Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 Tony Award Predictions: Book and Score

In just a few short weeks, the American Theatre Wing will hand out the 71st Annual Tony Awards, celebrating the best of Broadway this past season. As is tradition, I will once again use my unique combination of personal opinion, critical analysis, and industry buzz to try and predict the winners of this year's awards!

2017 is going to be a lot trickier to predict than 2016, since we aren't able to vote Hamilton down the line. While nothing has been the game changing, record setting blockbuster that Hamilton was (and continues to be), there are multiple excellent productions vying for Broadway's top prize this year, and no clear front runner among them. Many of the big races could go a multitude of ways, particularly among the new musicals, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. Also remember that I am predicting who I think will win, not necessarily who I think deserves to win; if I personally disagree with the way things seem to be going, I will be sure to point it out in my analysis.

So let's start this year's Tony predictions off with two of the tightest races of the night, Best Book and Best Score!

Best Book of a Musical

The company of Come From Away.

Nominees: Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away; Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen; Danny Rubin, Groundhog Day; Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

This year's Tony nominees showed a clear consensus among the nominating committee regarding the strongest new musicals; the nominated shows for this, Best Score, and the coveted Best Musical trophy are identical. Even more interesting/exciting is the fact that an argument could be made for any of these shows in any of the categories (well, except for Groundhog Day). I honestly don't know which way the Tony voters will swing.

Since Great Comet received the most total nominations this year, it should always be considered in contention for a win. However, I think Best Book is a long shot for the little Off-Broadway musical that could, as Dave Malloy's through composed work lacks any traditional book scenes. This is *not* meant in any way to disparage the structural bones Malloy has hung his mesmerizingly eclectic score on, but I don't know if enough people grasp how a musical without dialogue still has a book for him to win. 

Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen are neck and neck here, and both are incredibly deserving. Conventional wisdom would have Tony voters rewarding Steven Levenson's more easily noticed work on Evan Hansen, which has both depth and cultural relevancy while expertly balancing comedy and pathos. But the way married writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein seamlessly weave in and out of song and dialogue in Come From Away is truly a marvel, and their years of workshopping have resulted in a show where I honestly wouldn't change one word. They could easily score an upset over Levenson, and the more I think about it, the more I think they will.

Will and Should Win: Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away

Best Score

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

Nominees: Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away; Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen; Tim Minchin, Groundhog Day; Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

Once again, I think we can rule out Groundhog Day (this will be a recurring theme in my predictions). In this case, Tim Minchin's music seems to actively work against the storytelling, with roughly half the musical numbers eliciting a response of "Why is there a song here?" His overly verbose compositions are also difficult to decipher in the theatre, and in general this is one nomination I don't feel is deserved (I would have picked War Paint's Scott Frankel and Michael Korie instead). And while I won't completely rule out Come From Away's Irene Sankoff and David Hein, especially if the show ends up having a strong night, I think a win for score is a long shot for the Canadian duo. Their folk-influenced songs are lovely, but not as memorable as the remaining two nominees. 

Dear Evan Hansen and Great Comet represent two very different compositional philosophies, so the ultimate winner is largely up to Tony voters' sensibilities. For all the pop leanings of Dear Evan Hansen's contemporary score, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have ultimately written recognizable, hummable showtunes. These are narrative driven songs of the highest quality, ones that strike a fine balance between melodic invention and accessibility, and their haunting "For Forever" is probably my favorite new song of the season. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Dave Malloy's incredibly adventurous fusion of such disparate genres as Russian folk music, electronica, and even opera into the dizzying symphony of Great Comet's auditory landscape. It isn't for everyone and rubs certain audience members the wrong way, but others (myself among them) find its unconventional nature to be its strongest asset.

We don't have the other theatre awards to give us any indication of how people are leaning, as the shows had their Off-Broadway premieres in different seasons and so have never been nominated against one another. I think Tony voters will ultimately go with Pasek and Paul, two incredibly talented up and comers who are still riding high on their Oscar win for La La Land. And I will be thrilled for them. But in my heart of heart, if forced to vote, I personally would choose Great Comet, and wouldn't be at all surprised or angry if Malloy wins instead.

Will Win: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen
Should Win: Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

Please continue to check back throughout the next two weeks for more Tony predictions, and share your own thoughts in the comments below!


  1. I think Dear Evan Hansen will easily win both of these categories.

    1. I wouldn't be surprised, but I really don't think it's that cut and dry this year. Dear Evan Hansen has built up more a reputation because it premiered earlier in the season, and appeals to teens and young adults (often the most passionate online fans), but I know just as many people who are equally enamored with Come From Away. I think both of these races are very close.