Tonys: Why a Record Number of Wins for 'Hamilton' Is a Long Shot

Courtesy of Joan Marcus

THR's chief theater critic explains that despite hitting a new high with an unprecedented 16 nominations, the odds appear to be against the hip-hop juggernaut topping 'The Producers,' which won 12.

It stands to reason that with a record-breaking 16 nominations, Hamilton also is in line to set a new record for the highest number of wins, right? Wrong. Or at least let's just say it’s far from a sure thing.

The current Tony heavyweight title belongs to The Producers, the Mel Brooks musical comedy smash that took home 12 trophies out of 15 nominations in 2001. The only nominated categories that it failed to win were the acting races in which it had two or more contenders up against one another.

Unless there's a tie, that factor immediately excludes Hamilton from at least three wins out of 16, given that it has two male leads competing for best actor (Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr.) and three contenders for featured actor (Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff).

So in theory, the show could still best The Producers by winning 13, and some sweep-mentality voting might certainly make that happen. But a handful of categories are tight contests in which the prohibitive frontrunner faces serious competition.

At the head of that list is lead actress. Phillipa Soo is the heart of Hamilton as Alexander's wife Eliza, who takes herself out of the narrative when she's betrayed and then reinserts herself into his story as her grief and forgiveness make way for the show's tremendously moving final act. But the strong favorite to win that category is British newcomer Cynthia Erivo, who just about blows the roof off the theater with her stirring, slow-burn emancipation from oppression and abuse to jubilant independence in The Color Purple.

For that matter, lead actor, while likely to go to Miranda or Odom, isn't quite a lock. Some pundits are wondering if a win is possible for Danny Burstein as the beleaguered dairyman Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Burstein is a much-admired Broadway regular on his sixth Tony nomination, and many feel he is overdue for a win.

Cynthia Erivo in 'The Color Purple,' Danny Burstein in 'Fiddler on the Roof.' Photo credit: Matthew Murphy, Joan Marcus

Then there are the craft categories with potential winners certainly no less — and some perhaps more — deserving than Hamilton.

David Korins' roughhewn wood-scaffold set for Hamilton suggests the raw infancy of nationhood and is an ingenious model of utilitarian functionality for a show with multiple settings and a large gallery of significant characters. It provides stairs and balconies for those observing and commenting on the main action, along with a central turntable to make the story more propulsive. But how does Korins' set compare with the way in which David Rockwell brings to life 1930s Budapest around his exquisite art nouveau perfume shop for She Loves Me?

Howell Binkley's lighting for Hamilton atmospherically carves out spaces from political power chambers to battlefields, from barrooms to bedrooms. But what about the dazzling showbiz wattage of the lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer for Shuffle Along, which defines the glitzy highs of Broadway but also the lows of a cash-strapped life on the dusty road? Or the flashy 1980s hedonism, seen through the hallucinatory, bloody-eyed gaze of a murderous protagonist, in Justin Townsend's superb work on the short-lived American Psycho?

Costume design is an even tougher race to call. Paul Tazewell's sexy Revolution couture for Hamilton is the perfect sartorial reflection of the show's collision between historical storytelling and contemporary attitudes — and the cast can actually dance in it, which is no mean feat for 18th century wear. But Ann Roth's 1920s outfits for the first all-African-American troupe to conquer Broadway in Shuffle Along are a nonstop eye-popping parade of style and wit.

Brian Stokes Mitchell and the company of 'Shuffle Along.' Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes

Perhaps the fiercest competition is going to be choreography. Andy Blankenbuehler's driving dance moves in Hamilton are an intrinsic part of the show's vocabulary, seamlessly wedded to Thomas Kail's fluid direction. But anybody who has seen Shuffle Along can attest that Savion Glover's wild tap-dance explosions pack a seismic jolt of energy that's off the charts. And then there's Israeli modern-dance choreographer Hofesh Schechter's thrilling reinvention of Jerome Robbins' iconic dances for Fiddler on the Roof.

But even if Hamilton merely equals the record of The Producers on Sunday night, or falls short by a trophy or two, nobody's going to be weeping for the biggest blockbuster to come along this century. There's no doubt that it's going to walk away with the top prizes, adding to an awards haul that has been steadily building since the show's pre-Broadway opening at the Public Theater last February.

The production has won pretty much everything for which it has been eligible, including the New York Drama Critics Circle's top honor and the Obie Award, as well as sweeping last year's Drama Desk Awards and Lucille Lortel Awards, among others. On the road to the Tonys, it also picked up a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy, while Miranda was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant worth $625,000.

Record or no record, Sunday night will go down in history as the HamilTonys.