will be denied what would be a career Tony. Besides the fact he’s simply wonderful in Hadestown, this actor created the title role in The Wiz, 1975’s Best Musical winner, in addition to being part of the original quintet of 1977’s Best Musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. ‘Nuff said.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Lilli Cooper (Tootsie)
Amber Gray (Hadestown)
Sarah Stiles (Tootsie)
Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!)
Mary Testa (Oklahoma!)

One of the tightest categories of the evening, and like Featured Actor in a Musical, it also features four actors competing from the casts of the same two musicals (Tootsie and Oklahoma!). I would love to see Ali Stroker win for her delightful Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, but Amber Gray stuns in Hadestown with more stage time than almost any of the other nominees, which is what I think will tip the award in her favor.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Bertie Carvel (Ink)

Robin De Jesús (The Boys in the Band)
Gideon Glick (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Brandon Uranowitz (Burn This)
Benjamin Walker (All My Sons)

I’m feeling that Bertie Carvel (who won the Olivier Award in this same category in the original London production of Ink) will win out this time as well for his highly original take on playing Rupert Murdoch. There are also many voters who may still fondly recall his Mrs. Trumbull in Matilda six years ago, and who might want to make up for his going home empty-handed that night (it went to Billy Porter for Kinky Boots).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Fionnula Flanagan (The Ferryman)
Celia Keenan-Bolger (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Kristine Nielsen (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus)
Julie White (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus)
Ruth Wilson (King Lear)

I was held spellbound by Fionnula Flanagan’s lengthy monologue that opens Act II of The Ferryman, and thought what Julie White did with her limited stage time in Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus was as bold and outrageously funny as anything I’ve ever seen. But Celia Keenan-Bolger (at an advantage of playing a leading role in a featured category) will win for her ageless Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Best Choreography
Camille A. Brown (Choir Boy)
Warren Carlyle (Kiss Me, Kate!)
Denis Jones (Tootsie)
David Neumann (Hadestown)
Sergio Trujillo (Ain't Too Proud)

There seems to be a lot of support for Warren Carlyle’s work in Kiss Me, Kate!, which would essentially reward him for one number: the explosive “Too Darn Hot,” which opens Act II. But I don’t see how Sergio Trujillo’s wall-to-wall choreography for Ain’t Too Proud can be denied (and this might be a nice spot for voters who like the show to give it something).

Best Orchestrations
Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose (Hadestown)

Larry Hochman (Kiss Me, Kate!)
Daniel Kluger (Oklahoma!)
Simon Hale (Tootsie)
Harold Wheeler (Ain't Too Proud)

A difficult category to predict as the work here among the top three candidates Hadestown, Oklahoma! and Ain’t Too Proud offered significant challenges. The complete re-orchestration for Oklahoma!, which utilizes a tantalizing bluegrass sound, is skillful beyond all expectations, while Ain’t Too Proud’s arrangements back up The Temptations’ familiar tunes with seamless ability. But perhaps it’s the onstage musicians of Hadestown, each praised by name at the beginning of Act II, which may prove too special to ignore (which is why I’m giving it the slightest of edges to eke out a win).

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Robert Brill and Peter Nigrini (Ain't Too Proud)\
Peter England (King Kong)
Rachel Hauck (Hadestown)
Laura Jellinek (Oklahoma!)
David Korins (Beetlejuice)

It feels like this one is David Korins’ to lose for the spectacular sets he came up with for Beetlejuice (although I sure loved what Rachel Hauck did for the environs of Hadestown).

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Miriam Buether (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Bunny Christie (Ink)
Rob Howell (The Ferryman)
Santo Loquasto (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus)
Jan Versweyveld (Network)

Though I liked all of these sets enormously, I think that Rob Howell’s achievement with The Ferryman, making the set both realistic and theatrical at the same time, is the standout. It’s almost as if the set created another character among the cast of more than twenty (including the baby, the goose and the rabbit).

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Michael Krass (Hadestown)
William Ivey Long (Beetlejuice)
William Ivey Long (Tootsie)
Bob Mackie (The Cher Show)
Paul Tazewell (Ain't Too Proud)

Recreating a trove of the designs he first began sculpting for Cher decades ago, Bob Mackie will most definitely win for the 683 costumes on display in The Cher Show.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Rob Howell (The Ferryman)
Toni-Leslie James (Bernhardt/Hamlet)
Clint Ramos (Torch Song)
Ann Roth (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus)
Ann Roth (To Kill a Mockingbird)

I can’t explain why, but my feeling is that Ann Roth will win for the period clothing she designed for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Peter Hylenski (Beetlejuice)
Peter Hylenski (King Kong)
Steve Canyon Kennedy (Ain't Too Proud)
Drew Levy (Oklahoma!)
Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz (Hadestown)

I wish I was a better judge of what constitutes Best Sound (and I think most Tony voters wish they were, too). It’s a difficult thing for someone who isn’t an expert in this area to predict, though I would look to Hadestown, with its onstage band and deft singers, to take the Tony.

Best Sound Design of a Play
Adam Cork (Ink)
Scott Lehrer (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Fitz Patton (Choir Boy)
Nick Powell (The Ferryman)
Eric Sleichim (Network)

Network, with its high-tech, multimedia design should win.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kevin Adams (The Cher Show)
Howell Binkley (Ain't Too Proud)
Bradley King (Hadestown)
Peter Mumford (King Kong)
Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini (Beetlejuice)

Alongside Korins’ creativity on display in Beetlejuice, Posner and Nigrini’s lighting design will line up nicely for voters.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin (Ink)
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus)
Peter Mumford (The Ferryman)
Jennifer Tipton (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden (Network)

As with Best Lighting for a Musical, I think the winner of Best Scenic Design will match the winner of Best Lighting Design of Play, meaning this is The Ferryman’s award.

Phew. That’s it. All twenty-six categories. I’m outta here (mic drop).

For more of the best of Broadway this awards season, check out the best deals on this year’s Tony-Nominated shows.

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