On Sunday, will Broadway’s runaway hit run the trophy table?
As far as musicals go, the real nail-biter at this year’s Tony Awards ceremony is not whether Hamilton wins a bunch of prizes. Because it will. The question is whether it wins them all. Its 16 nominations, a record, could result in 13 Tonys — one more than reigning champ The Producers, which in 2001 scooped up 12 wins — including best musical, the evening’s most coveted award.
And given the hoopla surrounding Hamilton, wouldn’t a history-making sweep be a fitting capstone for a groundbreaking musical about the making of history?
I will be rooting for Hamilton to rack up the lucky 13, because it deserves them. The theater community needs to acknowledge what this work and its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, have done: made seeing this musical a national obsession, and musical theater a vital link again in American culture.
A blowout, in which Hamilton wins more than half of the prizes handed out in 24 categories, is not a done deal. Recognition by the 700-plus Tony voters for some of the exceptional talent in other Broadway shows may deny Hamilton the top spot on the all-time leader board. What follows, then, is a primer on the potential Tony returns, for musicals and others, what to look for in key races, and how history may be made.
Consider seven categories sewn up by the front-runner: best musical; best original score (Lin-Manuel Miranda); best book (Miranda, again); best direction of a musical (Thomas Kail); best performance by a featured actress in a musical (Rene Elise Goldsberry); best performance by a featured actor in a musical (Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Groff or Christopher Jackson) and best orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire).
If Hamilton falters in any of these categories, chalk it up to the madness of this year’s national election campaigns infiltrating Broadway.
Four of the down-ballot races — the three visual-design categories and the award for best choreography — may swing to other shows. One of the most hotly contested races is between Andy Blankenbuehler, who devised the almost continual movement in Hamilton, and Savion Glover, whose tap choreography is the most elevating element of director George C. Wolfe’s Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.
The costume designer par excellence for Shuffle Along, Ann Roth, could slip past the innovative Paul Tazewell of Hamilton. The set and lighting designers of the satirical American Psycho might have been stronger contenders if the musical had not closed Sunday.
Miranda’s claim on a separate record — to be the first person to win a best-actor Tony as well as the awards for book and score — is on the line in the category of best actor in a musical. Nominated for his portrayal of Alexander Hamilton, Miranda faces formidable competition from his cast mate, Leslie Odom Jr., who portrays Aaron Burr. If the Hamilton vote ends up being split between them, another candidate could glide in: Danny Burstein, for his endearing Tevye in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
Were Hamilton to waltz away with the dozen trophies in the categories above, it would still have to get past Cynthia Erivo to carry home the full basket of 13. Erivo is the British actress who is raising the rafters as Celie in the revival of The Color Purple. She anchors this admirably pared-back show — the deservedly odds-on winner, by the way, of best revival of a musical. By many accounts, the Tony for best actress in a musical is hers to lose.
Phillipa Soo, whose Eliza Schuyler in Hamilton radiates its own softer magnetism, gives Erivo a good fight. But even if the Tony voters are getting behind a Hamilton landslide, this is the contest that you would most expect to hold the musical back.
The new plays
An interesting quartet of dramas is nominated for best new play: Eclipsed, Danai Gurira’s story of women kept as concubines by a Liberian warlord; The Father, about the impact of Alzheimer’s on an elderly man, by France’s Florian Zeller; Stephen Karam’s family tragicomedy, The Humans; and Englishman Mike Bartlett’s ingenious King Charles III, a take in the style of Shakespeare on the succession to the British throne after Queen Elizabeth II.
The decision probably comes down to the two American plays, Eclipsed and The Humans. My money is on Karam’s character-driven exploration of the financial, medical and emotional pressures bearing down on a middle-class American couple, their grown children and a grandparent in the throes of dementia.
The older plays
Best revival of a play features several robust contenders. Long Day’s Journey Into Night, with Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne, is a workmanlike treatment of Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece and nowhere near as exciting as the pair of revivals directed by Ivo van Hove: Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge and The Crucible. Bridge should win for van Hove’s breathtaking achievement of stripping the play down to its rawest, most captivating elements. But the voters may choose the safer route represented by Journey.
A few other notables
In the categories covering acting in plays, my votes would go to Mark Strong in A View From the Bridge for best actor and Sophie Okonedo in The Crucible for best actress. But look to Lange (or perhaps Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipsed) and Frank Langella in The Father to ascend the podium. In the supporting contests, I’m all in for Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell, who play the struggling parents in The Humans.
The Tony Awards airs at 8 p.m. June 12 on CBS.