On June 11, Broadway’s biggest celebration will take place for the first time up in the NYC neighborhood of Washington Heights, as the 76th Annual Tony Awards are handed out at the United Palace. The setting — in the same neighborhood where multiple Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda grew up and set his breakthrough musical, In the Heights — marks a season rich in diversity, in which a wide range of creative and performing artists made their voices heard.
Original musicals, which are eligible for the most awards, typically earn the most nods, and this year is no exception. Some Like It Hot, an adaptation of the classic film comedy, leads the pack with 13 nominations, including Best Musical. Matthew López, who two years ago became the first Latino writer to win Best Play with The Inheritance, and Amber Ruffin earned a nod for the book, which adjusts the movie’s account of two male musicians in drag and the female singer one of them falls for to acknowledge contemporary attitudes about race and gender identity. Broadway veterans Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are contenders for their music and lyrics, which do the same without sacrificing their characteristic irreverence.
The show’s leads, two-time Tony winner Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee, are both up for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Ghee is one of two gender-nonconforming actors tapped this year; the other, Glee alum Alex Newell, was nominated as featured actor for their performance in another Best Musical nominee, Shucked, a rollicking satire about a small town threatened by a dying corn crop in which Newell plays a feisty female whiskey distiller.
Shucked received nine nominations in all, tying two of the three other Best Musical contenders: & Juliet, a girl-power romp revising Shakespeare with the help of modern pop favorites crafted by hitmaker Max Martin, and New York, New York, an ode to the Big Apple loosely inspired by the 1977 film, showcasing songs by the legendary duo John Kander and Fred Ebb alongside new Kander tunes with lyrics by Miranda. All three shows were nominated for best book; Shucked also got a nod for its rootsy but theatrically compelling score, by country music veterans and Broadway newcomers Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally.
The South Korean–born composer and lyricist Helen Park and her collaborator Max Vernon were tapped for their score for KPOP, an energetic look at the machine behind that international music movement, which collected three nominations despite closing after only 17 post-preview performances. An adaptation of Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s 2000 movie tracing his adventures as a teenage music journalist, received its one nomination for classic rock–inspired songs by Tony-winning composer and orchestrator Tom Kitt, who collaborated with Crowe on lyrics.
In the category of Best Direction of a Musical, Jack O’Brien, a five-time Tony winner who has been active for that many decades and change, was recognized alongside younger musical-comedy virtuoso Casey Nicholaw, whose work on Some Like It Hot also earned him a nomination for best choreography. (New York, New York’s highly accomplished Susan Stroman is also a nominee in the latter category, as are Steven Hoggett, for a revival of Sweeney Todd, and Jennifer Weber, cited for both & Juliet and KPOP.) They’ll compete against Michael Arden and Lear deBessonet, who respectively helmed acclaimed revivals of Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s Parade and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, both of which originated as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series.
Rounding out the nominations for Best Musical, original score, book, and director of a musical is another duly praised Off-Broadway transfer, Kimberly Akimbo. Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and celebrated composer Jeanine Tesori’s hilarious, heartbreaking adaptation of Lindsay-Abaire’s play is about a teenage girl suffering from a disease that causes her to age at three or four times the normal rate. Though Kimberly’s relatively understated design went unnoticed, the production was acknowledged in four additional categories, including performances by a leading actress, featured actor, and featured actress—in which 2005 Tony winner Victoria Clark and rising stars Justin Cooley and Bonnie Milligan are all strong contenders.
Clark will face competition from another theater favorite, Annaleigh Ashford, cited for her perky Mrs. Lovett in Thomas Kail’s new production of another Sondheim masterpiece, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barberof Fleet Street, as well as singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, previously best known on Broadway for her Waitress score, who gave a revelatory performance as the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods. Micaela Diamond, who followed up a shiny debut in 2018’s The Cher Show with a moving (and gorgeously sung) turn in Parade, and & Juliet’s Lorna Courtney complete the list.
In the field of leading actor in a musical, Borle and Ghee are up against another pop star–turned-trouper, Josh Groban, currently playing Sweeney Todd’s titular avenging barber, and Tony-winning Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt, cast as Leo Frank, whose early 20th century trial and subsequent murder by an anti-Semitic mob are documented in Parade. (Diamond plays Frank’s wife.) New York, New York’s young leading man, Colton Ryan, and beloved musical theater vet Brian d’Arcy James, who played the Baker in deBessonet’s Into the Woods, are also contenders.
The categories recognizing plays are arguably even more competitive this year, starting at the very top. Nominees for Best Play include three Pulitzer winners: Fat Ham, James Ijames’s sublime comic twist on Hamlet, set in the modern South; Cost of Living, Martyna Majok’s nuanced, piercing study of disabled people and their caregivers; and Between Riverside and Crazy, Stephen McKinley Henderson’s biting but compassionate dark comedy about a retired policemen confronting personal and professional demons.
There’s also Leopoldstadt, the Olivier Award–winning account of a Jewish family’s struggles over more than 50 pivotal years in Vienna that’s been heralded as Sir Tom Stoppard’s most personal work to date; and Jordan E. Cooper’s uproarious satire Ain’t No Mo’, which ponders what would happen if our government offered Black citizens one-way tickets to Africa—and also earned Cooper, who appears in the production, a nomination for featured actor.
The directors of Ain’t No Mo’, Leopoldstadt, Fat Ham, and Cost of Living — respectively, Stevie Walker-Webb, Patrick Marber, Saheem Ali, and Jo Bonney — are all nominees, as are Max Webster, for helming a London-based adaptation of the best-selling novel Life of Pi, and another noted British director, Jamie Lloyd, for his stark, minimalist take on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, featuring a new text by Amy Herzog.
Lloyd and Herzog’s A Doll’s House is competing for Best Revival of a Play alongside three works by iconic Black playwrights: last fall’s blazing new production of Suzan-Lori Parks’s Topdog/Underdog, a lyrical take on August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, and the starry staging of Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which recently transferred from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of Camelot joins Sweeney Todd, Parade, and Into the Woods in the musical category.)
These productions spawned a number of acting nominees who are widely known and admired for their work on stage and screen, among them A Doll’s House star Jessica Chastain, Summer, 1976 star Jessica Hecht, and six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, recognized for her dominant role in Ohio State Murders, which marked trailblazing Black playwright Adrienne Kennedy’s Broadway bow at the age of 91. All four are up for leading actress, as is Killing Eve star Jodie Comer, for her astonishing stage debut in Prima Facie, a one-woman show focused on a young lawyer’s experience with sexual assault.
For leading actor in a play, Topdog stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Corey Hawkins are both nominated, along with Wendell Pierce, for his Willy Loman in a timely reimagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; Sean Hayes, for his portrayal of pianist and wit Oscar Levant in Good Night, Oscar; and Stephen McKinley Henderson — the richly deserving winner of this year’s Harold Prince Lifetime Achievement Award, a special Drama Desk honor — for Riverside.
Theater, television, and film favorites and rising stars are also abundant in the featured acting categories for both plays and musicals. They include, in addition to previously mentioned performers: Samuel L. Jackson (The Piano Lesson), Arian Moayed (A Doll’s House), Brandon Uranowitz (Leopoldstadt), David Zayas (Cost of Living), Crystal Lucas-Perry (Ain’t No Mo’), Jordan Donica (Camelot), Ruthie Ann Miles (Sweeney Todd), Kara Young (Cost of Living), and Betsy Wolfe (& Juliet), among others.
The ceremony will air on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT (following a preshow that begins 90 minutes earlier on Pluto TV), with Broadway baby–turned–Oscar winner Ariana DeBose hosting for the second consecutive year.
Stay up to date on all of this year’s Tony Awards news here.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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