Fortunately, the musical revivals were a whole lot better than the newbies, for the most part. All three of them. One wasn’t so good, as you saw yesterday, but the other two were SO good that it almost makes up not only for the musical revivals as a whole but for the entire musical theatre season. That’s pretty f-ing incredible, and they really are. The race is a toss-up right now between the two (I really truly hope just between the two, but you never know what kind of insane shit voters can pull) and honestly I don’t know where I would send my vote if I had one (and I should have one; have you seen how many Tony voters abstain from categories because they haven’t seen them all yet? YOU HAVE ONE JOB).
At least we’re still getting the gift of great performances, as the best of the best of Broadway and beyond (I told you the best of the UK always ends up in NYC) are (mostly) giving their all 8 (mostly) times a week. Consequently, the acting races are hard to call and pretty darn stacked, so despite the lackluster season, the actual Tony Awards promise to be more exciting than in recent years, when gigantic hits were guaranteed certain awards. Let’s talk it through, team! MY choices are bold; my predictions are in the text (I want the impossible sometimes so the two don't match up.)
- The Band’s Visit
- Mean Girls
- Spongebob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical
Sure I haven’t published reviews for all of them yet but the only one you really need to read is “The Band’s Visit”. Even in a better year, it stands out as a very special show, a show that’s definitively for adults and doesn’t try to pad its story, instead believing that purity of emotion, honest experiences, and connections between regular people are enough. And the score is gorgeous, funny, moving, all the things you want in a musical, yet it also sounds new and different from anything we’ve heard before. It’s a master work and deserves to win big on Sunday.
The worst part about this awards season, though, is that everything is a matter of timing. Last season was absolutely overflowing with quality productions, and it was so full that great shows barely garnered any award nominations because there was simply no room, and then they barely won any awards against the “Dear Evan Hansen” behemoth. This year, with “The Band’s Visit” really the only great show in the mix, so many of last year’s incredible shows could have gotten the acclaim they deserve. I’m thinking of “Bandstand”, which in a less crowded year would have racked up deserved nominations in most categories; I’m thinking of “Groundhog Day” which could have finally won Andy Karl a Tony; and even my beloved “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812”, which had so many nominations, could have won more in this weak season. Nevertheless, “The Band’s Visit” is winning Best Musical this year, and deservedly so. If anything else happens on Sunday, the entire audience should walk out in protest. Not that anyone should care about silly awards, but come on everyone does.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
- My Fair Lady
- Once on This Island
This is the hardest category for me to choose just one. As we've discussed, "Carousel" was disappointing, but the other two revivals this season were extraordinary. "My Fair Lady" and "Once on This Island" were both exquisite, magical productions that I feel lucky to have seen. Honestly they were two of the best productions I've seen, ever, in any season, and so it's just too bad that only one can win the Tony. MFL was as great a production of the familiar, beloved property that anyone could wish for, with every inch of it lush and gorgeous and riveting. OOTI is a less well known show but this production makes it seem like one of the classics, with incredible music and a heart that thumps so loudly and vividly that you can almost see it. When two shows are this perfect (104% perfect, as is the limit), it's hard to choose between them, but when forced I will choose the one that is perfect but also reinvents the show to such an extent as to make it seem new and more exciting than ever, and that is "Once on This Island".
- Angels in America
- The Band’s Visit
- Mean Girls
- Spongebob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical
You always know something is wrong when a play sneaks into this category. Not to knock the ‘Angels’ score, but no matter how great a play’s music is, it’s still not part of the story like a musical’s is, so if there were good enough musicals this year, they would be in here for their score. It shows how weak this season’s musicals are. And in any other season (see above about last season), “Mean Girls” would not be in there, as its trite, stale score is universally considered its weakest aspect, and “Frozen” would barely be squeaking by since it has to be considered on the merits of its new material, and not just “Let it Go”. “Spongebob” does have some clever, fun songs, but overall it feels disjointed, more like single units instead of a whole, which makes complete sense considering different artists wrote each song – there’s no cohesion. (The incredibly long list of artists involved in the score and thus nominated for a Tony just feels wrong, too, but it will be fun to hear whoever’s presenting this category. They’ll need a glass of water to get through it.) Regardless, “The Band’s Visit” must win this one for its elegant, inventive, beautiful music, which plays with different cultural elements to create a score that will historically be considered one of the greats. If there was a Best Song category, it would be winning for the stunning “Omar Sharif”, but even without that epic number this score is still sensational.
- The Band’s Visit
- Mean Girls
- Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical
This category is giving me agita like I never had before. That’s not even a little bit true; I get it all the time because I feel so many things *shakes fist* but this is the most culpable Tony category. It’s a race between “Mean Girls” and “The Band’s Visit”, but it’s not even a race because there is no surer thing that Tina Fey’s imminent Tony win. People REALLY don’t understand what a musical’s book is. It’s everything – the words that aren’t sung, sure, but it’s the story, it’s the structure, it’s how the story is formed with the songs. That’s why “Hamilton” deservedly won best book even though the whole shebang is sung-through. Yet since “Mean Girls” delivers Fey’s undeniably amazing jokes, people think ‘oh I’m laughing I’m having fun this book must be amazing.’ But it’s not. Every critic complained about how bloated the show was – an hour too long at least, stretched beyond what it should have been and thus padded with too much unnecessary crap. That’s by definition a problem with the book (for one). On the other hand, “The Band’s Visit” is clean, concise, and graceful, with every moment supporting the central theme. Itamar Moses should win, but won’t. Tina Fey is going to be a Tony winner. I mean I love her, but come on.
- Lauren Ambrose, “My Fair Lady”
- Hailey Kilgore, “Once on This Island”
- LaChanze, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”
- Katrina Lenk, “The Band’s Visit”
- Taylor Louderman, "Mean Girls"
- Jessie Mueller, "Carousel"
Look at this utter shitshow of a category. SIX NOMINEES?? In this season? Nnnnno. It’s the result of a near-tie occurring in the nominating process, but still, this is a joke, especially since the men have only four. The ones that matter (to me) are Ambrose, Kilgore, and Lenk. Kilgore gives a fantastic Broadway debut, but for me it’s between Ambrose and Lenk, giving two stunning, wildly different performances that are each so phenomenal, so worthy that honestly I don’t know who I would vote for. This is the one time where I really want a tie, and considering there was a tie in the nominating, maybe there will be a tie in the winning! Just kidding; there won’t be – this is Lenk’s, and I’m thrilled for her, but I wish Ambrose was being discussed as clearly the runner-up and none of this other nonsense. But I mean, Julie Andrews didn’t even win for Eliza, so I guess it’s not the saddest thing ever that Ambrose won’t have a Tony for her portrayal either. And there’s really no reason to be sad as long as the goddess Katrina Lenk does indeed become a Tony winner. She is magical in this role, mesmerizing, graceful, magical, and her performance in my view is the story of the season.
BEST LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
- Harry Hadden-Paton, “My Fair Lady”
- Joshua Henry, “Carousel”
- Ethan Slater, “Spongebob Squarepants”
- Tony Shalhoub, “The Band’s Visit”
This category is also ridiculous because of math – there are four nominees because there weren’t enough eligible performers to make it five. But even so, this category is the hardest to call because all four are deserving. Honestly I won’t be surprised nor unhappy with any of these men winning. I would be voting for Harry Hadden-Paton and I would make sure all my Tony voter friends did the smart thing and voted for him too. His Henry Higgins established a new benchmark for that celebrated role, just beyond anyone’s dreams of what this Broadway newbie would do. But I also loved Shalhoub, and even though he barely sings in the show, his acting is part of what elevates the story to such heights. He deserves it too. Although I wasn’t a fan of “Carousel” (to put it mildly) and I thought Henry was miscast as Billy Bigelow, his Soliloquy was irrefutably profound and fantastically sung, and it’s not hard to predict that many voters will be thinking of that scene when voting. Also, he’s a beloved long-time performer in the community who many believe is due for a Tony. And then there’s Spongebob himself, who is actually considered the frontrunner. Slater works incredibly hard for 2 ½ hours, belting his face off, jumping all around the sets, dancing, laughing, man it’s exhausting to watch how hard he works. It’s also his Broadway debut and people love to reward debuts like this. Anyone can win and it won’t be surprising, but I think it’s beyond Spongebob and Monk, and so I’ll be over here doing rain dances for HHP.
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
- Ariana DeBose, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”
- Renee Fleming, “Carousel”
- Lindsay Mendez, “Carousel”
- Ashley Park, “Mean Girls”
- Diana Rigg, “My Fair Lady”
This is another headscratcher of a category, considering nooooo one thought “Summer” was going to get any nominations, “Mean Girls” is brimming with worthy featured actress performances and Park’s was the one least predicted to get nominated, and Diana Rigg has like 5 lines in “My Fair Lady”. It’s a weird category. And the front-runner seems to be for the role and not the performer – that of Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel”. The person in that part, Lindsay Mendez (who was out when I saw the show I’m not mad or anything), will probably win on Sunday. Even though I’m sure she’s amazing, her role was also predicted to win a Tony for the woman first cast in the role, Betsy Wolfe, as soon as she was announced (she had to leave the production for scheduling conflicts and so Mendez came in). I think Carrie is such a meaty, incredible role, especially compared to the smaller-than-you-recall ‘leading’ role of Julie, that it doesn’t matter who plays her, they will win a Tony. Betsy would have won, Audra won in the last revival, and Lindsay will win. As long as the actress does a good job, the role will seal a Tony deal. Of course, her competition is freaking Renee Fleming, who is fantastic in the role and performed in the performance I saw, so I’d vote for her. Loves me some Fleming! However, Ashley Park is having a banner year with her acclaimed role in off-Broadway’s K-POP, and she could ride that wave of good will to a win. My real choice here is the very much snubbed Kenita R. Miller from "Once on This Island", who took a small, usually forgotten role and made it the beating heart and moving soul of a celebrated production.
BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
- Norbert Leo Butz, “My Fair Lady”
- Alexander Gemignani, “Carousel”
- Grey Henson, “Mean Girls”
- Gavin Lee, “Spongebob SquarePants”
- Ari’el Stachel, “The Band’s Visit”
This is another big toss-up category, as three of these nominees could win and it would be deserved and unsurprising – Norbs, Gavin, and Ari’el. Norbert is always wonderful, and his work in “My Fair Lady” is fantastic. He would be deserving of a third Tony win for his exuberant, pitch-perfect turn as Alfred Doolittle even though he is not much older than his stage daughter, Lauren Ambrose. But voters do like to spread the wealth, and Gavin Lee is the clear showstopper in “Spongebob”. Not only does he perform the whole show with four legs, but he is given the best scene in the entire show with his extravagant 4-legged tap dance number. (You don’t have Gavin in a show without an extravagant tap dance number.) But Ari’el is the one to beat for his charismatic, captivating debut as Haled in “The Band’s Visit”, where he loves Chet Baker and, well, love in general. I’d be thrilled for him to win.
As for the other two, the nomination is the honor for Grey, who gets to say the best line in “Mean Girls” (“Danny DeVito I love your work!”), and the super surprise honor for Gemignani, who was not predicted to be nominated for his small (but charming and well done) role in "Carousel". But honestly, this category is the most messed up for how many deserving actors were squeezed out of this final list, especially Alex Newell, a showstopper in “Once on This Island” who was predicted to not only be nominated but to have a strong shot at a win. I also wanted his castmate Phillip Boykin to be nominated for his extraordinary work. Alas. After seeing "My Fair Lady", I'm disappointed that Jordan Donica didn't get a nomination for his beautiful, lovable turn as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, aka the man who sings "On the Street Where You Live" and gives one of the best versions I've heard. But the most upsetting exclusion from this list is the likely winner's cast mate and the man who would have been my choice to win: John Cariani from "The Band's Visit", whose Itzik comes across as fun and silly at first but it hides a broken heart that will break yours by the end of the show. He's fantastic in the show and his exclusion is the worst snub here.
- Michael Arden, “Once on This Island”
- David Cromer, “The Band’s Visit”
- Tina Landau, “Spongebob SquarePants”
- Casey Nicholaw, “Mean Girls”
- Barlett Sher, “My Fair Lady”
This is another category where anyone (except Casey, sorries) would be a deserving winner. Bartlett Sher’s production is pitch perfect, like truly and absolutely flawless. Tina Landau does incredible things to make “Spongebob” pop to life and is a viable contender for the clever staging she produced. David Cromer would be a deserving winner for the faultless, tight-as-a-drum “The Band’s Visit”, where every moment is meaningful, no matter how small. But my vote would go to Michael Arden, who has transformed a show we thought we knew into something new and magical and unexpected. His revival is as perfect as Sher’s, but with the added element of reinvention of the known property, which should secure a win for him. However, I think voters may actually wish to reward “Spongebob” here.
As for plays, I only saw “Three Tall Women” and “Farinelli and the King”. The latter is a perfectly decent show, with a great performance by Mark Rylance, but it doesn’t stand a chance against the force of nature “Harry Potter” in the new play categories. As for the former, it's one of the most incredible plays I’ve ever seen, with performances that keep me up at night for their majesty, from Glenda Jackson (who will best Best Actress in a Play) and Laurie Metcalf, whose Tony win last year I’ll pretend is for this year too. This play would also rightly win for Scenic Design if it wasn’t for Harry Potter, because what they did with that magic plexiglass/mirror contraption in Act II still takes my breath away to think about. It was a real feat of stage-making and I can’t wait to talk about it more soon in my review. For revivals, “Angels in America” will win whatever it can because who can say no to 8 hours about men dying from AIDS??? Their predicted sweep includes a Best Actor win for Andrew Garfield, which I’m happy about because Emma Stone won an Oscar and I felt a bit bad for him since their break-up.
So, to quote Forrest, that's all I gotta say about that. Haha that's the biggest lie I ever told; I could talk about this for WEEKS ON END but I think you've read enough. Make sure to watch the Tony Awards this Sunday on CBS! How can you not be counting down the minutes until MY BOY JOSHY G (Josh Groban of course) begins his host duties?! I'm so excited for him and Sara Bareilles and I hope they do well. Remember, we are all winners as long as no one does a medley. MEDLEYS NEVER WORK.