At this time last year, there was much talk of the “Hamiltonys,” as Broadway braced for the coronation of a certain musical that had already earned creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda a steady string of honors. If no single production this season has loomed as large outside theater circles as Hamilton did, a number of them are generating excitement for the 2017 Tony Awards — set to air live from Radio City Music Hall this Sunday, June 11, at 8 p.m. ET on CBS — as the big night approaches.
Original musicals often have garnered the most attention, and the most nominations, benefiting from eligibility in the categories of book and score. This year, though, only one, the 12-times-tapped Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, is up for more Tonys than the exuberant staging of Hello, Dolly! that’s widely expected to take home the prize for Best Revival of a Musical. (Productions of Falsettos and Miss Saigon are also nominated.) Dolly! star Bette Midler is a favorite in the field of Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, though she faces formidable competition from two of musical theater’s most durable leading ladies: Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, respectively cast as beauty and business pioneers Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden in War Paint.
For Best Musical, Natasha, Dave Malloy’s adaptation of a portion of War and Peace, is competing with Dear Evan Hansen, up for nine Tonys (one less than Dolly), as well as Come From Away, a spirited account of generosity and compassion in the wake of September 11, and Groundhog Day the Musical, based on the goofy-romantic screen comedy, each carrying seven nominations. Dear Evan Hansen, a piercingly topical look at the search for connection and affirmation in the digital age, has considerable momentum, with a libretto by rising playwright Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, recent Oscar winners for their contributions to La La Land — but all four entries have ardent champions.
Three Best Musical nominees are represented in the race for performance by a leading actor, with Broadway newcomers Josh Groban and Ben Platt, respective stars of Natasha and Evan Hansen, vying with Groundhog Day’s Andy Karl, who famously rallied to open the show 72 hours after suffering a serious knee injury in previews. Midler’s costar David Hyde Pierce and Falsettos leading man (and current star of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) Christian Borle are also nominated.
Other high-profile acting nominees include Kevin Kline (Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play), who returned to Broadway with a smashing — literally, at times — comedic performance in a revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter; and Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney, now swapping roles in another classic, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. Linney’s company in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play includes fellow stage and screen luminaries Cate Blanchett (The Present), Laurie Metcalf (A Doll’s House, Part 2), Jennifer Ehle (Oslo), and Sally Field (The Glass Menagerie).
Metcalf received one of eight nominations culled by A Doll’s House, Part 2, which follows Ibsen’s most famous heroine some years after her big exit; all three of all her fellow cast members – Jayne Houdyshell (a winner last year) and Condola Rashad for featured performances, Chris Cooper as a leading actor – are nominees, as are playwright Lucas Hnath and the seemingly omnipresent director Sam Gold. Other new works up for best play also find timely messages in literature and in history, some of it recent. Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat reveals a post-industrial Rust Belt where workers from various backgrounds are thrown together and pitted against each other; J.T. Rogers’s Oslo brings us back to the early ‘90s to explore the endangered art of negotiation. Paula Vogel’s Indecent uses an early-20th century Yiddish play to examine enduring intolerance, in various forms.
Contenders for revival of a play include, in addition to Present Laughter and The Little Foxes, a new staging of Six Degrees of Separation (with Corey Hawkins, nominee for performance in a leading role) and the long-overdue Broadway premiere of August Wilson’s Jitney, which also earned a nod for Wilson collaborator — and champion since the playwright’s untimely death — Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The director, who won an acting Tony 21 years ago for a featured role in Wilson’s Seven Guitars, will compete with previous Tony winners Sam Gold (A Doll’s House, Part 2), Bartlett Sher (Oslo), and Daniel Sullivan (The Little Foxes), joined by Rebecca Taichman, who, like Vogel, is making her Broadway bow — after much acclaim Off-Broadway and in regional theater — with Indecent.
Among nominated musical directors, Natasha’s Rachel Chavkin is the accomplished upstart in a category otherwise occupied by veterans: Jerry Zaks (Hello, Dolly!), Michael Greif (Dear Evan Hansen), Matthew Washus (Groundhog Day), and La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley (Come From Away). The featured-performance categories, too, are packed with names familiar to theater fans: In addition to Nixon, there’s Nathan Lane (The Front Page), Andrew Rannells (Falsettos), John Douglas Thompson (Jitney),Dolly!’‘s Kate Baldwin and Gavin Creel.
Nominees also include a newbie named Danny DeVito, for his featured role in a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Price — proving that you’re never too old, or too famous, to be a Broadway baby.