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!
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
Nominees: Come From Away; Dear Evan Hansen; Groundhog Day; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
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.