Tonys: 'Hello, Dolly!' Is a Shoo-in, But Other Key Battles Will Be Fierce

Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes
David Hyde Pierce and Bette Midler, both Tony-nominated for 'Hello, Dolly!'

As expected, there was no massive sweep on the order of last year's behemoth, 'Hamilton,' which means the 2017 Tony Awards is shaping up to be a suspenseful night in many categories.

Well, hello, Bette. Engravers might as well start etching the name of Bette Midler on the Tony Award for lead actress in a musical, along with musical revival honors for the enchanting production in which she stars, Hello, Dolly! That blockbuster, which opened April 20 to ecstatic reviews, landed 10 nominations Tuesday morning, when shortlists for the 71st Annual Tony Awards honoring the best of the Broadway season were announced.

The bountiful Hello, Dolly! haul included mentions for lead actor David Hyde Pierce, featured players Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin and director Jerry Zaks. The fact that being a revival, the show was ineligible for categories like best original score and book; and Warren Carlyle's choreography, modeled on that of original director Gower Champion, was also taken out of the running, makes the substantial showing a triumph.

Only one production scored higher in the nominations tally, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, taking 12, including best new musical, original score, book, direction, choreography and orchestrations, as well as acting slots for leads Josh Groban and Denee Benton and featured actor Lucas Steele, and noms in all three design categories. Writer-composer Dave Malloy's electro-pop opera based on an excerpt from War and Peace opened in November to stellar reviews and strong business, considerably boosted by Groban's robust fan base.

But pundits thinking that leading haul makes Great Comet the automatic frontrunner for the night's top award should place their bets with caution. There's a lot of love in the Broadway community both for the teen isolation musical Dear Evan Hansen, a strong-selling hit that took nine nominations; as well as for Come From Away, about 9/11 flights diverted to a tiny Newfoundland airport town, and Groundhog Day, adapted from the beloved Bill Murray screen comedy, both of which landed seven.

The fact that Evan Hansen and Groundhog Day both are driven largely by the roles of their nominated leading men, respectively Ben Platt and Andy Karl, put those shows at a disadvantage in other performance categories. And Come From Away, a Canadian import that is shaping up to be the season's sleeper hit, is an egalitarian ensemble piece with no lead roles, meaning its sole performance nom was Jenn Colella for featured actress.

Any one of those four nominees could nab best musical, which is the only Tony Award generally considered within the industry to provide a significant boost at the box office. All four of them snagged the key trio of noms for best musical, book and original score, as well as direction, meaning each of the shows was highly regarded by the Tony nominating committee.

Equally up in the air is the race for best play. That category often causes locals to grumble when a British import marches in and steals all the thunder from homegrown contenders. But this year, all four slots went to American playwrights making acclaimed Broadway debuts.

Leading the field with eight nominations is Lucas Hnath's punchy Ibsen deconstruction, A Doll's House, Part 2, which can claim the rare distinction of acting slots for all four of its cast: Laurie Metcalf and Chris Cooper in the lead races, as well as Jayne Houdyshell (a winner last year for The Humans) and Condola Rashad for featured actress. The production's haul, also including a spot for director Sam Gold, represents a double whammy for producer Scott Rudin, also behind the smash Hello, Dolly! revival.

Rudin's other productions this season yielded a more modest showing, including a lead actress mention for Sally Field in the divisive revival of The Glass Menagerie, which has been struggling at the box office; and noms for featured actor Nathan Lane and set design for The Front Page, an all-star fall revival that was a major smash in its limited engagement.

Elsewhere in the race for best play, J.T. Rogers' political diplomacy thriller Oslo is most definitely in the running with seven nominations, including lead actors Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle (both previous Tony winners), featured actor Michael Aronov and director Bartlett Sher, a winner in 2008 for South Pacific.

Rounding out the best play field with three nominations apiece are Paula Vogel's Jewish history play Indecent and Lynn Nottage's timely Rust Belt drama about disenfranchised steel industry workers, Sweat, which has the leverage of having recently won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama. While Indecent was absent from the acting categories, it earned a mention for director Rebecca Taichman; and Sweat scored featured actress noms for Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson.

Going by numbers alone, best play now boils down to a tight two-horse race between A Doll's House, Part 2 and Oslo, though all four entries have a legitimate shot. And given that the spring has proved to be tough sledding for nonmusicals at the box office, all four stand to reap benefits from magnified attention in the run-up to Tony night.

The conventional wisdom that productions no longer running are at a disadvantage was crushed by the heartening performance of August Wilson's Jitney, which earned six nominations, equaling the recently opened The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman. The noms for Jitney, which wrapped its limited run mid-March, include director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and featured actor John Douglas Thompson, while Foxes grabbed mentions for lead actress Laura Linney, featured actress Cynthia Nixon, featured actor Richard Thomas and director Daniel Sullivan.

Also up for best revival of a play is Noel Coward's Present Laughter, with three noms including lead actor for previous winner Kevin Kline's bravura comic turn as an aging stage star; and John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, with two, which puts Corey Hawkins in the running for lead actor for his nuanced con man, but unexpectedly shut out the acclaimed Allison Janney from the ultra-competitive lead actress in a play stakes. (Six Degrees is another production that has been underperforming at the box office; whether its two key Tony noms can save it remains to be seen.)

Competing with Ehle, Field, Linney and Metcalf for lead actress in a play is Cate Blanchett for her long-awaited Broadway debut in a well-received Sydney Theatre Company production of Chekhov's early play The Present, which ended its limited engagement mid-March.

Another contender from a production now closed is Canadian veteran Denis Arndt for Simon Stephens' two-character play Heisenberg, which wrapped in December, co-starring Mary-Louise Parker. Arndt rounds out the noms for best actor in a play, alongside Cooper, Hawkins, Kline and Mays.

Dwarfed in the shadow of preordained winner Hello, Dolly! in the musical revival field, though holding its head up with a very respectable five nominations, is Falsettos, which concluded its limited engagement in early January. That beloved AIDS-era tragicomedy generated Tony recognition for lead actor and two-time previous Tony winner Christian Borle, featured actors Andrew Rannells and Brandon Uranowitz, and featured actress Stephanie J. Block. Regardless of all the love, however, if Falsettos were to pull off a win for revival, it would be one of the biggest upsets in Tony history.

The third musical revival slot went to Miss Saigon, which also puts 20-year-old Broadway newcomer Eva Noblezada, along with Great Comet's fellow newbie Benton, into the august company of lead actress in a musical candidates Midler, and for War Paint, Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone — three legitimate Broadway legends. A portrait of the longtime rivalry between dueling cosmetics titans Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, War Paint drew a mixed critical response despite unanimous praise for its co-stars, resulting in a somewhat disappointing showing of four noms, also including costumes and sets.

Tony nominations morning invariably is a time when producers of shows struggling at the box office either heave a sigh of relief or start reluctantly making plans for a closing date. One shutout that might not need the awards muscle is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which despite largely dismissive reviews is doing brisk business thanks to its well-loved source material. Also unlikely to be impacted by its surprising exclusion from the musical revival race is Sunset Boulevard, which has been a strong seller, driven by Glenn Close reprising a role that won her a Tony 22 years ago — making her ineligible this year. And the snub might not make a lot of difference to A Bronx Tale: The Musical, which has proven popular, grossing a solid $21.9 million million since it began performances in November.

However, another show that drew mainly tepid reviews and was completely cold-shouldered in the Tony stakes, Amelie, looks to be more vulnerable at this point, with feeble grosses. The recently opened musicals Anastasia and Bandstand scored just two nominations each in secondary categories. It's too early to tell the fate of Bandstand, a post-World War II homefront story that combines swing tunes and jitterbug with a more serious side concerning post-traumatic combat disorders. But Anastasia is showing considerable drawing power thanks to the 1997 Fox animated feature that serves as one of its sources, and the popular theme song, "Journey to the Past," making this a destination show for girls and young women celebrating their inner princess.

Some pundits wondered if after the racially inclusive 2016 edition of the Tonys, in which Hamilton dominated, this year would revert to an all-white awards lineup. But performers of color are represented in half the acting races, including Hawkins for lead in a play, Benton and Noblezada for lead in a musical, Thompson for featured actor in a play and Rashad and Wilson for featured actress in a play, along with Santiago-Hudson for direction.

The Tony Awards will be presented June 11 in a ceremony hosted by Kevin Spacey, airing live from Radio City Music Hall on CBS at 8 p.m. ET (PT time-delayed).

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