Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Extremely Early 2017 Tony Predictions: Part II

As January turns to February, we are experiencing the proverbial calm before the storm. The spring Broadway season swings into gear next month, before the floodgates truly open in March and April. There are a mind boggling 22 productions slated to open between now and the Tony eligibility cutoff date, featuring a proliferation of both known and up and coming talent which makes my yearly tradition of assessing which fall performers are well-positioned for Tony recognition that much harder.

As history has repeatedly shown, the Tony Awards tend to favor currently running and recently premiered productions (hence the glut of scheduled spring openings). While a decent performance in a well-reviewed spring show can be enough to snag a nomination, actors must truly impress critics and Tony voters if they hope to be remembered for their work in a fall show. On the other hand, should the spring shows prove disappointing, a solid performance in a fondly remembered fall production suddenly looks very strong by comparison. It's all a carefully weighted guessing game, so read on of my extremely early - and subject to change - predictions for the major acting races. (You can catch up on my predictions about potential Tony-nominated productions here).

Best Actor in a Play

Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker in Heisenberg.

While there are clear critical favorites among the fall musicals (Falsettos, Dear Evan Hansen, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812), the already opened plays are more evenly matched with no obvious frontrunners. For Best Actor in a Play, I think the three gentlemen to keep your eye on are Heisenberg's Denis Arndt, The Encounter's Simon McBurney, and The Present's Richard Roxburgh. Arndt's performance seems like the safest bet given the actor driven nature of Heisenberg, but a nod for McBurney would be a way to honor the entirety of his work on the well-reviewed The Encounter (he also wrote and directed the piece) which seems unlikely to be remembered elsewhere. And Roxburgh can't be ruled out for his excellent work in a play that has been marketed on Cate Blanchett's appeal but ultimately centers around Roxburgh's rakish intellectual.

And then there's John Slattery, whose performance in The Front Page is a bit of a wildcard. Slattery is the only member of the starry ensemble comedy deemed eligible in the Lead Actor category, and the play was certainly well liked, ending up on several Best of 2016 lists. But Slattery was essentially overshadowed in the press by his costar Nathan Lane, despite Lane not making his first appearance until almost an hour into the show (Lane seems like an almost guaranteed Featured Actor nominee). I would expect two of these four men to make the cut, but Slattery feels like the longest shot at the moment.

Best Actor in a Musical

Ben Platt as the title character in Dear Evan Hansen.

There is a clear frontrunner in this category, not just for a nomination but for the eventual trophy. Ben Platt's turn as the title character in Dear Evan Hansen has been the talk of the fall season, a hugely admired performance anchoring a hugely admired show. The buzz surrounding him feels very similar to the buzz which greeted Cynthia Erivo upon her Broadway debut last season, and that worked out very well for the Color Purple star. There's definitely competition on the horizon - Jake Gyllenhaal in Sunday in the Park with George and Andy Karl in Groundhog Day immediately spring to mind, and as much as I'm not looking forward to his performance in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one cannot deny the Tony's love of Christian Borle - but as of this moment, the Best Actor statue is Platt's to lose.

A case can definitely be made for Josh Groban to work his way into this category, with the recording star doing a very admirable job of embodying the withdrawn Pierre in The Great Comet. Holiday Inn's Bryce Pinkham had more to do in his show than Groban, and one should never underestimate how difficult it is to anchor one of those old-fashioned song and dance spectacles, but Pinkham's inclusion here feels like a long shot. And there's always the possibility Tony voters will decide they like Christian Borle's more measured work in Falsettos than his presumed scenery chewing in Charlie and nominated the former performance instead. Groban still feels like the most likely to be in consideration though, after the surefire Platt.

Best Actress in a Play

Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in The Present.

Of the fall actresses, the one I'd most expect to see remembered with a Tony nomination is Mary-Louise Parker for Heisenberg. The Tony-winning actress received across the board raves for her complex, nuanced performance in the two character drama, and there aren't enough female-driven plays on the horizon to put her nomination in jeopardy (unless the shows without name stars over deliver on the acting front). I also think the committee will reward Cate Blanchett's long awaited Broadway debut with a Tony nomination as a way to encourage the actress to come back sooner rather than later, hopefully in a show that makes better use of her talent than the occasionally obtuse The Present. That said, even though she has been deemed a lead you could convincingly argue that Blanchett's character is really a supporting one, which could hurt her chances. An unexpectedly weak showing from the spring actresses could also open up a slot for Janet McTeer's scheming Marquis de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, although it is a long shot.

Best Actress in a Musical

Denee Benton in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

I've saved this category for last because it is by far the most competitive; in fact, this is shaping up to be a Tony race for the record books. Among the major names starring in spring musicals: Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole in War Paint; Bette Midler in arguably the most anticipated musical of the season, Hello, Dolly!; Phillipa Soo in the musical adaptation of Amelie; and Annaleigh Ashford in Sunday in the Park with George. (Glenn Close is not eligible for her starring role in Sunset Boulevard, having previously won the Tony for the same role in 1995.) There's also two-time nominee Laura Osnes in the new musical Bandstand, newcomer Eva Noblezada in Miss Saigon (the role which made Lea Salonga a star), and rumblings of a very strong performance from Jenn Colella in the new musical Come From Away (assuming she is deemed a lead actress and not supporting).

In short, there's a lot of competition out there, and if it is as strong as everyone assumes that doesn't bode well for the fall performers. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812's Denee Benton seems the most likely to break into the race, assuming support for the boundary pushing musical remains as strong as when it initially premiered. Benton is also one of the only women currently eligible for this award; Stephanie J Block's showstopping performance in Falsettos has been deemed a supporting turn, as has Rachel Bay Jones' heartbreaking work in Dear Evan Hansen (I expect both to be nominated for Best Featured Actress). Which leaves Benton as the sole woman standing, and even her position is precarious barring a category expansion.

And those are my current predictions for the 2017 Tony Award nominees! This is obviously all subject to change based on the spring season, and I will certainly be revisiting this topic prior to the official nominations being announced on May 2nd. In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments!


  1. I really want to get to New York so I can see some of these shows.

  2. Looks like the Best Actress In A Musical race will be even more competitive than the Kristin Chenoweth/Kelli O'Hara/Chita Rivera race in 2015.