Tuesday, June 13, 2017

2017 Tony Awards Final Thoughts

Tony host Kevin Spacey in Sunday night's opening number.

And that's a wrap! With Sunday night's Tony telecast, the curtain has officially fallen on the 2016-2017 Broadway season, bringing with it a freshly minted crop of Tony winners. And while I have plenty of thoughts on the ceremony as a whole, let's start by looking at how well I did during my annual predictions. Here are this year's actual winners, with the asterisk denoting races I correctly predicted:

Best Musical: Dear Evan Hansen*
Best Play: Oslo*
Best Revival of a Musical: Hello, Dolly!*
Best Revival of a Play: Jitney*
Best Actress in a Musical: Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!*
Best Actress in a Play: Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Best Actor in a Musical: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen*
Best Actor in a Play: Kevin Kline, Present Laughter*
Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen*
Best Featured Actress in a Play: Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!*
Best Featured Actor in a Play: Michael Aronov, Oslo
Best Direction of a Musical: Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Best Direction of a Play: Rebecca Taichman, Indecent
Best Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Best Book of a Musical: Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen
Best Score: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen*

For those who aren't great at math, that's 10 out of 17 correct, or a fairly unimpressive 59% success rate. The creative categories are where I struggled the most, as they were the source of the night's biggest surprises. I don't think anyone, including Christopher Ashley and Rebecca Taichman, expected their wins in the direction categories, which made for two of the most entertaining speeches of the night thanks to their genuine shock and happiness.

By contrast, the acting races all went down pretty much as expected, and as a result we didn't see anyone truly lose it the way some of the most memorable Tony winners do (no Nikki M. James style "butterfly" moments here). Don't get me wrong, I liked all of the speeches, and I truly don't have a problem with any of the winners; no one was robbed of their Tony this year, although there are a couple of races I was hoping might go a different way. (We love you, Stephanie J. Block, and you will get your Tony someday!)

The most memorable speech of the night was hands down Bette Midler's. In what may be a Tony record, Midler spoke for nearly 5 minutes as she thanked everyone from her cast, producers, and designers on down to her teachers. The orchestra eventually gave up trying to play her off and just let her speak, and while some people might have a problem with Midler taking so much more than her allotted time it's clear the audience was eating it up. It also helps that Midler was genuinely thrilled to win, and had nothing but effusive praise for her cast and crew. Thanks to a ridiculous behind the scenes feud between Hello, Dolly's lead producer and the Tony telecast, we did not get to see any of Midler's already legendary performance as Dolly Levi, so I'm fine with giving the star as much stage time as possible.

Speaking of the performances, I have to say the individual show producers by and large bungled their song selections. Almost all were poor representations of the show that were incredibly difficult to process out of contest, and I don't think the majority of shows were shown to their full advantage. Miss Saigon made the incredibly off-putting decision to open with an onstage murder and crying mother, although thankfully Tony nominee Eva Noblezada's incredible voice and performance salvaged things (they should have just started with her singing). Groundhog Day picked the sappiest song in its repertoire, and the Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 was just plain chaotic.

And God bless David Hyde Pierce, but nobody was interested in seeing a cut song from Hello, Dolly! when that score is literally brimming with standards. It's not Pierce's fault that producer Scott Rudin decreed Bette Midler wouldn't perform unless they could do the performance from the Shubert Theatre, and he did an admirable job with a number that in the context of the show is actually quite charming. But there are three *obvious* choices in that score for Tony performances ("Put On Your Sunday Clothes," "Before the Parade Passes By," and the title song, which would have been my preference), and Rudin should have sucked it up, paid for the duplicate set, and given the people what they wanted, which was Midler front and center.

As host, I thoroughly enjoyed Kevin Spacey's easygoing vibe, which provided a nice contrast from James Corden's overly labored hosting gig last year (I know I'm in the minority, but I thought the late night host and Tony winner was trying way too hard). I think the opening number was a bit too "inside baseball" for the telecast, as you can only really appreciate it by having seen all of the parodied shows, which the majority of people watching have not. But Spacey sold it, and his repeated impersonations of other celebrities throughout the telecast were some of the evening's highlights. They also reminded anyone who may have forgotten that Spacey is an actor's actor, and he will hopefully be back on Broadway sooner rather than later. Finally, Spacey's repeated references to the fact that he was nobody's first choice for this gig were genius, as making fun of himself allowed him to make fun of others without seeming mean spirited ("Let's go before Bette Midler thanks anyone else").

Overall, I thought this year's Tonys were fine, although disappointing considering the strength of this Broadway season. The one area the Tonys usually excel at, the musical numbers, was marred by poor song choices that didn't do a good job of introducing the shows to people who didn't already know them. And oddly enough, the announcement of winners this year was somehow less interesting than last year even though last year we all knew Hamilton would dominate. But the most important aspect of the Tonys is celebrating the year's best and brightest, and this year I thought voters did an excellent job of rewarding those who truly deserved it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

2017 Tony Award Predictions: Best Play and Musical

The 2017 Tony Awards are this Sunday, and so we end my annual Tony predictions by tackling the two most important and prestigious races of the night, Best Play and Best Musical. A win in either of these categories has the most demonstrable and immediate effect on a show's box office, and virtually guarantees a nice, multi-year run on Broadway (especially for musicals). Which also increases the show's chances of turning a profit, going on tour, and being produced regionally, all of which allow the talented writers behind these shows to continue doing what they do best: make theatre.

As always, I will use a combination of personal opinion, critical consensus, and industry buzz to determine the most *likely* winner. This is not necessarily the most deserving winner, and should I disagree with the way Tony voters are leaning I will be certain to point it out in my analysis. Now let's get started!

Best Play

The Broadway cast of Oslo at Lincoln Center.

Nominees: A Doll's House, Part 2; Indecent; Oslo; Sweat

The Best Play Tony is a tricky one, as it functions as both a writing award and an acknowledgement of the production as a whole. Which raises the question of what Tony voters should be considering when casting their ballot; is the quality of the script the most important factor, or do they allow exceedingly well executed staging and performances lift a script that maybe isn't as strong into the top position?

This year sees two Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights make their Broadway debuts after decades of writing for the theatre. Both Lynn Nottage's Sweat and Paula Vogel's Indecent have been universally praised, with Sweat having the added benefit of winning the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (making Nottage the only woman to ever win the award multiple times). But the Pulitzer doesn't guarantee a Tony win, as shown by the Broadway production of Disgraced losing to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in 2015. I don't expect either show to win, but Sweat could possibly score an upset.

Considering Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2 is the most nominated play of the season, it seems likely that the Ibsen inspired work will ultimately be crowned the winner. But J.T. Roger's historical thriller Oslo just scored the Drama Desk Award for Best Play, while Doll's House wasn't even nominated. Given Oslo's strong performance in the guild awards, I will hesitantly select it as my official pick to win, but I won't be surprised to see a different name called Sunday night.

Will Win: Oslo

Best Musical

Tony nominee Ben Platt and the cast of Dear Evan Hansen.

At the risk of sounding snarky, I cannot understand how Groundhog Day found itself included in this year's Best Musical race. This season saw 13 new musicals open on Broadway, and while I have not seen them all I can definitively say that Groundhog Day wouldn't place in my Top 4 (I vastly preferred the underrepresented War Paint). Perhaps Tony voters took West End critics at their word, since the London production was recently awarded the Olivier for Best Musical despite the show's many structural issues and overall lack of focus. On the bright side, I don't know anyone who expects Groundhog Day to win big on Tony night.

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 has the most nominations of any show this season with 12, but despite strong work in so many areas the show doesn't quite gel the way it did Off-Broadway. Something was lost in the transfer from an intimate Off-Broadway venue to the cavernous Imperial Theatre, and while many Tony voters appreciate Great Comet's bold invention and pushing of theatrical boundaries, I don't foresee it winning Best Musical on Sunday. I applaud the producers for taking the chance to bring such a risky show to a wider audience, and I'm genuinely glad for all of it's success, even if it wasn't my favorite show of the season.

The question of whether Dear Evan Hansen or Come From Away is more deserving of the Best Musical trophy is difficult. Evan Hansen is a fascinating examination of how social media has complicated the primal human need for connection and belonging, at once timely and timeless as many of the emotional stakes stem from issues that existed long before Facebook and Twitter. It has also obviously struck a chord with audiences, as evidenced by its extremely vocal fan base. But the less showy Come From Away is an equally accomplished work, an inspirational example of the boundless possibilities of human kindness in the wake of extreme tragedy. Come From Away has been honed to perfection, to the point where I'm not sure I would change a single word of the book or lyrics.

Both shows are deserving, and I would honestly support either one as this year's Best Musical winner. Ultimately, I suspect Tony voters will go with Dear Evan Hansen, which is what I would vote for if forced to choose. Both the writing and the performances stay with you long after the show ends, and despite seeing Evan Hansen back in January I find myself thinking back on that show more often than Come From Away. The mark of truly great theatre is that it affects you, however incidentally, and stays with you long after the final curtain, and while both Evan Hansen and Come From Away fulfill these requirements, Evan Hansen does so a bit more.

Will and Should Win: Dear Evan Hansen

And that brings us to the end of our 2017 Tony Award predictions! We'll know the victors by the end of Sunday night, and be sure to check back early next week for my final thoughts on this year's winners and the Tony telecast in general. In the meantime, share your thoughts in the comments and catch up on the rest of my coverage below.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

2017 Tony Award Predictions: Best Revival

The 71st annual Tony Awards are this Sunday, and my annual predictions keep rolling right along. It's now time to discuss the prestigious production awards, those which honor an entire show rather than an individual part of it. Of all the award categories, a win here has the most noticeable impact on a show's box office, as well as its future prospects when it comes to potential tours and regional productions. 

As always, I will use a combination of personal opinion, critical consensus, and industry buzz to determine the most likely winner. So on to the Best Revival categories!

Best Revival of a Play

The cast of Jitney on Broadway.

Nominees: Jitney; The Little Foxes; Present Laughter; Six Degrees of Separation

Manhattan Theatre Club, one of the biggest not-for-profit players on the New York theatre scene, has a hit or miss track record when it comes to their Broadway seasons. But this year has been nothing but hits, with all three of their Broadway productions (Heisenberg, Jitney, and The Little Foxes) earning both critical acclaim and fairly healthy box office. Which is why it seems inevitable that MTC will take home the Tony for Best Play Revival this year, with the only question being which production it will win for.

The Little Foxes has all the elements that add up to Tony gold. It is currently running, features a much praised cast (several of whom are up for individual awards), and plenty of buzz thanks to the fact that stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon play the two primary roles in repertory. But my gut tells me it will be MTC's other revival, the long-awaited Broadway bow of August Wilson's Jitney, that actually brings home the prize on Sunday night. Despite being the only nominee not currently running, Jitney was universally beloved by critics as serious art, and it's recent Drama Desk win only increases the production's profile and chances of winning. Six Degrees of Separation and Present Laughter will have to settle for just being nominated, as neither piece has inspired the kind of passion that makes people vote for you over other worthy options.

Will Win: Jitney

Best Revival of a Musical

Tony-nominee Kate Baldwin, Tony-nominee Bette Midler, Beanie Feldstein, and Taylor Trensch in Hello, Dolly!

This award is currently Hello, Dolly's to lose, and not just because of the sensational performance of Bette Midler in the title role. From top to bottom, this is one of the best realized productions of the season, and arguably the best Dolly we're likely to see in our lifetime. Composer Jerry Herman reportedly turned down multiple offers to revive this Golden Age classic over the years, waiting for just the right cast and director to make the show sing. He has found it in Jerry Zaks' sumptuous staging, which honors the show's old school roots while simultaneously making it feel fresh and new again. The sets, costumes, lights, choreography, and performances all add up to pure theatrical magic that will win over even those who aren't especially enamored with Hello, Dolly! as a show (as structurally, it admittedly has some faults).

The only thing that could spoil Dolly's victory lap would be a late in the game surge for Lincoln Center's Falsettos. The toast of the town when it opened this fall, the Broadway return of William Finn's signature work at one point appeared to be the show to beat, but the long months between its early January closing and now make it difficult to envision an actual win. Working in the show's favor is its incredibly appealing quartet of leads, who have been dutifully making the press rounds throughout Tony season professing their love for the show and one another. Their charm and innate likability could help remind voters what they liked so much about the show to begin with, but overcoming Dolly is a major uphill battle. And compared to its two competitors, Miss Saigon just doesn't have the acclaim or buzz to pull off an upset.

Will and Should Win: Hello, Dolly!

Check back soon for my predictions in the all important Best Play and Musical races, and catch up on the rest of my 2017 Tony coverage below!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2017 Tony Award Predictions: Best Actress

The march towards the 2017 Tony Awards continues, and so do my annual predictions! As always, I will be using a combination of personal opinion, critical consensus, and industry buzz to determine the most likely winners, which don't necessarily line up with the most deserving winners. Should the two diverge, I will make sure to point that out in my analysis.

Now that we've tackled the Lead Actors, let's move on to Broadway's leading ladies!

Best Actress in a Play

Laura Linney and Darren Goldstein in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Little Foxes.

Nominees: Cate Blanchett, The Present; Jennifer Ehle, Oslo; Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie; Laura Linney, The Little Foxes; Laurie Metcalf, A Doll's House, Part 2

Both Cate Blanchett and Sally Field are the recipients of not one but two Academy Awards each, which will surely ease the sting of not winning the Best Actress in a Play Tony this year. Blanchett's work in The Present was phenomenal, but the play itself proved off-putting to a large segment of the theatre community; combine that with the fact it closed several months ago and Blanchett is an extreme long shot. Sally Field's work in The Glass Menagerie is much more recent, but Sam Gold's divisive, stripped down approach to the Tennessee Williams classic did her no favors, handicapping Field to the point where I can't imagine her winning.

Jennifer Ehle doesn't often perform on Broadway, but when she does she has an excellent Tony track record. Prior to Oslo, Ehle had just three Broadway credits to her name, and two Tony wins to go with them, so counting her out of the race would be foolish. But her remaining two competitors, The Little Foxes' Laura Linney and A Doll's House, Part 2's Laurie Metcalf, are both overdue for Tony glory, as despite multiple nominations neither has ever won. Linney's recent win at the Drama Desk Awards along with the higher level of buzz for Manhattan Theatre Club's starry revival give her the edge, and I expect her name to be called on Sunday night. But one cannot rule out Metcalf, especially considering the high level of love the Tony nominators showed for A Doll's House, Part 2.

Will and Should Win: Laura Linney, The Little Foxes

Best Actress in a Musical

Bette Midler in the title role of Hello, Dolly!

Nominees: Denee Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; Christine Ebersole, War Paint; Patti LuPone, War Paint; Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!; Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

Let us stop and take a moment to appreciate the embarrassment of riches that is this year's Best Actress in a Musical category. This season brought us two-time Tony-winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole at the top of their respective games, and yet both seem like long shots to win the award! Either performance would be worth the price of admission to War Paint; the fact that you get both makes it true must see theatre for any musical aficionado, a thrilling night of two titans doing what they do best.  Newcomer Eva Noblezada is also sensational in Miss Saigon, a worthy successor to Lea Salonga in the role of Kim and someone I hope we will be seeing much more of in the coming years. (I am less enthralled with The Great Comet's Denee Benton, but am glad to see Broadway continuing to embrace diverse casting options.)

However, this award is destined to go to Bette Midler, whose performance in Hello, Dolly! is truly one for the record books. I have seen quite of bit of theatre in my eight years living in New York, including industry stalwarts like Audra McDonald, Kelli O'Hara, Sutton Foster, Bernadette Peters, and the aforementioned LuPone and Ebersole. And I have *never* seen a star turn quite like Midler's, who exceeds any and all expectations you might have for her to deliver a transcendent, triumphant Dolly Levi that feels every bit as definitive as Carol Channing's. There is no learning the kind of star quality Midler has - you're either born with it, or you aren't - but it is coupled with a supreme talent and precise deployment of her many skills that appears effortless. It may be 50 years since her last Broadway musical (as a replacement in the original production of Fiddler on the Roof), but it was worth the wait, and will be rightly rewarded with every Best Actress award around, including the Tony.

Will and Should Win: Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Special Mention: Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard, who is ineligible for this year's Tonys (having already won for the same role) but is giving a whole new generation the chance to see her breathtaking Norma Desmond

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments, and keep checking back throughout the week for more Tony coverage from Broadway, Etc. You can catch up on anything you may have missed below:

Nominations React
Best Book and Score
Best Direction and Choreography
Best Featured Actor
Best Featured Actress
Best Actor

Monday, June 5, 2017

2017 Tony Award Predictions: Best Actor

The 2017 Tony Awards are less than a week away, so now it's time for my annual Tony predictions to start tackling the biggest races of the night. Although a Tony win in any category is of course a monumental achievement, it is the Lead Actor/Actress and production awards that carry the most weight with ticket buyers. As always, I will be using a combination of personal opinion, critical consensus, and industry buzz to determine the person most *likely* to win, even if they aren't necessarily the most deserving.

So without further ado, let's dive into the Best Actor races!

Best Actor in a Play

Kevin Kline and Cobie Smulders in Present Laughter.

Nominees: Denis Arndt, Heisenberg; Chris Cooper, A Doll's House, Part 2; Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation; Kevin Kline, Present Laughter; Jefferson Mays, Oslo

Of the four Lead Performer races, this is probably the least interesting. While all the men in this category are undeniably talented, none of the performances have really captured the imagination of the Broadway community. Even Kevin Kline, one of the most respected stage and film stars of his generation, hasn't set tongues wagging the way he was expected too. His leading man turn in Present Laughter was universally liked by the critics, but no one is calling it a must see like they are several other high profile star turns this season. This may be partially due to audience fatigue with his chosen vehicle, as the Noel Coward comedy is currently enjoying it's sixth Broadway mounting, hot on the heels of the 2010 production starring Victor Garber.

Still, I can't reasonably envision anyone else winning this award. Denis Arndt's performance in Heisenberg was so long ago that it feels like it belongs in a different season. Chris Cooper seems to have been elevated by the love of his female costars in A Doll's House, Part 2, as his inclusion in this category raised more than a few eyebrows on Tony Tuesday. Six Degrees of Separation hasn't connected with critics or audiences the way I would have expected, which makes Corey Hawkins' path to victory that much more of an uphill battle. There's an outside chance Oslo's Jefferson Mays scores an upset, although I'm not betting on it.

Will Win: Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Should Win: Abstain

Best Actor in a Musical

Ben Platt as the title character in Dear Evan Hansen.

Nominees: Christian Borle, Falsettos; Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812; Andy Karl, Groundhog Day; David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!; Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

No need to mince words here; this award is Ben Platt's, and has been since Dear Evan Hansen's Off-Broadway bow last spring. Platt's revelatory performance as the titular troubled teen is the stuff of theatrical legend, a searing star turn that is stunning in both it's emotional breadth and raw vulnerability. Platt has also figured out the nifty trick of singing like a dream while full-on ugly crying; his performance of "Words Fail" is Tony worthy on its own, and that is merely the culmination of a two hour acting marathon he somehow has the stamina to perform eight times a week. And on top of all that, he is also genuinely hilarious, creating a convincingly quirky character that deftly avoids the cheap laughs and occasional hamminess of his previous Broadway outing in The Book of Mormon. In short, Platt does it all over the course of Evan Hansen's runtime, and such breadth and depth will surely be rewarded by Tony voters.

It's cute that some prognosticators are pretending that Andy Karl has a chance at upsetting Platt, but I honestly think they are just trying to create drama in what is a pretty straightforward race. Karl is quite charming in Groundhog Day, but I wouldn't call it his best work, let alone the best musical performance of the year. Both Josh Groban and Christian Borle feel like they were nominated because they played roles that are supposed to be Tony-worthy rather than fully earning their nominations, and in a different season might have been left out of this race. At the same time it must be said Groban acquits himself quite well in his Broadway debut, and Borle's work in Falsettos is the least obnoxious thing he's done in a very long time. And  while David Hyde Pierce is reliably great as the well known half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly!, no amount of mutton chops and curmudgeonly Yonkers attitude will let the veteran character actor unseat Platt.

Will and Should Win: Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Check back throughout the week for my predictions of the Best Actress, Revival, Play, and Musical categories, and you can catch up on the rest of the my Tony coverage below:

Nominations React
Best Book and Score
Best Direction and Choreography
Best Featured Actor
Best Featured Actress

Saturday, June 3, 2017

2017 Tony Award Predictions: Best Featured Actress

We are fast approaching Broadway's biggest night, which means I will continue my annual tradition of predicting Tony winners! Using a combination of personal opinion, critical praise, and industry buzz, I will do my best to pick the people and productions who will be honored by the American Theatre Wing on June 11th. And if the person who *will* win doesn't match up with who I think *should* win, I will be sure to mention it in my analysis.

On to the Best Featured Actress races!

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Condola Rashad (right) and Laurie Metcalf in A Doll's House, Part 2.

Nominees: Johanna Day, Sweat; Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll's House, Part 2; Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes; Condola Rashad, A Doll's House, Part 2; Michelle Wilson, Sweat

Two different productions have produced multiple nominees in this category, which if you subscribe to the idea of vote splitting means that The Little Foxes' Cynthia Nixon should be the winner by default. And while that is a possibility, it seems unlikely to me, as Nixon has far buzz than her costar Laura Linney. They may not be competing in the same category, but thanks to the production's repertory conceit they are playing the same roles, and the consensus seems to be that Linney is better at both of them.

A Doll's House, Part 2 gives us the higher profile names, as both Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashad are well established in the New York theatre scene. Houdyshell just won this award last year, and while winning back to back Tonys is not unheard of (just ask Judith Light), I would be surprised to see the veteran actress take the trophy home again this year. Her costar seems a far more likely winner, having been nominated for three of her four Broadway outings without winning. Tony voters clearly like Rashad, and the fact that she's in the most nominated play of the season certainly doesn't hurt her chances. It is entirely possible Sweat's Johanna Day or Michelle Wilson pull off an upset, but this feels like Rashad's year to me.

Will Win: Condola Rashad, A Doll's House, Part 2
Should Win: Abstain

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Stephanie J Block in Falsettos.

Nominees: Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!; Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos; Jenn Colella, Come From Away; Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen; Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

What a category! This is probably the most competitive of the musical acting races, as the nominees here gave what may be scene for scene the best performances of the season. The only scenario I simply can't envision is Mary Beth Peil winning for Anastasia, a musical that didn't really set critics or Tony voters on fire. And while it's not impossible that a swell of love for Hello, Dolly! brings Kate Baldwin to the winner's podium, it is improbably, as the awkwardly written role doesn't do the delightful soprano any favors (no matter how lovely her rendition of "Ribbons Down My Back" might be).

This is really a three way race between Stephanie J. Block, Jenn Colella, and Rachel Bay Jones, an embarrassment of riches that we are lucky to have. Block was by far the best thing about Falsettos, a fascinating portrait of a regular woman struggling to hold on to her sanity after her entire life is upended when she learns her husband is gay. A beloved member of the Broadway community who has yet to win the coveted Tony Away, Falsettos is Block's best work to date, as evidenced by the thunderous applause which greeted her big solo every evening.

Rachel Bay Jones also plays a mother struggling to keep her head above water in Dear Evan Hansen, and her layered portrayal acknowledges Heidi Hansen's flaws while also celebrating her bravery and humanity. Jones' performance of the Act II ballad "So Big/So Small" is simply devastating thanks to her emotional honesty and vulnerability, and by the end of the song you want her to be your mother as well. It's a very difficult act to compete with, which is why I think she will ultimately win over Block and the winsome, inspiring Jenn Colella, who's powerhouse performance of "Me and the Sky" in Come From Away is one of the most thrilling musical moments of the season.

Will Win: Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Should Win: Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos (but make not mistake, Jones is phenomenal and more than earns this award)

Check back over the next week for the rest of my Tony predictions, including the Lead Actor/Actress races and the all important Best Musical category. Until then, share your own thoughts in the comments, and catch up with the rest of my 2017 Tony coverage below:

Nominations React
Best Book and Score
Best Direction and Choreography
Best Featured Actor

Friday, June 2, 2017

2017 Tony Award Predictions: Best Featured Actor

June is bustin' out all over, which means that we're getting down to the wire when it comes to this year's Tony Awards. Broadway's highest honors will be handed out on June 11th, and I'm here to predict which lucky performers and productions will receive them. As always, these predictions combine personal opinion, critical plaudits, and industry buzz to determine the most *likely* winner, not necessarily the most *deserving* one. If I personally would vote for someone else, I will make sure to point that out in my analysis.

Now let's tackle the first two of the eight acting races!

Best Featured Actor in a Play

John Douglas Thompson in Jitney.

Nominees: Michael Aronov, Oslo; Danny DeVito, The Price; Nathan Lane, The Front Page; Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes; John Douglas Thompson, Jitney

Again, I have unfortunately not seen any of the nominated performances in this category. However, the Featured Acting in a Play categories tend to be the biggest source of out of left field winners, so perhaps that isn't such a handicap. These are the races where star power and industry reputation have the least bearing on the outcome, as this is where Tony voters like to reward the hardworking journeyman actors who may not get the chance to headline a show but are supremely talented. Some years, it seems like being too big of a name can actively hurt a performer's chances in this category.

Which makes me think a 3rd trophy for Nathan Lane is unlikely, despite his performance being the most lauded and best remembered aspect of the starry Front Page revival. However, I don't think name recognition will hurt Danny DeVito's chances, as despite a decades-long career in TV and film The Price marked the veteran character actor's Broadway debut. DeVito is certainly a contender, as is Richard Thomas, given that The Little Foxes is one of the buzziest plays of the season. And with a history of unexpected winners in this category, I wouldn't be at all surprised if either Oslo's Michael Aronov or Jitney's John Douglas Thompson manages a win despite being on very few people's radar. In fact, in a somewhat daring move, I'm actually going to predict a win for Thompson, as I think critical appreciation for Jitney will prove surprisingly strong at the Tonys.

Will win: John Douglas Thompson, Jitney
Should win: Abstain

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

Gavin Creel (right) and Beanie Feldstein, Taylor Trensch, and Kate Baldwin in Hello, Dolly!

Nominees: Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!; Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen; Andrew Rannells, Falsettos; Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812; Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

I have to say, I truly loved Mike Faist's performance in Dear Evan Hansen, especially upon second viewing. The way he subtly shifts Connor Murphy's persona in front of your eyes to match the evolving backstory Evan creates during the song "Sincerely Me" is truly something to behold, a complex bit of stage magic that appears effortless. That said, I think Faist has about zero chance of actually winning this award given his more high profile competition.

While I was absolutely blown away by Andrew Rannells in The Book of Mormon (I think he deserved the Best Actor Tony that year), I don't think his role in Falsettos showcased him to the best of his ability. Whizzer is more of a plot device than a character, and the lack of much emotional depth to play probably torpedoes any real chance Rannells has at winning. I was far more impressed with Brandon Uranowitz's work in the same show, which felt the most authentic to the period and character while also being delightfully nuanced. Unfortunately, Falsettos is long closed and while I typically don't believe vote splitting is as big an issue as some make it out to be, having two nominees from a closed show could well cancel one another out.

The true competition is between Gavin Creel and Lucas Steele. Not necessarily for me, as Lucas Steele has long been my least favorite performer in the quite good cast of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. But I seem to be in the minority, as Steele already won a Lucille Lortel Award for playing the same role in the show's original Off-Broadway incarnation. That said, Gavin Creel is a beloved member of the Broadway community who at this point feels overdue for a Tony Award. (His *stellar* work in last season's She Loves Me went criminally unrecognized by the nominations committee.) And Creel is quite good in Hello, Dolly!, combining a boyish innocence with great comic timing and a glorious tenor to bring hapless shop clerk Cornelius Hackl to vivid life. I'm predicting this is Creel's year, although Steele could still score an upset.

Will and Should Win: Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!

Those are my predictions; feel free to share yours in the comments section! Check back soon for my Featured Actress predictions, and in the meantime you can catch up on the rest of my 2017 Tony Awards coverage below.

Nominations React
Best Book and Score
Best Direction and Choreography