Despite the 2017-2018 season being the highest-grossing and most-attended in Broadway history, the last 12 months in theatre have been somewhat disappointing. Unlike 2015, which brought us Hamilton, and 2016, which featured both Dear Evan Hansen and an impressive lot of stage plays (Oslo and A Doll’s House, Part 2 among them), the most exciting shows to hit Broadway this past year were almost exclusively revivals (Angels in America, Once on This Island) and adaptations of cultural phenomena from the early 2000s (SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).
The upside to the down year? A potentially more competitive Tony awards, where Mean Girls and SpongeBob Squarepants lead the field with 12 nominations each.
In a year of few surefire locks, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child happens to be one of them. Very little stands in the way of a victory for the two-part epic, which made a killing on London’s West End and broke sales records in its first week on Broadway despite requiring of theatergoers Annie Baker-levels of patience. Smartly conceived, thoroughly entertaining and exceptionally acted, Potter should fend off worthy competition from Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children, an eerie, postapocalyptic drama about environmental disaster, and Latin History for Morons, John Leguizamo’s funny and fresh one-man show about the country’s collective erasure of Latin Americans from the history books.
Should win: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Will win: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The only just outcome here is a win for The Band’s Visit, a musical eons more impressive than fellow nominees Mean Girls, Frozen and SpongeBob SquarePants. Based on a 2007 Israeli film of the same name, The Band’s Visit finds the Egyptian members of a ceremonial police orchestra in the barren Israeli town of Bet Hatikva, where they’ve mistakenly ventured for a show that was meant to take place in the phonetically similar Petah Tikva. Unlike Oslo, which last year won the Tony for best play, The Band’s Visit opts out of explicitly addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict in favor of a more sentimental approach, combining the plotlessness and wry humor of the film with the virtues of the stage. Plus, in the last few weeks, it’s emphatically pulled ahead of the competition.
Should win: The Band’s Visit
Will win: The Band’s Visit
Best revival of a musical
No show this season is more vivid or experiential than Michael Arden’s revival of the 1990 classic Once on This Island, a delightful, sensory one-act staged in-the-round at Broadway’s Circle in the Square theatre. Based on a novel by the Trinidadian author Rosa Guy, Once on This Island features stellar performances, not to mention vocal acrobatics, from Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore and Lea Salonga. But expect the American Theatre Wing to honor Carousel, if only for its rightful place atop the theatrical canon and the fact that Rodgers and Hammerstein revivals have won this award five times in the last 24 years.
Should win: Once on This Island
Will win: Carousel
Best revival of a play
Any other year, revivals like Three Tall Women and The Iceman Cometh would be in pole position for a win. But this is the year of Angels in America, which made a timely return to New York City 25 years after its Broadway debut. Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield are reliably outstanding as Roy Cohn and Prior Walter, but Marianne Elliott deserves kudos for managing to imaginatively direct Tony Kushner’s Reagan-era tour de force, which is as witty, profound and urgent as ever.
Should win: Angels in America
Will win: Angels in America
Best book of a musical
The best thing about Mean Girls the musical was Tiny Fey’s snarky book, which channels the hilarious viciousness of the original film better than the musical’s songs or its noisy staging. More deserving, though, is Itamar Moses’ book for The Band’s Visit, an overall superior and more unconventional work whose characters have depth and more to say.
Should win: The Band’s Visit
Will win: Mean Girls
Best musical score
If Angels in America is going to lose something on Sunday night, it’ll be best musical score, since it’s up against actual musicals The Band’s Visit, SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls and Frozen. Barring a shock victory for Mean Girls or SpongeBob, which boasts a musical potpourri of contributors including Cyndi Lauper, Steven Tyler, John Legend and Sara Bareilles, The Band’s Visit’s David Yazbek will prevail.
Should win: The Band’s Visit
Will win: The Band’s Visit
Best actor (play)
The race for best actor in a play is perhaps the most competitive category this year, with Andrew Garfield taking on Denzel Washington (The Iceman Cometh), Mark Rylance (Farinelli and the King), Jamie Parker (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and Tom Hollander (Travesties). While none of these performances are anything less than spectacular, what Garfield does as the diseased prophet Prior Walter – writhing around the stage in pain one moment, and doing his best wise-cracking queen the next – is the most dynamic and demanding of the five.
Should win: Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Will win: Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Best actress (play)
Glenda Jackson’s tough, commanding turn in Three Tall Women was one of the best performances of the year, so it’s hard to see Amy Schumer (Meteor Shower), Lauren Ridloff (Children of a Lesser God) or Condola Rashad (Saint Joan) topping her. Playing the heroine in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer-winning drama, the 82-year-old former King Lear and Queen Elizabeth puts on an acting clinic, an especially impressive feat given that she shares a stage with Tony-winner Laurie Metcalf.
Should win: Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women
Will win: Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women
Best actor (musical)
Billy Bigelow, the abusive, generally unsavory carnival barker in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, can be hard to watch in the context of the country’s larger reckoning with sexual and physical abuse. Nor is the show, revered but considerably dated, particularly kind to its female characters. But that shouldn’t count against Joshua Henry, who gives Bigelow the voice of an angel in the Broadway revival. In all likelihood, Henry, the former Aaron Burr of Hamilton, will lose out to SpongeBob’s Ethan Slater. But Henry deserves the win just for his interpretation of Soliloquy, the arduous seven-and-a-half-minute solo director Jack O’Brien reconfigured to precede intermission. It’s so good that afterwards audiences need a breather.
Should win: Joshua Henry, Carousel
Will win: Ethan Slater, SpongeBob SquarePants
Best actress (musical)
As Dina, the no-nonsense proprietor of an Israeli cafe, Katrina Lenk is a revelation in The Band’s Visit, turning in a performance that’s seductive and self-assured. Lenk’s toughest competition here is the 19-year-old Hailey Kilgore, who is exuberant and fearless as Ti-Moune in Once on This Island. Other nominees include Jessie Mueller (Carousel), Lauren Ambrose (My Fair Lady), Taylor Louderman (Mean Girls) and LaChanze (Summer: The Donna Summer Musical), but Lenk is the frontrunner.
Should win: Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Will win: Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Best featured actor (play)
Both Michael Cera and Brian Tyree Henry are deserving winners for their work in Kenny Lonergan’s Lobby Hero, the revival of which has all the best aspects of a Lonergan production: deeply human, run-of-the-mill characters staring down the barrel of ethical dilemmas. But fans of the show might split the vote, leaving room for Nathan Lane to triumph. Would anyone truly object? As the monstrous, remorseless, sharp-tongued lawyer Roy Cohn, Lane’s performance reminded me why we love live theatre in the first place.
Should win: Nathan Lane, Angels in America
Will win: Nathan Lane, Angels in America
Best featured actress (play)
Critics have rightly raved about Garfield and Lane in Angels in America, but the only member of the cast to supplant all previous takes on their role was Denise Gough as the pill-popping, ozone-destined Mormon Harper Pitt. Until seeing her onstage, playing Harper as a zany, manic and intuitive ball of energy, I thought no one could top Mary Louise Parker’s version of the character in the HBO miniseries. Gough, though, does. Plus, it’s hard to imagine the American Theatre Wing awarding Laurie Metcalf for a second year in a row.
Should win: Denise Gough, Angels in America
Will win: Denise Gough, Angels in America
Best featured actor (musical)
This is the most wide-open category on the night, pitting Tony powerhouse Norbert Leo Butz of My Fair Lady against Gavin Lee’s Drama Desk-winning performance as Squidward in SpongeBob and, finally, Ari’el Stachel, who was funny and soulful as Haled in The Band’s Visit, the year’s best musical. Moreover, the role is Stachel’s Broadway debut, which might help his chances of outgunning two-time Tony winner Butz.
Should win: Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit
Will win: Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit or Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
Best featured actress (musical)
Of all the actors from Carousel up for awards at this year’s Tonys (and pretty much the entire cast got nominated), Lindsay Mendez, who plays Carrie Pipperidge, has the best chance of winning. Mendez, whose joyful rendition of Mister Snow has led to wins at the Drama Desk and Outer Critics awards, has emerged as something of a consensus pick in a category that includes co-star and powerhouse singer Renee Fleming and four-time Tony nominee Diana Rigg.
Should win: Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
Will win: Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
Best direction (play)
Here, the likely winners of best play and best revival of a play – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Angels in America – will square off. Both works are lengthy, ambitious productions, and directors John Tiffany (Potter) and Marianne Elliott (Angels) had their work cut out for them in translating already fully-realized, not to mention canonized, worlds to the stage. Because of its daring, innovative set design, expect Tiffany and Potter to win. But Elliott, whose subtle, balletic direction beautifully services the words on the page, is my pick.
Should win: Marianne Elliott, Angels in America
Will win: John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Best direction (musical)
This award ought to go to David Cromer of The Band’s Visit, or even Michael Arden, the director of Once on This Island. But the Tonys could just as easily honor Tina Landau, who won the Drama Desk award and, with SpongeBob, managed to imbue a children’s television show with a colorful, theatrical sensibility. Like the Oscars do, the Tonys often split the awards for best musical and best direction of a musical, leaving the door open for Landau to triumph over Cromer.
Should win: David Cromer, The Band’s Visit
Will win: Tina Landau, SpongeBob SquarePants