Tonys: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

7:00 AM 6/4/2018

by 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 the June 10 ceremony.

The Band's Visit and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Production Still - Split - Publicity - H 2018
Left, courtesy of Matthew Murphy, right, courtesy of Manuel Harlan

It's been a thin season for new work on Broadway but a robust one for revivals. That means there's little competition for the frontrunners in the best play and musical categories, with most of the suspense centered on the remounts.

The two-part continuation of J.K. Rowling's beloved wizardry saga, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and composer David Yazbek's intoxicating desert kiss, The Band's Visit, are the new shows to beat. Distinguished play revivals battling it out include Angels in America, The Iceman Cometh and Three Tall Women, while two classic musicals, Carousel and My Fair Lady, go up against an enchanting underdog in Once on This Island.

Among star performers vying for Tony honors this year, British stage and screen royalty Glenda Jackson appears to be a sure thing to take home lead actress honors for the first time with her fifth nomination, for Three Tall Women; while Andrew Garfield has a strong shot at lead actor for his work in Angels in America.

There's a chance those same productions might double up in the featured acting races, too. After earning a Tony last season for A Doll's House, Part 2, Laurie Metcalf could score her second consecutive win, this time for Three Tall Women. And two-time previous winner Nathan Lane is well-positioned to pick up a third Tony for Angels.

The 72nd annual Tony Awards will be presented June 10 at 8 p.m., airing live on CBS (tape-delayed on the West Coast) from New York's Radio City Music Hall. Taking on co-hosting duties are Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, previous Tony nominees, respectively, for best original score for Waitress and for lead actor in a musical for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. The awards will cap off a record-breaking 2017-18 season on Broadway, with grosses nudging $1.7 billion and admissions at 13.8 million.

With one week to go before the ceremony, The Hollywood Reporter's chief theater critic, David Rooney, shares his picks for the most deserving nominees, while awards analyst Scott Feinberg reads the tea leaves to predict who will triumph in the top categories — more often than not this year, they're in agreement.

  • Best Musical

    SHOULD WIN: The Band's Visit
    Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants lead the field here with 12 nominations apiece. But as delightful as those shows are, the deserving favorite, with 11 noms, is The Band's Visit. (The fourth nominee, Frozen, can "Let It Go" — this is not Disney's year, though the show is the highest-grossing of the musical contenders and would appear to need no awards help at the box office.) Unlike its rivals, which are based on popular film and TV properties, The Band's Visit was adapted with subtlety, impeccable craftsmanship and a mesmerizing Middle Eastern-flavored score from a little-seen 2007 Israeli film, making it seem closer to an original work. This poignant snapshot of brief but meaningful cross-cultural connections stands apart from the pack, its delicacy representing an almost radical statement on risk-averse Broadway.

    WILL WIN: The Band's Visit
    From this field of four screen adaptations, two scored more noms and two have proven more commercially robust than The Band's Visit, but recent history is on its side. Indeed, in each of the last three years, this prize has gone to a show — Fun Home, Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen — that first earned its stripes off-Broadway, and then vanquished bigger-budgeted and splashier fare after transferring. These days, Tony voters seem less enamored with traditional musicals, and less concerned with how a show will play on the road than with giving a boost to a worthy contender that will benefit from it in the tough marketplace of the Great White Way (the best musical prize is the only one thought to have a significant impact at the box office). And while not everyone finds The Band's Visit as satisfying as other recent best musical victors, it did win this prize at the Drama League Awards, and it's hard to imagine any of its competitors in the winner's circle.

  • Best Play

    SHOULD WIN: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
    All five nominees have their merits, but the Tony for original play is as much about the production as the text. On those terms, nothing comes close to the thrilling theatricality, incomparable stagecraft, the expansive narrative sweep and unexpected emotional charge of playwright Jack Thorne's eventful new chapter in the Potter saga, conceived with J.K. Rowling and director John Tiffany. It takes bold imagination and unerring command to present a story and characters universally known through their book or film incarnations and make them seem uniquely suited to the stage. The gifted creative team achieves that and more here over two parts spanning five-and-a-half suspenseful hours.

    WILL WIN: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
    This award tends to go to intimate, dialogue-centric productions (like recent winners All the Way, The Humans and Oslo), but when offered an engaging and totally outside-the-box alternative, like this extension of the Harry Potter story, voters aren't afraid to jump at it (see two other recent winners that came to New York via London, War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). A two-part experience that cost $68 million to mount, making it the most expensive nonmusical production in Broadway history, it has the added advantage of being the only nominee in this category still running — something that it might well continue to do for many years. It already won the corresponding Drama League Award.

  • Best Revival of a Musical

    SHOULD WIN: Carousel
    Jack O'Brien's stirring production of the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic was somewhat divisive among critics. Many struggled to look beyond the dark musical drama's uncomfortable sexual politics, while others thought it fell short of the 1994 Nicholas Hytner revival that made a star of Audra McDonald. For this reviewer, it was transporting — magnificently sung and acted by a flawless cast led by Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller, Renee Fleming and a revelatory Lindsay Mendez; and choreographed by New York City Ballet wunderkind Justin Peck with energy, exhilaration and expressiveness that were unmatched this season on Broadway.

    WILL WIN: My Fair Lady
    Flip a coin. Carousel has one more nom (11 to 10) and the backing of Scott Rudin (whose Tonys track record speaks for itself), but this other classic revival — performed on Lincoln Center's massive Vivian Beaumont Theatre stage and directed by Bartlett Sher, a combo that helped propel The King and I to a win in this category three years ago and South Pacific seven years earlier — is perhaps a tad more charming and satisfying. It landed a directing nom, which eluded Carousel, and also won the corresponding awards of both the Drama League and Outer Critics Circle. Still, one can't totally count out the immersive staging of Once on This Island, which is performed in the round in one magnificent act.

  • Best Revival of a Play

    SHOULD WIN: Angels in America
    This is a tough one. Joe Mantello and a sterling cast inject bite into every word of Edward Albee's transfixing reflection on a life hurtling toward death with Three Tall Women. But in terms of sheer large-canvas scope and texture, I have to go with Marianne Elliott's deep-probe investigation of Tony Kushner's landmark two-part tapestry of life in Reagan's America, at the height of the AIDS crisis. The laser-like acuity of the director and her exemplary ensemble underscore the writer's startling prescience in a work that remains anchored in its time and yet, 25 years later, seems uncannily accurate about the U.S. of today and tomorrow. Rarely has stark reality on stage encompassed such restorative faith in love and justice, compassion and unlikely human connections.

    WILL WIN: Angels in America
    25 years after Tony Kushner's masterpiece was first mounted on Broadway, winning not only the best play Tony but the Pulitzer Prize for Drama too, it will be very hard for voters to overlook this revival, so impressive is its ambition (two parts spread over seven hours and 45 minutes) and achievement (it is deeply affecting throughout). Three Tall Women is also first-rate, and The Iceman Cometh has plenty of admirers. But Angels, which previously was performed at London's National Theatre with all but one of the same leads, set a new record for most Tony noms for a play — new or revived — with 11; it has already won the Drama League and Outer Critics Circle awards, so those are probably tells.

  • Best Lead Actor in a Musical

    SHOULD WIN: Joshua Henry, Carousel
    As brawny carnival barker Billy Bigelow, one of the most complex antiheroes in American musical theater, Joshua Henry seems locked in a constant war with himself, torn between being a free spirit, answerable to no one, and a loving husband to New England mill worker Julie Jordan. His soulful performance is this revival's smoldering core, playing a hot-tempered man with a swaggering masculinity that doesn't hide the doomed outsider's tormented helplessness. Nowhere does his conflict cut deeper than in the powerful stream-of-consciousness "Soliloquy" that pours forth from him when Billy learns he's to become a father. He swells with pride at the thought of raising a son, then trembles with anxious tenderness at the prospect of a daughter, perhaps subconsciously fearing for her safety in a world full of men like him.

    WILL WIN: Joshua Henry, Carousel
    It looks like the third time will prove the charm for this charismatic force of a performer, 33, who was previously nominated for The Scottsboro Boys and Violet. He could get a run for his money from The Band's Visit's Tony Shalhoub, whose fourth nom comes 26 years after his first, and who still is in search of his first win. But Shalboub's performance may be a bit too understated (and he really doesn't do much singing) to compete with Henry's (in which he blows the roof off the Imperial Theatre). My Fair Lady's Harry Hadden-Paton makes an impressive debut in the role for which Rex Harrison won a Tony, and SpongeBob's Ethan Slater won the Outer Critics Circle Award for a performance unlike any other (The Band's Visit was not eligible, but Carousel was), though both seem like longer shots.

  • Best Lead Actress in a Musical

    SHOULD WIN: Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
    Playing a sultry beauty stuck in a nowhere town in the Israeli desert, her dreamy romantic longing fueled by the popular Egyptian songs and movies she recalls from her youth, Lenk's Dina is loose-limbed, languid and utterly hypnotic as her character drops her guard — along with her world-weary numbness — and responds to the courtly formality of a stranded, irrevocably sorrowful outsider played by the wonderful Tony Shalhoub. The harmony of these two key performances, and the way the characters instinctively melt toward one another, even for just an instant, is exquisite. Dina's descent from that momentary cloud back to stultifying reality leaves a haunting spell that lingers long after the actors take their bows.

    WILL WIN: Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady
    This looks to be a nail-biter between The Band's Visit's Katrina Lenk, who originates a tricky part with aplomb (and an Israeli accent), and Ambrose, a well-known dramatic actress who had never sung in a professional production prior to this one. She does so winningly in a part that would surely be intimidating for even a much more experienced singer, having been made iconic by two celebrated actresses (Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn) who played it at considerably younger ages. Ambrose won the Outer Critics Circle Award, but The Band's Visit was ineligible there, having been considered for its off-Broadway run the year before. The nom will be the win this time around for past winners LaChanze (Summer) and Jessie Mueller (Carousel), as well as for up-and-comers Hailey Kilgore (Once on This Island, in a role LaChanze originated and was Tony-nominated for 28 years ago) and Taylor Louderman (Mean Girls).

  • Best Lead Actor in a Play

    SHOULD WIN: Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
    As the audience’s tour guide through Kushner's sprawling Gay Fantasia on National Themes, a never-better Garfield plays Prior Walter in an astonishing performance that requires him to range from regal hauteur to bitterness and despair, from awestruck terror to fierce retaliation, and finally, to peace and enlightenment. Even Spider-Man never had to wrestle an actual angel with the fearlessness that Garfield does here. Rocking a Norma Desmond turban and a stunner of an ankle-length black beaded coat, the actor bites into the drag-queeny camp aspects of the role without ever tipping over into caricature. His Prior defines himself, quite accurately, as "a rare bloom," a creature with "exquisite taste and perfect timing."

    WILL WIN: Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
    There may be only one thing that Tony voters like more than a big movie star anchoring a Broadway show, and that's a big movie star anchoring a Broadway show brilliantly, as does Garfield in a part that demands far more emotional range and endurance and ability than any other in this field. Mark Rylance (Farinelli and the King) and Denzel Washington (The Iceman Cometh) have had their turns at the Tony podium, and Tom Hollander (Travesties) and Jamie Parker (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) may yet have theirs, but this year it belongs to Garfield, who already won the corresponding Outer Critics Circle Award.

  • Best Lead Actress in a Play

    SHOULD WIN: Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women
    Unlike such contemporaries as Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, regarded as British national treasures, Jackson's work is unfamiliar to a generation of movie and theater fans thanks to her 23-year detour into politics. At 82, the two-time Oscar winner commands the stage as Edward Albee's dying but still formidable protagonist, with a diamond-hard ferocity and blazing intensity that would be the envy of most actors half her age. She brings unimpeachable authority but also shattering glimpses of the fissures in the façade of this thinly veiled stand-in for the playwright's adoptive mother. Make no mistake, when Jackson takes home the Tony it will not be an overdue career tribute to a legitimate stage titan but a richly deserved recognition of the most unforgettable performance of the season.

    WILL WIN: Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women
    One could be forgiven for assuming that only three other women are nominated in this category, as opposed to the usual four, because the nominators mercifully decided not to make another person — in addition to Saint Joan's Condola Rashad, Children of a Lesser God's Lauren Ridloff and Meteor Shower's Amy Schumer — get dressed up and schlep to the Tonys just to lose to Jackson. At 82, this prickly actress playing a prickly character is regarded by the Broadway community as a returning hero (it's been 30 years since she last trod the boards in New York), and this fifth nom will result in a first win. Jackson already won the corresponding Outer Critics Circle Award for best actress in a play and the Drama League's Distinguished Performance Award (over not just fellow lead actresses in plays, but 54 other nominees from both genders and across all acting categories).

  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical

    SHOULD WIN: Ari'el Stachel, The Band's Visit
    As handsome Egyptian trumpeter Haled, Broadway newcomer Stachel doesn't get the show-stopping numbers of fellow nominees Norbert Leo Butz in My Fair Lady or Gavin Lee in SpongeBob SquarePants, or the spirited subversive comedy of Grey Henson in Mean Girls. But he traces an arc that quietly gets under the skin as he steers his character, a self-styled heart-breaker in the Chet Baker mold, from the borderline buffoonery of a womanizer convinced he's far slicker than he actually is, to a selfless romantic guru, dispensing seduction advice to a terminally shy new acquaintance in the jazzy pep talk, "Haled's Song About Love."

    WILL WIN: Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
    This one feels like it could break any of five ways. Gavin Lee (who probably came pretty close to a Tony for Mary Poppins 11 years ago) and Grey Hanson are, for my money, the funniest things about SpongeBob SquarePants and Mean Girls, respectively. Alexander Gemignani and Ari'el Stachel (making his Broadway debut) squeeze every ounce out of their relatively small parts in Carousel and The Band's Visit, respectively — and Stachel will be riding the coattails of the likely best musical winner. But more so than any of those others, people know and love Butz, a two-time past winner who is unrecognizable and pitch-perfect as Eliza Doolittle's shameless father; he already won the corresponding Outer Critics Circle Award (although The Band's Visit was ineligible there, so that only tells you so much).

  • Best Featured Actress in a Musical

    SHOULD WIN: Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
    As Julie Jordan's loyal friend Carrie Pipperidge, Mendez is a captivating presence, radiating grounded common sense and plainspoken honesty that enable her to map out a clear future even while floating on a cloud of romance. A standout in contemporary musicals in the past, Mendez gets to extend her range significantly in her first role in a major classic, ascending to dizzying heights of rapture in Carrie's swooning ode to the fisherman she plans to marry, "Mister Snow." In a cast featuring the justly celebrated voice of fellow nominee Renee Fleming doing "You'll Never Walk Alone," Mendez more than holds her own with a supple soprano that lifts us to a place of pure joy.

    WILL WIN: Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
    There's only one true standout among this year's nominees in this category, and it's this prolific but never-before-nominated character actress, whose voice and humor and overall spirit elevate her show markedly. It can be tough to win when nominated alongside a costar, as Mendez is with Renee Fleming, who is also wonderful in Carousel. But I don't think even that can derail things for Mendez, who already won the corresponding Outer Critics Circle Award.

  • Best Featured Actor in a Play

    SHOULD WIN: Nathan Lane, Angels in America
    Playing far-right power broker Roy M. Cohn, trusted attorney and a key mentor to a young Donald Trump, Lane gives a virtuoso turn that sends a shiver of ice through the veins as we contemplate the real-life character's enduring influence on today's political sphere. A litigious, biliously profane bully who systematically denies his homosexuality, his illness and any other inconvenient truth, Cohn defines himself with one blunt little word: clout. Lane has never been more ferocious or more blisteringly funny — almost satanic in his amoral duplicity and scorching disdain for most everyone in his orbit. But what's most surprising are the glimmers of pathetic vulnerability that humanize the monster.

    WILL WIN: Nathan Lane, Angels in America
    The best moments in the revival of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero were those featuring banter between Brian Tyree Henry and Lonergan muse Michael Cera. Veteran David Morse, every bit as much as Denzel Washington, is at the heart of the latest revival of The Iceman Cometh. And, in many other years, Anthony Boyle would deserve the win for his impressive Broadway debut as Albus Potter's BFF Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. But good luck beating Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn, particularly in the Trump era. Sure, the part itself is colorful, but this beloved Broadway veteran, who already won the corresponding Outer Critics Circle Award, milks every ounce out of it, and will deservedly take home a third Tony — his first in 17 years.

  • Best Featured Actress in a Play

    SHOULD WIN: Denise Gough, Angels in America
    London stage star Gough makes a mesmerizing Broadway debut as Harper, the long-suffering, Valium-addicted wife of closeted gay Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt. Bringing distinctive new shadings to a role previously played by Marcia Gay Harden, Mary-Louise Parker and Zoe Kazan, among others, Gough flails around the couple's depressing apartment, her despair both heart-wrenching and hilariously unhinged. Harper's addled mind conjures a fantasy travel agent to facilitate her escape, and in that delusional state she connects with the dreams of Garfield's Prior, stumbling toward a truth that enables her to expose her husband's dishonesty while finding her own path to stagger forward. Gough gives a high-wire performance with one foot in the surreal and the other in the lucid certainty of a visionary truth-teller.

    WILL WIN: Denise Gough, Angels in America
    Had Three Tall Women's excellent Laurie Metcalf not won a Tony just last year, this might be a different story, but she did, and only five performers have ever won in back-to-back years (Shirley Booth, Gwen Verdon, Sandy Dennis, Judith Light and Stephen Spinella) — voters generally like to spread acknowledgment around. That should help to clear the path to victory for Gough, who shines in her Broadway debut in the same role for which she won an Olivier — her second — earlier this year. The rest of the field is good but surmountable: Gough's costar Susan Brown (also making her Broadway debut in multiple parts), Noma Dumezweni (making her Broadway debut as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's Hermione) and Deborah Findlay (The Children marked only her second Broadway production, 20 years after her first).

  • Best Direction of a Musical

    SHOULD WIN: David Cromer, The Band's Visit
    Acknowledging its paucity of traditional plot upfront, this extraordinary show opens with introductory text that reads: "Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn't hear about it. It wasn't very important." Taking that most self-effacing of setups as his cue, Cromer weaves a drama of bewitching simplicity and directness that finds humanistic depths and contemplative richness in ephemeral encounters lasting scarcely more than an instant. Lightness of touch like this is every bit as hard to pull off as boisterous spectacle. Cromer and the writers illuminate the intersection of strangers' lives in a way that's less a cultural collision than a healing caress.

    WILL WIN: David Cromer, The Band's Visit
    While SpongeBob SquarePants (Tina Landau) and Mean Girls (Casey Nicholaw) are the most nominated shows, and Michael Arden certainly deserves to be in the mix for his inventive direction of the small-scaled Once on This Island, I can't ignore the fact that voters only very have infrequently awarded this prize to the director of a show not also recognized for best musical or best revival of a musical — just four times this century, in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2017. That means, I assume, that this race is between the director of The Band's Visit, Cromer, a first-time nominee, and the director of My Fair Lady, Bartlett Sher, an eight-time nominee who has won once, for 2008's South Pacific. Sher has already set such a high bar for himself and received so much recognition that it's probably harder for him to wow people than it is for Cromer.

  • Best Direction of a Play

    SHOULD WIN: John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
    In almost any other given year, the brilliant work of Marianne Elliott on Angels in America or Joe Mantello on Three Tall Women — both two-time previous winners — would automatically secure them the honors. But Tiffany, a 2012 winner for the musical Once, is quite literally the stage magician of the season. By rights he should share the award with movement director Steven Hoggett, who scored a choreography nomination, a rare feat in a nonmusical, and who makes the scene transitions as fluid and exciting as the action. But this is a work of pulse-pounding storytelling vitality that elevates escapist fantasy into gripping human drama. Though its impeccable cast and design team are indispensable, it's the guiding hand of Tiffany that pulls this vigorous spectacle together, never losing sight of its intimate heart.

    WILL WIN: Marianne Elliott, Angels in America
    Only twice this century, in 2002 and 2017, has this award not gone to the director of a show that also won best play or best revival, which, if I'm right about those categories, means it will go to the helmer of one of two epic multi-part productions brought over from London: either John Tiffany for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or Marianne Elliott for Angels in America. It could go either way, but my sense is that Angels is the more admired of the two shows (it certainly has more gravitas) and Elliott the more known and revered of the two directors. The sole female up this year for this award, she previously won it for two other ambitious British imports, 2011's War Horse and 2015's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Tiffany previously won the other directing award, for best direction of a musical, for 2012's Once.