Broadway just wrapped up its first season after the pandemic lockdown, and boy, was it a doozy: After all the delays, COVID surges and cast replacements, a whopping 35 new productions opened, with 15 of them bowing in April alone.
As Tony nominations loom, nominators have a lot to consider — and a number of big questions to answer before the May 9 announcement.
In addition to the obvious frontrunner, which four shows will round out the new musical category?
Even before the season officially ended, the category for new musical — the one award that consistently moves the needle at the box office — had a clear leader. That’s “A Strange Loop,” Michael R. Jackson’s critically adored, Pulitzer-anointed portrait of a Black queer man writing a musical about a Black queer man writing a musical. Although none of the season’s other new musicals seem to have the same momentum at the moment, a few titles, at least, look sure to make the cut, with nominators particularly likely to recognize the witty, exuberant pop confection “Six,” which reimagines the wives of Henry VIII as contemporary pop divas, and the delicate craftsmanship of “Girl From the North Country,” which tells a melancholy, Depression-era story with Bob Dylan tunes.
That leaves two slots to fill for a category of five (selected from an eligibility pool of nine, per Tony regulations). Best bets are Broadway’s other Michael Jackson musical, “MJ,” the dance-heavy production that will probably make the list for sheer showmanship (and despite some critics’ reservations), and “Mr. Saturday Night,” featuring the formidable talents of Tony winners Billy Crystal and Jason Robert Brown.
Which big-name actors will get a nod — and which won’t make the cut?
In a season as crowded with star names as this one, there won’t be enough acting nominations to go around. Given the lackluster response to Sam Gold’s “Macbeth” revival, Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga seem most at risk for getting left out, although many still appreciate Negga’s work in the show, singling it out as one of the production’s saving graces. Broadway favorites Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, on the other hand, seem assured to score noms for “The Music Man,” even if some in the industry think neither actor is a terribly good fit for their respective roles. Crystal, too, looks like a shoo-in, and so does Patti LuPone (“Company”). Meanwhile, Mary-Louise Parker, who earned raves for “How I Learned to Drive,” will get a nod (along with her co-star David Morse), as will Phylicia Rashad (“Skeleton Crew”) and Sarah Jessica Parker (“Plaza Suite”), while Jesse Williams (“Take Me Out”), Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne (both in “American Buffalo”) also seem to have real shots at hearing their names on Monday.
Which starry production will be left out of the musical revival race?
Only four eligible musical revivals opened this season — which, according to Tony regulations, means the race in that category could well consist of only three shows (except in the event of a near-tie on the nominations ballots). Both “Caroline, or Change” and “Company,” hailed by critics and popular with fans, are locks, which leaves the Jackman-Foster led “Music Man” and the recently opened revival of “Funny Girl” starring the much-hyped Beanie Feldstein. If one of them will be indeed be left off the list, it’s “Funny Girl” that seems to have the most trouble drumming up support, and looks most likely to miss out here.
Will the leading actress in a musical category boil down to a two-powerhouse race?
Sure, there will be five performers on the list up for lead actress in a musical, but right now, the contest looks like it’s between Sharon D. Clarke, for her volcanic turn in the title role of “Caroline, or Change,” and Joaquina Kalukango, who earned career-making raves even from the critics who gave her show, “Paradise Square,” a big thumbs-down. Among the other possible nominees, Foster (“Music Man”), Feldstein (“Funny Girl”) and Katrina Lenk (“Company”) are all in the mix, although given the mixed response to all three, one or maybe even two of those names could be left off the list. Carmen Cusack (“Flying Over Sunset”) and Mare Winningham (“Girl From the North Country”) are also often mentioned as possibilities — but unless something changes, it looks like Clarke and Kalukango are the frontrunners here.
How will nominators honor this season’s tight ensembles?
In addition to Jaquel Spivey, the young Broadway newcomer in pole position for lead actor in a musical, “A Strange Loop” features a tight, multifaceted ensemble of six performers who all give distinctive performances that also manage to interlock into a seamless whole. That’s true, too, of “Six,” in which each cast member gets equal time in the spotlight (and in which each of the six performers are eligible for lead actress in a musical). Ensemble work is also key in the well-reviewed but under-attended revival of “For Colored Girls.” But there’s no award for ensembles at the Tonys, and barring the announcement of any special trophies, “A Strange Loop’s” John-Andrew Morrison and Jason Veasey, the ensemble members who play the main character’s parents in pivotal sequences, seem most likely to nab a spot (or two) in the race for the supporting actor in a musical. The performers in “Six,” meanwhile, face a crowded field for lead actress, and it’s a toss-up which, if any, might manage to muscle into the race.
With a dozen contenders in the mix, which five new plays will vie for the top award?
The season was jam-packed with new plays, and many of them earned stamps of critical approval even if audiences didn’t respond as enthusiastically. “The Lehman Trilogy,” the epic look at the company that helped spark the 2008 recession, Tracy Letts’ dark satire “The Minutes” and Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” look like sure things, but the other two slots seems harder to predict. Docudrama “Is This A Room?” got raves; Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen” and Lynn Nottage’s “Clyde’s” each have support; and Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s well-received “Pass Over” seems worth a nod just for trailblazing Broadway’s reopening last year as the first major production to debut. That’s too many shows for too few slots. How will nominators fill out the list? The answer will come May 9.
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