Tony Awards: Predicting the Play Winners Using Math

6:15 AM 6/7/2018

by Ben Zauzmer

Crunching the numbers: The drama 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' and the revival of 'Angels in America' are the favorites in their categories.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' and 'Angels in America'
'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' and 'Angels in America'
Manuel Harlan; Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

Want a sneak peek at the Tony results before Sunday night? While we can’t get ahold of the vote totals in advance, we can make some reasonable estimates using just math.

Every year, I predict the Tony Award winners using the results of other theater awards, the categories each show was nominated in and critics' predictions from across the internet. I weight each of these factors by how well they’ve predicted the Tonys in each category in previous years, and then apply that weighting to this year’s nominees to determine their chances.

When I performed similar calculations for the 2018 Oscars, my model made 20 correct picks across 21 categories. But there’s no guarantee that the model fares as well for this year’s Tonys: These are percentages, after all, and upsets do happen. That’s what makes award shows like Sunday night's so exciting.

  • Best Play

    J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise has set numerous sales records as a book, becoming the only series in history to sell more than 500 million copies. It went on to set film records, becoming the highest grossing movie franchise of all time — at least until it was surpassed by Star Wars and not counting Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. And then it set records as a play, winning nine Olivier Awards in London, the most ever for one play or musical. Now, the new dramatic incarnation of the beloved wizarding franchise, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is favored to continue its winning streak on this side of the pond.

  • Best Revival of a Play

    Speaking of records, Angels in America set a major new Tony mark this year, becoming the first nonmusical ever to receive 11 nominations. The Coast of Utopia (2007) and Fences (2010) each had ten. So, it’s no surprise to see that the revival of Tony Kushner’s work is favored to win at least a couple of those, including the big race for best revival of a play.

  • Leading Actor in a Play

    Andrew Garfield received his first Tony nomination six years ago for playing Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman, and returns to the nominee list for portraying another of 20th century America’s most iconic characters: AIDS sufferer Prior Walter in Angels in America. With wins from the Drama Desk Awards and the Outer Critics Circle Awards, Garfield has the strongest resume to wind up on top.

  • Leading Actress in a Play

    Glenda Jackson has one of the most remarkable career arcs of any entertainer in recent memory. She was a prolific performer on film, television, and the stage from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, collecting Oscar wins for Women in Love (1970) and A Touch of Class (1973). She then left the business entirely to stand for election to the U.K.’s Parliament, and served as an MP for 23 years. Now age 82, she has been welcomed back by the theater community, first as King Lear in London, and then in her Tony-favored role in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.

  • Featured Actor in a Play

    Nine actors have won multiple Tony awards for leading actor in a musical, including Nathan Lane, who won for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1996) and The Producers (2001). Of those nine, Zero Mostel (who, coincidentally, won for the same role in A Funny Thing Happened, along with Fiddler on the Roof) is the only one to have also won a Tony for a role in a play, winning for Rhinoceros (1961). Lane will try to match him with a play victory for Angels in America in which he plays conservative attorney Roy Cohn.

  • Featured Actress in a Play

    No play has ever won all four acting awards, and only three have won three-quarters of them in a single year: The Real Thing (1984), Lost in Yonkers (1991), and The Beauty Queen of Leenane (1998). For the first time in 20 years, we might see another play claim three of the four acting honors, as the math favors Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, and Denise Gough to take home trophies for Angels in America.

  • Direction of a Play

    As often happens, the Best Director race comes down to a head-to-head bout between the favorites for the top two categories – new play and drama revival. That means Angels in America’s Marianne Elliott and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s John Tiffany are set to square off, but the math affords a healthy lead to Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle champ Tiffany.

  • Costume Design in a Play

    Harry Potter and the Cursed Child costume designer Katrina Lindsay told fan website Pottermore: “People would really straight away recognize the characters as soon as they walked in, which is quite different from other productions I’ve done.” Even with that added difficulty — trying to make the costumes your own while also fitting into the preconceived notions we all have about what Harry Potter characters should look like — by all accounts Lindsay aced the test.

  • Lighting Design in a Play

    Harry Potter and the Cursed Child won both the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle Award, and seems to be running away with this category. At the Drama Desk Awards, only Farinelli and the King even got a nomination for lighting design among the other Tony nominees.

  • Scenic Design in a Play

    Scenic designer Christine Jones already has one Tony on her mantle for American Idiot (2010), and the math favors her to add another one for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This would make her only the fourth scenic designer to win both the play and musical categories in years when the award was split in two. The others are Oliver Smith, Bob Crowley, and Scott Pask.

  • Sound Design of a Play

    Welcome back, Sound Design! The category was removed after the 2014 Tonys, and now returns following a three-year absence. Only one play or musical has ever swept all four design categories — costume, lighting, scenic, and sound: the 2008 revival of South Pacific. The math says Harry Potter could be the second, as it leads all four of these races.

    Tomorrow: Part II of this article will look at the musical categories at this year's Tonys.

    Ben Zauzmer (@BensOscarMath) uses data to write about awards shows for The Hollywood Reporter. He works as a baseball analyst for The Los Angeles Dodgers.