If there were any doubts that Broadway would rebound after the COVID shutdown, they should be put to rest by the abundance and variety of nominees for this year’s Tony Awards.
Twenty-nine productions are represented in all, with A Strange Loop, Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning account of a queer Black artist’s personal and creative journey, topping the list with 11 nominations. As is typically the case, original musicals, which tend to be eligible in more categories than plays or revivals, earned the most nods, with Loop closely followed by Paradise Square, a study of love and strife among different communities in Civil War–era New York, and the Michael Jackson tribute MJ: The Musical, each up for 10 awards.
The nominees for Best Musical also include Girl From the North Country, in which Bob Dylan’s songs are channeled into a Depression-era story by the acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson; Mr. Saturday Night, an adaptation of Billy Crystal’s 1992 film about an aging comic, starring and cowritten by Crystal; and SIX: The Musical, a feminist romp focused on Henry VIII’s half-dozen wives, with a book and score by twentysomething Brits Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.
The field for Best Play is similarly eclectic, and among the most competitive in years. Contenders include two-time Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage—also nominated for her book for MJ, making her the first playwright up for both awards in one season—for Clyde’s, a comedy as searing and humane as you would expect from the author of Sweat and Ruined. Joining her is Pulitzer and Tony winner Tracy Letts’s The Minutes, a bitingly funny but ultimately shattering look at history’s baggage through the lens of small-town politics; and Hangmen, the latest affirmation of Tony winner Martin McDonagh’s flair for pitch-black humor and thrilling storytelling.
These duly treasured playwrights face additional competition from The Lehman Trilogy, Ben Power’s adaptation of Stefano Massini’s sprawling account of the immigrant brothers who made an indelible impact on our country’s history and markets; and Skeleton Crew, acclaimed and still-rising dramatist Dominque Morisseau’s witty but sobering look at auto workers confronting economic injustice.
American Buffalo’s Neil Pepe and Company’s Marianne Elliott were among those nominated for direction. Pepe’s fellow nominees in the play field are Lileana Blain-Cruz, who made her Broadway debut as lead director after much acclaim in other venues with a whimsical but piercing revival of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth; stage and screen veteran Sam Mendes, for The Lehman Trilogy; Les Waters for Dana H., Lucas Hnath’s exploration of his mother’s traumatic experiences; and for colored girls’s Camille A. Brown.
Blain-Cruz and Brown are the second and third Black women nominated for director of a play; Brown is also up for best choreography, alongside The Music Man’s Warren Carlyle, SIX’s Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Paradise Square’s Bill T. Jones, and MJ’s Christopher Wheeldon. And Wheeldon joins Elliott as a nominee for best director of a musical, with Strange Loop’s Stephen Brackett, Girl’s McPherson, and SIX’s Moss and Jamie Armitage completing that field.
Moss and Marlow are among the contenders for best original score of a musical—joining Flying Over Sunset’s Tom Kitt and Michael Korie, Mr. Saturday Night’s Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green, A Strange Loop’s Jackson, and Paradise Square’s Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen, and Masi Asare—making Marlow the first out, nonbinary composer/lyricist to be nominated.
The list of firsts presented in this year’s nominations extends to the acting categories. AStrange Loop’s L Morgan Lee, a contender for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, is the first out, transgender performer to be nominated. And there are a whopping seven nominees for actor in a leading role in a play, the most in that field since 1958; they include The Lehman Trilogy’s three stars—Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Adrian Lester—as well as How I Learned to Drive’s David Morse, American Buffalo’s Sam Rockwell, Lackawanna Blues’s Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Hangmen’s David Threlfall. This is also the first time three actors from the same production have been nominated in the lead actor in a play category.
The field for leading actress in a play is smaller but promises to be just as competitive. It includes stage and screen stars Mary-Louise Parker (How I Learned to Drive) and Ruth Negga (director Sam Gold’s Macbeth), beloved musical theater veteran LaChanze (the long-delayed Broadway premiere of Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind), longtime theater favorite Deirdre O’Connell (Dana H.), and Broadway newbie Gabby Beans (Skin of Our Teeth).
A-list names are also represented alongside rising talent in the acting categories for musicals. Mr. Saturday Night’s Crystal and The Music Man’s Hugh Jackman are up against Broadway favorite Rob McClure (Mrs. Doubtfire) and newcomers Myles Frost (MJ) and Jaquel Spivey (Strange Loop) for the leading actor prize. For leading actress, The Music Man’s Sutton Foster and Girl’s Mare Winningham will compete with previous Tony nominees Carmen Cusack (Flying Over Sunset) and Joaquina Kalukango (Paradise Square) and celebrated British performer Sharon D Clarke, who earned her second Olivier Award originating her leading role in Caroline, or Change—her Broadway bow—in London.
Theater and film fans will also find familiar names among the actors and actresses nominated for featured performances, who include Game of Thrones alumnus Alfie Allen (Hangmen)), Patti LuPone (Company), Phylicia Rashad (Skeleton Crew), Chuck Cooper (Trouble in Mind), Jayne Houdyshell (The Music Man), Shoshana Bean (Mr. Saturday Night), Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jesse Williams (Take Me Out), Uzo Aduba and Ron Cephas Jones (Clyde’s), and Rachel Dratch and Julie White (POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive).
As it happens, this year’s Tony Awards will be hosted by a onetime nominee for featured actress in a musical: Ariana DeBose, tapped in 2017 for her performance in Summer—and a recent Oscar winner for her star turn in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story. You can catch her holding court along with other present and future luminaries live from Radio City Music Hall on June 12, on CBS and Paramount++.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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