Last year, it was a foregone conclusion that “The Band’s Visit” would win the Tony Award for best musical. There was no doubt about it and no real competition.
This year could not be more different.
The highly prized Tony for best musical could conceivably go to four of the five nominated shows: “Hadestown,” “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations,” “Tootsie” or “The Prom.” Only “Beetlejuice” (which was somehow also nominated) is sure not to win.
“Hadestown,” a romance based on a tragic Greek myth, has earned the most acclaim and is currently doing great business. On the other hand, many people (not including myself) have been enjoying the musical comedies “Tootsie” (based on the 1982 film) and “The Prom” (in which narcissistic New York stage actors looking for publicity descend on a small town). Plus, “Ain’t Too Proud,” the latest bio/R&B jukebox musical, makes for slick, tuneful and pleasant entertainment — and it is selling better than “Tootsie” and “The Prom.”
In the end, I believe that “Hadestown” will prevail. It is hands down the best new Broadway musical of the year, and the possibility of an upset is undermined by the likelihood that “Tootsie,” “The Prom” and “Ain’t Too Proud” will split the votes of those who were unmoved by “Hadestown” and preferred something more upbeat.
Up until a few weeks ago, “The Ferryman,” an epic Irish family melodrama with bloody violence, dance sequences and cameos from both babies and livestock, appeared to have a lock on the award for best play. However, Heidi Schreck’s passionate one-woman show, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” has gained serious traction. Both plays have announced plans for national tours. Although an upset is possible, the popular appeal and acclaim of “The Ferryman” should allow it to prevail.
While the experimental, scaled-down revival of “Oklahoma!” has provoked extremely divisive reactions, it is still expected to win best revival of a musical over the Roundabout’s forgettable production of the musical comedy “Kiss Me, Kate” (which is about to close after a limited run).
There is no clear favorite in the race for best revival of a play, but a campaign to give the award to Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery” (which closed in January) could pay off, mostly because of affection for its star, 87-year-old Elaine May, who made her first appearance on Broadway in over 50 years. May is also expected to win Best Actress in a Play.
Songwriter Anaïs Mitchell (who debuted “Hadestown” as a concept album and meticulously redeveloped it into a stage musical) is likely to win best score over David Yazbek, who was nominated for “Tootsie” but won just last year for the superior score of “The Band’s Visit.” Robert Horn is likely to win best book of a musical for the countless one-liners in “Tootsie.”
Santino Fontana will be rewarded for his physically demanding cross-dressing efforts in “Tootsie” with best actor in a musical. Likewise, Stephanie J. Block is expected to receive best actress in a musical for leading the trio of women playing the title character in “The Cher Show.” In a way, Fontana and Block are also being recognized for their large bodies of work as musical theater actors. Neither has won a Tony Award before.
Bryan Cranston (who previously won best actor in a play as LBJ in “All the Way”) could win again for his all-out performance as newscaster Howard Beale in “Network,” but an upset by Jeff Daniels (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), Adam Driver (“Burn This”) or Paddy Considine (“The Ferryman”) is possible.
One of this year’s most noteworthy categories is best actress in a musical, which Ali Stroker is expected to win for her standout turn as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!,” which would make her the first performer in a wheelchair to win an acting award in the history of the Tony Awards. However, Amber Gray could also conceivably win for her raucous performance as the goddess Persephone in “Hadestown.”
Serving as this year’s host is James Corden. One can hope that he will add entertainment value to the award ceremony by shamelessly and enthusiastically indulging in his love of musical theater, as seen numerous times before on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”
Complete List of Predictions:
1. Best musical- “Hadestown”
2. Best play- “The Ferryman”
3. Best revival of a musical- “Oklahoma!”
4. Best revival of a play- “The Waverly Gallery”
5. Best actor in a musical- Santino Fontana (“Tootsie”)
6. Best actress in a musical- Stephanie J. Block (“The Cher Show”)
7. Best actor in a play- Bryan Cranston (“Network”)
8. Best actress in a play- Elaine May (“The Waverly Gallery”)
9. Best book of a musical- Robert Horn (“Tootsie”)
10. Best score- Anaïs Mitchell (“Hadestown”)
11. Best direction of a musical- Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”)
12. Best direction of a play- Sam Mendes (“The Ferryman”)
13. Best featured actor in a musical- Andre De Shields (“Hadestown”)
14. Best featured actress in a musical- Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!”)
15. Best featured actor in a play- Bertie Carvel (“Ink”)
16. Best featured actress in a play- Celia Keenan-Bolger (“To Kill a Mockingbird”)
17. Best choreography- Warren Carlyle (“Kiss Me, Kate”)
18. Best orchestrations- Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose (“Hadestown”)
19. Best scenic design of a musical- Rachel Hauck (“Hadestown”)
20. Best scenic design of a play- Rob Howell (“The Ferryman”)
21. Best costume design of a musical- Bob Mackie (“The Cher Show”)
22. Best costume design of a play- Ann Roth (“Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus”)
23. Best sound design of a musical- Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz (“Hadestown”)
24. Best sound design of a play- Eric Sleichim (“Network”)
25. Best lighting design of a musical- Bradley King (“Hadestown”)
26. Best lighting design of a play- Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden (“Network”)
The Tony Awards are broadcast on Sunday 8 p.m. | CBS