Tony Talk: Assessing the Best Musical and Best Play Tony Nominations
When I was a teenager, I would pace back and forth waiting for the Tony nominations to come out each spring. I’d walk to the gas station on the corner and pick up a copy of The New York Times, sit down on a bench outside the… um… establishment (next to the cranky old lady who sat there every day chain smoking), and immediately tear through the balance of the paper to find that coveted list. I’d begin imagining what type of telecast it would prove to be, asking the question “Will this year’s nominees add up to a decent night of entertainment?”
This was easily my ritual for fifteen years, well into college, at least until the advent of internet news that allowed me to find out the details without having to pick that old lady’s ashes out of my hair. If, however, the experience of the Tony Awards unfolding feels somewhat tarnished since my early days discovering theatre, I still remain nostalgic for that old way of picking up that newspaper and coming to my Tony Awards viewing with my notions shaped by the glorious and colorful theatre criticism I had read all year. Tony Awards night was often full of surprises, my one night a year where this kid who had grown up in rural New York State could feel like he had come home to his true family: theatre folk.
Today it is all too easy. Information, ideas, thoughts, video clips, cast albums come at us so fast that it often feels like the anticipation has been drained out of the excitement of awards season. By the time I get to see the actual Tony Awards, I’ve seen one, two, or three performances from the nominated shows on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, The Today Show, or on The Tonight Show. I don’t mean to complain, merely to illustrate how the surprise the Tony Awards used to bring is no longer there.
The same can be said about the nominees. There is so much conjecture, speculation, debate and a bevy of clear front-runners before the nominations are even released, that there are very little surprises anymore. That’s why, when people ask if I was shocked by any of the nominees and/or snubs of the season, I can say with confidence that I am not. The Tony Awards are what they are: a grand evening that earnestly tries to honor the best work of the theatre season, celebrates what Broadway has to offer, but also one that has an agenda, involves a certain amount of campaigning to come out the victor, and plays out a bit like a popularity contest.
In assessing this year’s crop of nominees, I must admit that I think the nominating committee came pretty close to getting it right, offering up a list of honorees that was a fair and balanced cross-section of the theatre season. They also judiciously left certain titles and talents off lists where others might argue they belong. I subscribe to the idea that no is guaranteed a Tony nomination, so I don’t believe in actual snubs, I just believe in being disappointed when one of my favorites doesn’t make the list.
I can’t go into detail over every category, but here are my thoughts on the nominees in certain categories as they stand:
Best Musical: Hadestown, Tootsie, and The Prom were always locks for this category. All three were well-reviewed and have enjoyed excellent word of mouth. The other nominee slots went to Beetlejuice and Ain’t Too Proud, the latter seeming a likely candidate for its mostly positive reviews, though I’m not particularly supportive of the jukebox phenomenon. Beetlejuice has been the season’s biggest wild card, but warmer reviews than expected seem to have overcome the show’s mediocre score and made it a contender. I do not believe that Be More Chill ever had much of a shot as a Best Musical nominee in this competitive season. It was a mistake for that show to leave Off-Broadway and move into a Broadway house. Off-Broadway served it better. It’s one nomination for Best Score was generous. Go ahead – crucify me.
Best Play: For all the gasps and moans I’ve heard over the “snubbing” of To Kill a Mockingbird in this category, I’m not exactly broken-hearted over its omission. Sure, Sorkin did a great job adapting a classic piece of literature for the stage, but the central story still belongs to author Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird has also paid back its investment and continues to sell well, so it is not exactly like it needs the Tony win to survive. Of course, there was also all that hoopla surrounding the producer forcing the cancellation of planned regional productions of a different play version of the classic that came off rather badly. In that scenario, they shot themselves in the foot. Is it right that is was not nominated? Probably not, but it is what it is and we have to move on.
It has been an excellent season for new plays, with so many arriving on the scene that are both compelling and likely to see a healthy future touring and in regional theatres. The nominated pieces include Choir Boy, The Ferryman, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Ink, and What the Constitution Means to Me. Arguably, the most surprising title on this list is Gary…, which I was sure would be replaced by Network in the pack. I’d also say I am a little shocked that Hillary and Clinton didn’t fare better, but that was more based on anticipation of the show and the promise of another dynamic Laurie Metcalf performance rather than the ultimate product. Of the nominees, I would have said that only The Ferryman was the one lock in these category and I believe it will be the ultimate victor.
Those are my thoughts on the Best Musical and Best Play nominees. More to come as we get closer to awards night, but I am interested in your perspectives as well. Please comment and offer your thoughts.