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Tight Tony Races, Classy Contenders & Kevin Spacey Hosting = Must-See TV On Sunday Night

Deadline logo Deadline 6/9/2017 Jeremy Gerard
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The 71st annual Tony Awards are Sunday night, telecast live on CBS beginning at 8 PM New York time (delayed in CA). Even if Golden State fails to nail the NBA championship tonight, Broadway won’t be facing down b-ball, which would adjourn till Monday. So along with Saturday afternoon’s Belmont Stakes, the biggest sporting event of the weekend will be the Tonys. Why? If last year was all about Hamilton, this year is all about the most nail-biting races in recent Tony history. The outcomes in most of the biggest categories will have a direct impact not only on the $1.45 billion annual business that Broadway represents in New York, but also on what shows will be favored for appearances in local touring houses for seasons to come.

And the best part of it? The across-the-board quality of the major contenders. This is the first season in memory in which I can say that every one of the shows competing in the Final Four – best play and musical, and best play and musical revival – is worthy of the Tony. And only one – that would be Hello, Dolly! of course – is a sure thing.

Here’s a biased overview of the races:

BEST MUSICAL

Come from Away

Dear Evan Hansen

Groundhog Day

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

It was a big year for new musicals — there were 13 in all, the most in decades. Dear Evan Hansen has been the one to beat since it opened off-Broadway to rave reviews, but in the stretch, the feel-good Come From Away has narrowed the gap and it will be close. (How close is anybody’s guess, alas, since, unlike horse-racing, there’s no glory for the titles that Place and Show, which remain secret.) There is support for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, an all-American rock opera given a dazzling production, and Groundhog Day, a solid and engaging adaptation of the beloved Bill Murray comedy. But Evan will win.

BEST SCORE OF A MUSICAL

Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s lively, Irish-inflected score for Come From Away has the folksy appeal of Once. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who already snagged an Oscar (with composer Justin Hurwitz) for their lyrics to La La Land‘s “City of Stars,” produced a soaring gut-wrench of a score for Dear Evan Hansen). Both will overshadow Tim Minchin’s score for Groundhog Day, which is more than serviceable but not as good as his work on Matilda, and Dave Malloy’s ambitious but ultimately fragmented score for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Pasek and Paul will win.

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL

Same four candidates. Steven Levenson’s book for Dear Evan Hansen is a model of concision and button-pushing. Sankoff and Hein spent time in Newfoundland interviewing the people portrayed in Come From Away, adding documentary vérité to the show. Malloy loses points for turning a masterpiece of Russian literature into a soap opera, while Groundhog Day made a hash of the movie’s storytelling at some key moments. Dear Even Hansen will win, but I wouldn’t be surprised – or disappointed – by an upset for Come From Away.

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS

Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand

Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!

Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen

Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Larry Hochman pumped brassy new life into the well-known Hello, Dolly! score, and will win. But watch out for a home-stretch run by Alex Lacamoire, for his acutely sensitive rendering of the Evan Hansen songs, and Dave Malloy for tooling Great Comet, the season’s funkiest score.

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL

Falsettos

Hello, Dolly!

Miss Saigon

Hello, Dolly! will win. Falsettos was a fine revival of an important and endearing musical, while Miss Saigon is a spectacular revival of what remains a creepy, vulgar peep show.

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

Christopher Ashley, Come From Away

Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen

Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day

Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

None of these is like any of the others, so go figure. Michael Greif did deeply incisive work with Dear Evan Hansen and is long overdue a Tony for his tremendous contributions to Broadway, going back to Rent. Christopher Ashley brought shape and energy to Come From Away. And Rachel Chavkin’s transformation of Natasha, Pierre & The Great  Comet of 1812 from a hipster cabaret to Broadway spectacle is a masterpiece of engineering, craftsmanship and traffic control. Jerry Zaks will win because he assembled a first-rate production around star Midler.

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand

Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day

Kelly Devine, Come from Away

Denis Jones, Holiday Inn

Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

The great dancing in Holiday Inn is all but forgotten. Andy Blankenbuehler, last year’s winner for Hamilton, will win here again, for Bandstand, in which his direction and dancing ranked head and shoulders above the rest of this misconceived show. However, the complex constant swirl of  movement throughout the entire Imperial Theatre for Natasha, Pierre could bring a win to Sam Pinkleton.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Denée Benton, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Christine Ebersole, War Paint

Patti LuPone, War Paint

Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!

Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

It doesn’t matter whether LuPone and Ebersole split the vote for War Paint fans, or that Noblezada and Benton had brilliant Broadway debuts. This will be Bette’s night, as it should be. Perhaps she’ll sing her acceptance speech. “Together Wherever We Go,” from Gypsy, with David Hyde Pierce – wouldn’t that be something? Or how about Wynton Marsalis standing in for Satchmo on a Hello, Dolly reprise?

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Christian Borle, Falsettos

Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Andy Karl, Groundhog Day

David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!

Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Both Ben Platt and Josh Groban fueled the box office with their beyond-Broadway appeal. But Platt will win because it’s the most accomplished performance of the season, and that’s saying something. Possible upset: The wonderful David Hyde Pierce is the perfect foil for Midler and could be part of a Dolly! sweep. The whole picture, no pun intended, would have been dramatically different if Jake Gyllenhaal’s unforgettable performance in Sunday In The Park With George hadn’t become ineligible when the producers withdrew the revival from awards contention.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!

Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos

Jenn Colella, Come from Away

Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen

Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

There’s not a less-than-stellar performance in this quintet, and Jenn Colella has won fans for her big solo in Come From Away as the pilot of a jet forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But Mary Beth Peil deserves an upset for two reasons: She’s a seasoned trouper with opera pipes and wide TV appeal from The Good Wife; and while Anastasia was unloved by the nominators, producers know the show will have a long and lucrative life both on Broadway and on tour.

BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!

Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen

Andrew Rannells, Falsettos

Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Yet another race that’s tough to call. Creel is terrific in Dolly!, Broadway loves Book of Mormon (and Girls) graduate Rannells. Mike Faist brings tremendous pathos to Dear Evan Hansen and got my vote. Creel will win.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Rob Howell, Groundhog Day

David Korins, War Paint

Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

All good but nothing comes close to Mimi Lien’s dazzling transformation of the Imperial Theatre into a 19th century Moscow wonderland for Pierre, Natasha & The Great Comet of 1812. And how insane is it that the second-best set of the season – David Korins’ knockout evocation of life in the social-media lane for Dear Evan Hansen – wasn’t even nominated?

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Howell Binkley, Come from Away

Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!

Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen

Bradley King wins for Great Comet, though Japhy Weidman’s amazing work on Dear Even Hansen also deserves the Tony.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Linda Cho, Anastasia

Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Catherine Zuber, War Paint

Hello, Santo. But Paloma Young also deserves a win for the gorgeous Great Comet clothes.

BEST PLAY

A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Lucas Hnath)

Indecent (Paula Vogel)

Oslo (J.T. Rogers)

Sweat (Lynn Nottage)

Similarly, the rave reviews and electric word-of-mouth that greeted the off-Broadway debut of J.T. Rogers’ Oslo gave it the edge going into the season after it re-opened at the Tony-eligible Vivian Beaumont. And again, the competition heated up when Sweat earned playwright Lynn Nottage her second Pulitzer Prize and Lucas Hnath’s spectacularly entertaining A Doll’s House, Part 2 came from nowhere and wowed us all. I loved all of them, but for my money, none can touch the depth and emotional power of Paula Vogel’s Indecent, a stunning achievement that still haunts me. Nevertheless, Oslo will win.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY

Jitney (August Wilson)

The Little Foxes (Lillian Hellman)

Present Laughter (Noël Coward)

Six Degrees of Separation (John Guare)

One of the toughest categories, with plenty to recommend every nominee. But Jitney, staged with passion and sensitivity by Ruben Santiago-Hudson leading a flawless cast, had the added significance of bringing the last of August Wilson’s incomparable 10-play cycle to Broadway and restating the case for Wilson’s place high in the pantheon of American playwriting. It will win.

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY

Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney

Bartlett Sher, Oslo

Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes

Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

Another race among equals; just give it to all of them. This may be the place where a win for Rebecca Taichman will give the struggling but brilliant Indecent the box-office push it deserves. The race: This is one of the year’s hardest races to predict. However, Santiago-Hudson will win not only because Jitney was superb in every aspect but because he spent 11 years bringing his passion project to Broadway on his own terms.

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Cate Blanchett, The Present

Jennifer Ehle, Oslo

Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie

Laura Linney, The Little Foxes

Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2

It’s hard to know where to begin with this category; if anything, it points out the silliness of awards, period. All five performances were of the first order yet utterly different in style. Cate Blanchett was sexy and full-throttle in The Present; Sally Field unforgettable in Sam Gold’s mesmerizing re-think of The Glass Menagerie. Jennifer Ehle carries much of the emotional weight of Oslo, while Laura Linney ruled The Little Foxes as the ice-cold Regina. But Laurie Metcalf will win for an astonishing tour-de-force in A Doll’s House, Part 2, finally going home with the medallion after four nominations.

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Denis Arndt, Heisenberg

Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation

Kevin Kline, Present Laughter

Jefferson Mays, Oslo

Corey Hawkins is simply superb in the under-appreciated revival of Six Degrees of Separation, and Jefferson Mays’ masterly performance in Oslo is subtle and moving. Kevin Kline is favored to win because we love Kevin Kline and he is a star’s star.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Johanna Day, Sweat

Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes

Condola Rashad, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Michelle Wilson, Sweat

This one may just be the tightest race of all. I hated casting a vote here, because every nominee deserves the award. The incomparable Houdyshell won last year, for The Humans. I voted for Rashad, who wisely chose ice-cold over boiling-hot affect as the abandoned daughter who yields not an inch of emotional territory to Metcalf’s Nora in A Doll’s House, Part 2. But I won’t soon forget Cynthia Nixon’s heartbreakingly fragile Birdie, in The Little Foxes or the fireworks set off by Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson, in Sweat. Day will win.

BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY

Michael Aronov, Oslo

Danny DeVito, The Price

Nathan Lane, The Front Page

Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes

John Douglas Thompson, Jitney

Danny DeVito walked off with the Roundabout’s starry but inconsistent revival of The Price, and he will win. But it was Richard Thomas who had the breakout performance of the season, in Daniel Sullivan’s perfect revival of The Little Foxes for the Manhattan Theatre Club. There’s also a groundswell of support for the brilliant John Douglas Thompson, primus inter pares in Jitney.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY

David Gallo, Jitney

Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong

Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page

Michael Yeargan, Oslo

There’s a lot of love in evidence for Nigel Hook’s ramshackle, imploding set The Play That Goes Wrong, and it may take the prize, although I thought it didn’t hold a candle to similar sets for One Man, Two Guv’nors or Noises Off. Douglas Schmidt’s set for The Front Page was impressive but for the wrong reasons. Michael Yeargan’s Oslo set is the essence of simplicity and elegance, which probably doesn’t win awards. David Gallo’s set for Jitney was perfect in every detail and should win.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY

Christopher Akerlind, Indecent

Jane Cox, Jitney

Donald Holder, Oslo

Jennifer Tipton, A Doll’s House, Part 2

So much of lighting in the theater is as much about what we don’t see as what we do. Indecent and Jitney are equally deserving of the Tony. Christopher Akerlind will win for helping to make Indecent the most memorable ghost story of the year.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY

Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes

Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter

Toni-Leslie James, Jitney

David Zinn, A Doll’s House, Part 2

This will come to a showdown between the veteran Jane Greenwood, whose clothes for The Little Foxes are exquisite, and Toni-Leslie James, who helped give Jitney its authentic air of 1970s working-class African-Americana.

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