Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 Tony Awards Predictions: Direction and Choreography

With the Tony Awards less than 2 weeks away, it's time to really dig in and start making predictions about the people and productions who will receive Broadway's highest honor on June 11th. As always, I will be using a combination of personal opinion, critical acclaim, and industry buzz to determine who I think is most likely to win each of the major races. As these are predictions about who will win rather than who I think should win, sometimes my personal favorite will be the underdog. If so, I'll be sure to point that out in my analysis.

On with the predictions!

Best Direction of a Play

Tony nominees Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon in The Little Foxes.

Nominees: Sam Gold, A Doll's House: Part 2; Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney; Bartlett Sher, Oslo; Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes; Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

I'm at a bit of a disadvantage in this category, as I have shamefully not seen any of the nominated productions. That said, all of these nominees are very well regarded, which makes for a race that could go any number of ways. Personally, I think Bartlett Sher is the least likely winner, as Oslo seems to lack the momentum that some of the other big plays have. I think Rebecca Taichman may run into a similar obstacle with Indecent, a play many people greatly admire but that doesn't seem to be anyone's favorite, a major problem when Tony votes are often emotional as much as they are analytical.

A Doll's House: Part 2 is the most nominated new play of the season, which puts director Sam Gold in a very strong position. However, he is also the most recent Tony winner of the bunch, having just won in 2015 for Fun Home. I suspect most Tony voters would prefer to spread the love, and the fact Gold also helmed the highly divisive, stripped down, modern dress revival of The Glass Menagerie this spring doesn't help matters.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson has made a name for himself as one of the top interpreters of August Wilson's work, a cannon that has enjoyed renewed admiration thanks to the Oscar-nominated film version of Fences and the highly lauded Broadway premiere of Jitney, which Santiago-Hudson is nominated for. Helming the one production not currently running is generally a Tony handicap, but this might be a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. Then again, Santiago-Hudson is just as likely to be undone by Daniel Sullivan's work on the buzzy revival of The Little Foxes, the fifth Broadway production of Lillian Helman's drama which turned out far better than anyone expected it to. There's also the fact that Sullivan is one of the most respected directors in the industry, but has curiously only won the Tony once, all the way back in 2001 for Proof. Sullivan seems overdue for a second Tony win, and I think The Little Foxes is the show that will bring it to him.

Will win: Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes
Should win: Abstain

Best Direction of a Musical

Tony nominees Mike Faist and Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.

Nominees: Christopher Ashley, Come From Away; Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812; Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen; Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day; Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

I *have* seen all the nominees for Best Direction of a Musical, and with the exception of Matthew Warchus' overly busy, unfocused take on Groundhog Day I can easily make a case for any one of them. I have long admired Michael Greif's steady directorial hand in contemporary musicals, but despite helming some of the most influential shows of the past 20 years (including Rent and Next to Normal), Greif remains Tony-less. He really feels overdue for a win, and with Dear Evan Hansen he has once again taken a show that tackles big concepts and made it feel intensely personal.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, no one can argue four-time winner Jerry Zaks is overdue for a Tony, which I suspect will cause Tony voters to lean towards one of the other contenders. But one must also consider that Zaks has given us what may well be a perfect production Hello, Dolly!; it certainly feels like a definitive rendition of the old war horse, one that honors the iconic original production while also injecting new life into a show that was in very real danger of feeling dated. And with over 20 years between now and his last Tony win (for the 1992 Guys and Dolls revival), Zaks could prove to be a dark horse contender.

But ultimately, I think Tony voters will go with Rachel Chavkin's exhilarating, immersive staging of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, a show many doubted would survive the move from an intimate site-specific Off-Broadway production into a more traditional Broadway house. I'm not entirely sure the move was successful, but one can't deny that Chavkin is largely responsible for the most memorable aspects of the transfer, utilizing the cavernous Imperial Theatre to great effect. I personally am more impressed with Christopher Ashley's subtly brilliant work on Come From Away, but it probably isn't showy enough to beat out Chavkin.

Will Win: Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
Should Win: Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen

Best Choreography

Corey Cott, Laura Osnes, and the cast of the Bandstand.

Nominees: Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand; Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day; Kelly Devine, Come From Away; Denis Jones, Holiday Inn; Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

This is something of an odd category, as only two of the five nominated productions are what I would consider dance shows. The rest are more movement based, which is by no means a knock against them but does make it harder for me (and Tony voters) to justify giving them what is clearly a dance award.

Honestly, Andy Blankenbuehler probably deserves this award the most, as his shows are always kinetic masterpieces that are propelled by dance as much as anything else. But he just won for Hamilton, and without work that in inarguably better than everyone else's I have trouble imagining voters bestowing this award on him twice in a row. The only other show that is a clear dance show is Holiday Inn, which closed so long ago I feel like most people have forgotten about it (although Denis Jones' high energy work on "Shakin' the Blues Away" is the most memorable dance sequence of the season).

For me, Sam Pinkleton's work on Great Comet is trying way too hard, and the least successful segment of the show is also the one that most heavily features Pinkleton's work, the unnecessarily long "Balaga" number. Similarly, Peter Darling and Ellen Kane's work on Groundhog Day feels forced rather than growing naturally out of the narrative. I'm not sure anyone expects the tap number that appears late in Act II, and it isn't good enough to make you forget that it doesn't really belong. Which almost makes Kelly Devine's work on Come From Away the winner by default, as her choreography at least seamlessly blends with the staging and storytelling rather than being awkwardly inserted into it.

Will Win: Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Should Win: Andy Blankebeuhler, Bandstand

Be sure to check back soon for my predictions on the first of this year's acting categories. In the meantime, share your own thoughts in the comments, and don't forget to check out my previous 2017 Tony coverage.

Nominations React
Best Book and Score


  1. I honestly think Bartlett Sher will win Director Of A Play for Oslo, since the play has already won numerous honors from various other outlets. Rachel Chavkin probably will win Director Of A Musical. I honestly don't know who will win Best Choreography. I like many others assumed Warren Carlyle for Hello, Dolly! was a lock until the Tonys ruled him ineligible.