Tonys: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

9:59 AM 6/6/2019

by David Rooney and Scott Feinberg

THR's chief theater critic David Rooney shares his choices, while awards analyst Scott Feinberg names his predictions to win in the top categories ahead of Sunday's ceremony.

'Hadestown'
'Hadestown'
Courtesy of Helen Maybanks

The 73rd Annual Tony Awards will be handed out Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York, with James Corden returning as host for the second time.

Ahead of the show, The Hollywood Reporter's chief theater critic David Rooney and awards analyst Scott Feinberg make their picks for who should and will win, respectively.

While the general consensus is that Elaine May and Santino Fontana should go ahead and clear space on their trophy shelves, many other top awards remain wide open races, which should generate suspense and surprises at the ceremony.

Read on to see THR's picks, and click here for the full list of nominations.

  • Best Musical

    'Hadestown'
    'Hadestown'
    Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Hadestown
    At least four of the five nominees here would make worthy winners — Tootsie is the most uproariously funny and entertaining new musical comedy to hit Broadway in years; Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations animates the ageless beats of classic Motown with electrifying performances; and The Prom hitches its heartfelt advocacy for LGBTQ inclusion to a hilarious insider satire of the New York theater-biz bubble. But indie singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell’s beguiling retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth as a jazz-infused folk opera, Hadestown, stands out for the bold originality of its hypnotic storytelling and the distinctive beauty of its wraparound score.

    WILL WIN: Hadestown
    Don't count out blockbuster Tootsie or little-engine-that-could The Prom, but this feels like Hadestown's to lose, less because of its field-leading 14 noms (the nom-com and final voting pool are totally different) than its origin story: Rachel Chavkin, on the heels of The Great Comet, guided this inventive production from off-Broadway to Broadway with a large ensemble of beloved talent. This category's last few winners — Fun Home, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and The Band's Visit — suggest voters want to reward totally fresh material and homegrown talent.

  • Best Play

    'The Ferryman'
    'The Ferryman'
    Jez Butterworth

    SHOULD WIN: The Ferryman
    The perplexing exclusion by the Tony Nominating Committee of Aaron Sorkin's artful adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird turned what should have been a nail-biter two-horse race into a category with one clear frontrunner. The uncanny timeliness and intensely personal perspective of Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me means this sui generis reflection on America's founding document and its marginalization of women cannot be counted out. But it's hard to look past the majestic sweep of Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, a gripping, superbly modulated account of a family's harvest day in pastoral Northern Ireland during the Troubles, which evolves into an unsettling thriller as the long arm of the violent past intrudes on the festivities.

    WILL WIN: The Ferryman
    Heidi Schreck's Pulitzer finalist What the Constitution Means to Me, which is essentially a one-woman show, has its champions, but London import The Ferryman, which was written by Jez Butterworth, directed by Sam Mendes and boasts a terrific ensemble, was a larger-scale undertaking with at least as much to say, and seems to have a slight edge. (One can't help but wonder what would have happened if the small nominating committee had not left out To Kill a Mockingbird in favor of Choir Boy, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus or Ink.)

  • Best Musical Revival

    'Oklahoma'
    'Oklahoma'
    Courtesy of Omdkc.com

    SHOULD WIN: Oklahoma!
    No contest. Kiss Me, Kate has its share of charms, not least the reward of hearing Kelli O'Hara's creamy soprano on Cole Porter evergreens like "So in Love," and Corbin Bleu in a tap-happy performance unjustly overlooked by the Tony committee. But there's no comparison with the thrilling reinvention of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Without changing a word, director Daniel Fish and his peerless cast transform the 1943 corn-fed classic about a farm girl and her rival suitors into a disturbing romantic triangle that exposes the blood in the soil of the American heartland. And what orchestrator Daniel Kluger has done with the show's lush melodies — stripped down to be played on instruments that might have been found at an early-1900s community dance — is a revelation.

    WILL WIN: Oklahoma!
    It is dispiriting that the field was so thin this year that there are only two nominees, but, that being the case, it seems all but certain that a totally new take on Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! — pared down, in the round and with a cast including an actress of color and an actress in a wheelchair — will hold off a fairly traditional, if unspectacular, version of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate.

  • Best Play Revival

    'The Boys in the Band'
    'The Boys in the Band'
    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: The Boys in the Band
    Arthur Miller's All My Sons packs considerable power in its superb revival; Adam Driver's emotionally and physically charged performance elevates Lanford Wilson's Burn This; and Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song infused the rare quality of honest sentiment into its portrait of a gay New Yorker yearning for love, family and dignity. But the standouts here are Kenneth Lonergan's delicate drama inspired by the decline into dementia of his grandmother, The Waverly Gallery, and Mart Crowley's landmark pre-Stonewall depiction of a group of gay male friends getting together for a birthday party that spirals into savagery and self-loathing, The Boys in the Band. My choice would be the latter, a play often reviled for its perpetuation of negative stereotypes, here re-examined by director Joe Mantello and his estimable ensemble with illuminating compassion and an acute understanding of the wounds inflicted by an intolerant society.

    WILL WIN: The Boys in the Band
    Only two of the five nominees — All My Sons and Burn This, both excellent — are still running, which is usually an advantage. But I think this race is between two long-closed productions, The Boys in the Band and The Waverly Gallery, both of which were much loved and are receiving big pushes. Elaine May is assured individual recognition for the latter, so I suspect voters will seize this opportunity to acknowledge the star-studded former, which will soon be adapted for Netflix.

  • Best Actor in a Musical

    Santino Fontana in 'Tootsie'
    Santino Fontana in 'Tootsie'
    Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Santino Fontana, Tootsie
    Dorothy Michaels, this is your five-minute call. Damon Daunno's sexy, quietly menacing take on bronco rider Curly in Oklahoma! haunted me for days. But Santino Fontana has this one in the bag for the wit, humanity, warmth and assurance with which he takes a role indelibly associated with Dustin Hoffman in the 1982 movie and molds an entirely fresh characterization. Fontana sells the perfectionist actor Michael Dorsey, too high on his own genius to understand why he's insufferable to work with. More crucially, however, he makes you believe that Dorothy, the female persona he creates, is not just his greatest acting challenge but also his best shot at learning to become a better man. Fontana carries the show on his sequin-clad shoulders.

    WILL WIN: Santino Fontana, Tootsie
    The Prom's Brooks Ashmanskas is a popular vet and Beetlejuice's Alex Brightman is a force of nature, but nobody can hold a candle to Tootsie's lead, a past nominee for Cinderella who, in this production, is great as both Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, and sewed up this award with his marvelous rendition of "I Won't Let You Down."

  • Best Actress in a Musical

    Stephanie J. Block in 'The Cher Show'
    Stephanie J. Block in 'The Cher Show'
    Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
    No other nominee comes close to the magic of Stephanie J. Block as the most senior and authoritative of a troika of Chers in The Cher Show. As much as the indefatigable stamina that has made "comeback" such an irrelevant term in the eponymous, decades-defying diva's career, it's the sly self-irony that has forged her endurance. Block captures that insouciant humor and worldly wisdom with natural ease, while belting out a string of pop classics with powerhouse vocals that approximate the sound of the boss without getting stuck in slavish imitation. In a bio-musical dusted with trashy-flashy Vegas glitz and flamboyant style, Block nails just the right balance of sincerity with winking complicity. She's a treasure whose Tony time has come.

    WILL WIN: Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
    There's a constituency for Beth Leavel, who won once before in 2006 and is hilarious in The Prom, but a great many are excited to celebrate Stephanie J. Block, a well-liked trouper who nails Cher in The Cher Show. It's just a shame that Micaela Diamond and Teal Wicks, the other two actresses who play Cher in the show, aren't along for the ride.

  • Best Actor in a Play

    Jeff Daniels in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
    Jeff Daniels in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
    Julieta Cervantes

    SHOULD WIN: Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird
    This is a formidable category with five gifted performers working in entirely different keys. Of the two frontrunners who have emerged, Bryan Cranston's virtuoso meltdown as Howard Beale, the mad prophet of the airwaves in Network, is an astonishing display of acting craft, tunneling into the deepest pits of despair and soaring to insane epiphanies. But the frenetic multimedia production never matches Cranston's brilliance, particularly in the poorly developed supporting roles. For that reason, I would go for the subtler work of Jeff Daniels, who brings his own contemplative gravitas to the role of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, finding the blind spots as well as the moral certainty in a character that has acquired the outsize dimensions of an American folk hero. Daniels is the indispensable linchpin of a tremendous ensemble.

    WILL WIN: Bryan Cranston, Network
    Burn This' Adam Driver and Choir Boy's Jeremy Pope are the future, but the present? One of two heavyweight vets: Network's Bryan Cranston or To Kill a Mockingbird's Jeff Daniels. Daniels hasn't won, whereas Cranston has (for All the Way in 2015). But Cranston gives a showier turn and carries his production, while Daniels is but one part of a strong ensemble. It's close.

  • Best Actress in a Play

    Elaine May in 'The Waverly Gallery'
    Elaine May in 'The Waverly Gallery'
    Courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe

    SHOULD WIN: Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
    Along with Fontana's win for Tootsie, this is the closest thing to a lock in this year's Tonys. Returning to Broadway after an absence of more than 50 years, comedy legend Elaine May was so fully immersed in her portrayal of Gladys in The Waverly Gallery, a character based on playwright Kenneth Lonergan's grandmother, that it was impossible to locate the line separating performer from part. Playing the loquacious longtime Greenwich Village fixture, whose mind is succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer's disease, May was alternately funny, maddening and heart-wrenching, clutching at shreds of memory while tragically surrendering to the chokehold of impenetrable fog.

    WILL WIN: Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
    Any category with Annette Bening (All My Sons), Janet McTeer (Bernhardt/Hamlet) and Laurie Metcalf (Hillary and Clinton), the latter a winner of consecutive Tonys in the last two years, is impressive. But they need not even bother showing up, so assured of a win is 87-year-old Elaine May for her first Broadway turn in 52 years, aided by "the full Scott Rudin" push.

  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical

    Andre De Shields in 'Hadestown'
    Andre De Shields in 'Hadestown'
    Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Andre De Shields, Hadestown
    The relative newcomers in Ain't Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations, Jeremy Pope and Ephraim Sykes, not only exhibited knockout vocal skills and sizzling dance moves, they also found poignancy in the self-sabotage of two of the most troubled members of The Temptations. But the elder statesman of this category, Andre De Shields, deserves the honors for his fabulous turn as Hermes, the conductor of souls to the afterlife who functions as the narrator of Hadestown, leading us on an intoxicating journey to Hell and back. His co-star Patrick Page also impresses as the underworld overlord, but 50-year career veteran De Shields brings such superfly elegance, wily charm and effortless command, he's a storyteller we'd follow anywhere.

    WILL WIN: Andre De Shields, Hadestown
    Jeremy Pope and Ephraim Sykes are terrific Temptations in Ain't Too Proud, Andy Grotelueschen provides much of Tootsie's humor and booming Patrick Page is pitch-perfect in Hadestown. But it is De Shields' time: Hadestown's dignified emcee has been on Broadway since the 1970s, and will, at 73, on his third nom, pick up his first win.

  • Best Featured Actress in a Musical

    Ali Stroker in 'Oklahoma'
    Ali Stroker in 'Oklahoma'
    Little Fang Photo

    SHOULD WIN: Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!
    The divine Amber Gray sashays, shimmies, winks and flirts her way through Hadestown as the goddess Persephone, married to Patrick Page's pinstriped industrialist Hades on the condition that she get to bask in the warmth of springtime above ground each year. But as bewitching as she is, I have to go with Ali Stroker's outrageously horny Ado Annie in Oklahoma! Casting a wheelchair user in this comedic role might have seemed a dutiful nod to inclusion, but Stroker's girl who "Cain't Say No" is a fiercely self-possessed woman who exalts in her sexuality and is unapologetic in her wandering desires. The production is staged in the round, which means while you're watching Ado Annie navigate her two suitors, you're also witnessing the infectious joy of Stroker's performance mirrored in the faces of your fellow audience.

    WILL WIN: Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!
    No disrespect to the other nominees, but Hadestown's Amber Gray and Oklahoma!'s Ali Stroker are the two show-stoppers in this category. Gray, after the one-two punch of The Great Comet and this, is eminently worthy of a victory, but it will be hard for voters to resist the chance to make Stroker the first wheelchair-using Tony winner.

  • Best Featured Actor in a Play

    Robin De Jesus (far left) in 'The Boys in the Band'
    Robin De Jesus (far left) in 'The Boys in the Band'
    Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: Benjamin Walker, All My Sons
    The performance that should have won this category, Zachary Quinto's fearlessly abrasive, acid-tongued Harold in The Boys in the Band, was criminally overlooked by the nominators. In his absence, the pendulum seems to be swinging between his castmate Robin De Jesus as lovable flamer Emory, and Bertie Carvel, reprising his Olivier-winning performance in the showy role of the Mephistophelean young Rupert Murdoch, tearing up Fleet Street in Ink. I might be in the minority, but I was most affected by Benjamin Walker's shattering filial disillusionment in All My Sons. Tracy Letts and Annette Bening are devastating as the parents hiding their disgrace, but as the surviving son whose eyes are opened to their dishonesty, Walker deftly embodies a heartsick nation waking up to the hollowness of the American Dream.

    WILL WIN: Bertie Carvel, Ink
    Three past nominees (Ink's Carvel, The Boys in the Band's Robin De Jesus and Burn This' Brandon Uranowitz) are facing two first-timers (To Kill a Mockingbird's Gideon Glick and All My Sons' Benjamin Walker). I think it's between Carvel and De Jesus, their shows' sole acting nominees. Few have won betting against Rupert Murdoch.

  • Best Featured Actress in a Play

    Celia Keenan-Bolger in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
    Celia Keenan-Bolger in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
    Julieta Cervantes

    SHOULD WIN: Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
    As the poetically nicknamed Aunt Maggie Far Away, Irish veteran Fionnula Flanagan makes her periodic bouts of lucidity in The Ferryman into spellbinding visions that merge personal history with ancient folklore. But the performance that strikes the most delicate emotional chords is Celia Keenan-Bolger's as 8-year-old Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. A tomboy whose innocence slowly crumbles as she witnesses the searing injustice and racial hatred that her idolized father is incapable of fixing, Keenan-Bolger's Scout is the tender heart of this eternally relevant American classic.

    WILL WIN: Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
    King Lear
    's Ruth Wilson and Gary's Kristine Nielsen and Julie White are fine in divisive productions, and Fionnula Flanagan has nice moments in The Ferryman, but To Kill a Mockingbird's Celia Keenan-Bolger, a first-rate actress and cherished member of the theater community, will, on her fourth nom, snag her first win for her 8-year-old Scout.

  • Best Direction of a Musical

    'Hadestown'
    'Hadestown'
    Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
    Rachel Chavkin was robbed two years ago when her invigoratingly immersive staging of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 lost out to Christopher Ashley's far more pedestrian direction of the crowd-pleaser, Come From Away. Just as Chavkin's collaboration with writer-composer Dave Malloy yielded a seamless theatrical experience on that earlier show, her work on Hadestown with Anais Mitchell and an innovative design team makes this sung-through folk opera a fully integrated fusion of myth, music and expressive visuals unlike anything else on Broadway. Fine-tuned over three pre-Broadway engagements, the show brings a blast of revivifying creativity hotter than the fires of Hell.

    WILL WIN: Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
    The Prom's Casey Nicholaw cannot be counted out (this is his third nom in five years; he won in 2011 for The Book of Mormon), but after being robbed of this award two years ago for The Great Comet, look for Chavkin, the sole female nominee in the category, to prevail.
     

  • Best Direction of a Play

    'The Ferryman'
    'The Ferryman'
    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    SHOULD WIN: Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
    Ties tend to dilute the value of an award, but it's truly a tough call to judge whose work is superior between Bartlett Sher's staging of To Kill a Mockingbird and Sam Mendes' of The Ferryman. Both productions represent large-scale event theater of a type seldom seen in this more frugal era of the small-cast play. Sher's elegant direction is all about dramatic integrity, expertly steering our focus and coaxing meaning from every look, gesture and word. Mendes' more boisterous touch draws out the humor, mischief, magic and danger in Butterworth's text, balancing living, breathing family tableaux with wild bursts of activity, and building almost imperceptibly to a stunning jolt of climactic violence. That he wrangles not just a cast of 25, but also a rabbit, a goose and a scene-stealing baby gives Mendes a slight edge.

    WILL WIN: Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
    Only twice this century has the best director not helmed either the best play or best revival of a play winner. This category boasts no directors of revival nominees and three directors of play nominees, two of which have no chance.

  • Best Original Score

    'Hadestown'
    'Hadestown'
    Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Anais Mitchell, Hadestown
    Tootsie
    and The Prom opt for a fairly conventional Broadway musical comedy sound, while Beetlejuice and Be More Chill mix in elements of pop. But in terms of exciting eclecticism that weaves disparate influences — neo-folk, New Orleans jazz, gospel, Tin Pan Alley, Kurt Weill — into a cohesive whole, nothing else this season rivals the sophistication and melodic beauty of Anais Mitchell's score for Hadestown. A key plot point is the struggle of Orpheus to finish a song so exquisite it can turn endless winter to spring, and Mitchell's compositions make such miracles seem possible. I could listen to the sinuous dissonance of "Doubt Comes In" for days.

    WILL WIN: Anais Mitchell, Hadestown
    David Yazbek, who won last year for The Band's Visit, could repeat for Tootsie, which was never previously set to music, but Anais Mitchell's blend of folk and soul for Hadestown strikes many as more inventive and daring.

  • Best Book of a Musical

    'Tootsie'
    'Tootsie'
    Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Robert Horn, Tootsie
    Robert Horn's only previous Broadway credits were penning additional material for Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance and co-authoring the book for the Jason Robert Brown musical, 13, notable chiefly for introducing a then-unknown Ariana Grande. But after a writing career that has ranged from Designing Women and Living Single through a spate of Disney Channel movies, Horn emerges as a certified comedy genius with his inspired reworking of Tootsie, molding a potentially dated vehicle into a subversive comedy about gender roles, specifically tailored for our times. This is the rare screen-to-stage translation where the biggest laughs are generated not by familiar gags from the movie but by new material, and Horn's work fleshing out the secondary characters is exemplary.

    WILL WIN: Tootsie
    Robert Horn took Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal's timeless film script and somehow improved upon it, relocating it from a soap opera to the theater and evoking even more laughs.

  • Best Choreography

    'Ain't Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations'
    'Ain't Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations'
    Matthew Murphy

    SHOULD WIN: Sergio Trujillo, Ain't Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations
    Camille A. Brown's movement seemed like spontaneous expressions of raw adolescent feeling in Choir Boy, and Warren Carlyle's sassy choreography for four performers on "Tom, Harry or Dick" in Kiss Me, Kate delivered arguably the funniest dance number of the season. But for exhilarating energy and silky-smooth moves, nobody tops Sergio Trujillo's dynamite reinterpretation of classic Motown vocal group formations with a propulsive theatrical spin in Ain't Too Proud. Trujillo's choreography is no less responsible for the bio-musical's unfaltering fluidity than Des McAnuff's direction. And while the ever-changing lineup of The Temptations moves in harmonious unison, each member also has his own special style, no one more so than Ephraim Sykes with his amazing rubberized splits.

    WILL WIN: Sergio Trujillo, Ain't Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations
    When one thinks of choreography in music, one thinks of The Temptations. Sergio Trujillo recreates their slick moves and builds upon them in the way that singers come and go from the group.