Tony Awards: Predicting the Nominees Using Math

6:30 AM 4/30/2018

by Ben Zauzmer

Crunching the numbers, the musical 'The Band's Visit' and the drama 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' are the likeliest nominees in their respective categories.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' (left), 'The Band's Visit'
'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' (left), 'The Band's Visit'
Manuel Harlan; Matthew Murphy

On Tuesday morning, the Tonys will announce the most coveted invitation on Broadway: the nomination that will determine which directors, actors, designers, choreographers and writers will be invited to attend the 2018 Tony Awards on June 10. But for anyone who just can’t wait, we can predict the chance that each potential nominee for best musical, play, musical revival and play revival hears their show’s name called by using just math.

Every year, I use a formula to weight other awards show nominations (namely, the Drama Desk Awards, Drama League Awards and Outer Critics Circle Awards) alongside critic predictions to determine the likelihood whether each show on Broadway will be nominated. The better a predictor has done in the past, the more weight that predictor is given this year.

Not only do these standings serve as an indicator for who is likely to be included among the four best show categories, but they also serve as an approximate ranking of how likely each show is to ultimately win its category. So, with six weeks to go until the big night, here are the current mathematical Tony standings.

  • Best Musical

    Leading the way is The Band’s Visit, a musical based on the 2007 Israeli film about an Arab band that accidentally finds itself in an Israeli town. The Band’s Visit won numerous accolades last year for its off-Broadway run, and now has the inside track to win even more for its Broadway showing.

    The other near-lock to get a best musical nomination is Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, which she adapted from her much-beloved and oft-quoted 2004 high school comedy movie. Over the last two decades, the Tonys have nominated four musicals in every year but one (2016, when Hamilton emerged from a field of five competitors), so we’re probably looking at two more slots.

    Younger audiences will be happy to know that Frozen and SpongeBob SquarePants are the only other musicals with both Outer Critics Circle and Drama League nominations on their résumé, so they have the clearest path to grab those last two slots. If one them falters, OCC nominee Prince of Broadway could sneak onto the list.

  • Best Play

    A year ago, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child set new Olivier Awards records in London for most nominations (11) and most awards (nine). Having crossed the pond, J.K. Rowling’s franchise has its sights set on some New York records as well. For now, it’s the most likely best play nominee, followed by Farinelli and the King, a period drama about the 18th century King Philip V of Spain, and The Children, another British import about retired nuclear engineers.

    While one of those three plays is most likely going to be the eventual winner, there is a fourth invitation to be handed out. With the Drama Desk Awards not nominating a single one of the eligible plays, opting for off-Broadway fare instead, OCC nominee Junk is the most likely entrant.

  • Best Musical Revival

    While best revival of a musical could be one of the most exciting races on June 10, it’s the least exciting nominations race. In the last 15 years, there was only one season when fewer than three musical revivals were nominated (2011, when Anything Goes beat How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), and that’s only because there wasn’t a third eligible musical revival to nominate that year.

    So, my model defaults to the assumption that the percentages have to add up to at least three if more than two musical revivals opened on Broadway. By that standard, with only three eligible nominees, Carousel, My Fair Lady and Once on This Island automatically receive 100 percent each to be nominated, setting up a terrific three-way contest in six weeks.

  • Best Play Revival

    Twenty-four years after Tony Kushner made Tony history by becoming the first playwright to win back-to-back best play honors for the two parts of Angels in America, his seminal work about the AIDS crisis has a good chance to again win a Broadway award. Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield, who headline the production, lead the way, but they will have to fend off Laurie Metcalf, Glenda Jackson and Alison Pill as Three Tall Women, Edward Albee’s play that won the Pulitzer for Drama in 1994, just one year after Angels in America did.

    If there is going to be a spoiler, it is most likely Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. O’Neill has a 75 percent chance to earn his sixth nomination for best play revival (one of the first five was also for Iceman Cometh in 1999), putting him in third place behind William Shakespeare (9) and Arthur Miller (8).

    The most likely final nominee is Travesties, a play about Zurich during World War I, thanks to its nominations from the Drama Desk, Drama League and OCC.

    The Tony voters had to make some hard choices this year; we’ll find out what they decided in just a few short hours.

    Ben Zauzmer, who works as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers, uses data to write about awards shows for The Hollywood Reporter. His mathematical Oscar predictions went 20 for 21 this year.