Tony Awards: Predicting the Musical Winners Using Math

Courtesy of Matthew Murphy
'Hadestown'

With 14 nominations, the mythical 'Hadestown' sits firmly in the frontrunner spot.

This year’s frontrunner for the Tony for best revival of a musical begins with a song called “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'.” This year’s frontrunner for best musical begins with a song called “Road to Hell.” I think it’s fair to say that musical theater ran the full gamut of emotions in 2019.

So, too, do this year’s mathematical Tony predictions, ranging from carefree blowouts with obvious frontrunners to nerve-wracking races with single-digit percentage leaders. In Thursday’s article, I introduced my statistical Tony odds, and listed the chances of each nominee winning in all 11 play categories. Today, let’s go through the 15 awards to be handed out for musicals.

Best Musical

Wait a minute — didn’t The Prom just beat out Tootsie for the Drama Desk Award last Sunday? How is Hadestown so far ahead of both of them? The answer is that Hadestown was ineligible at the Drama Desk Awards due to its previous off-Broadway run, and in the two awards shows where all three were eligible (the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama League), Hadestown went two-for-two. Add in Hadestown’s leading 14 nominations, and the mythical musical sits firmly in first place.

Best Revival of a Musical

Even without math, we’ve got a coin flip’s chance of picking this category correctly, as only two musical revivals opened on Broadway this year. With math, we can identify the leader: Oklahoma! doubled up Kiss Me, Kate’s nomination count, including a best direction nod for Daniel Fish (Oklahoma!) that Kiss Me, Kate failed to match. On Sunday night, the show that brought us “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” may enjoy a beautiful evenin’.

Leading Actor in a Musical

Santino Fontana is a man playing a man playing a woman. In Tootsie, based on the classic 1982 comedy film, he not only has to act as both Michael and Dorothy, he also has to sing and dance in both roles each night. Critics and audiences ate it up, and he’s in the lead to win the Tony for leading actor in a musical.

Leading Actress in a Musical

Stephanie J. Block plays a character called “Star,” one of three incarnations of pop superstar Cher in The Cher Show. And that’s a fitting role for an actress who has headlined a number of successful musicals in recent years: Anything Goes (replacing Tony winner Sutton Foster), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (for which Block was nominated for a Tony) and Falsettos (another Tony nod for Block). This time, she is favored to finish off her nomination with a win.

Featured Actor in a Musical

Like Block, André De Shields is a three-time nominee who voters may wish to reward with his first Tony. De Shields was previously nominated for Play On! (1997) and The Full Monty (2001), and now risks tying the record for most nominations without a win in this category. But as he plays the role of Hermes in Hadestown, perhaps this time he has the Greek Gods on his side.

Featured Actress in a Musical

This is one of the night’s best races, as just 2.6 percentage points separate the top two contenders. Amber Gray (Hadestown) made a compelling case for frontrunner status after her Outer Critics Circle win. But just in the nick of time, Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!) grabbed the Drama Desk Award to vault back into first. Stroker, however, risks splitting votes with Oklahoma! co-star Mary Testa, yet another twist in an already tight battle.

Direction of a Musical

Rachel Chavkin has a commanding lead for best direction of a musical, which likely won’t come as a surprise to anyone. Two years after her nomination for the innovative Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Chavkin led Hadestown to noms in nearly every category it was eligible for, including a lead in the best musical race entering Sunday night.

Costume Design of a Musical

To the best of my research abilities, no one has ever won a Tony Award for costume design for a show in which the designer himself or herself is a character. This is hardly surprising, but it could change on Sunday night. Longtime costume designer Bob Mackie has been designing outfits for Cher (and dozens of other stars) for six decades, so it was quite fitting, indeed, that he would be chosen to do costume design on The Cher Show, and he has a 2/5 shot to win the Tony for his work.

Lighting Design of a Musical

Hadestown beings on the “Road to Hell,” as Orpheus journeys to the underworld. And what a challenging assignment that must have been for Bradley King, already a Tony winner for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. After all, there isn’t much light in the underworld. But King managed to pull it off, and now looks to become the fourth person with multiple trophies for best lighting design of a musical.

Scenic Design of a Musical

No one can design a nightmare quite like Tim Burton, but David Korins came awfully close to recreating the look and feel of Burton’s 1988 film Beetlejuice onstage this year. Haunted houses, graveyards and magic tricks all come with the price of admission, and for Korins, a Tony might prove to be part of the bargain as well.

Sound Design of a Musical

Peter Hylenski (King Kong) won the Outer Critics Circle Award in only its second year honoring sound design, but at the Tonys he has the happy and sad circumstance of competing against himself. Hylenski is also up for his work in Beetlejuice, so collectively he has a 23 percent chance to win a Tony, but that still doesn’t match up against Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz’s 64 percent for their work on Hadestown.

Book

This is the first time in Tonys history that there are five nominees for best book of a musical. All things equal, this should make predictions harder, but Robert Horn made my job easier when he swept the precursor awards with his joke-filled script of Tootsie. And now he looks to enjoy the last laugh of Tony season on Sunday night.

Choreography

The original run of Kiss Me, Kate lost out on best choreography to Gower Champion’s work on Lend an Ear (1949), before nominees were announced in any categories. The 2000 revival also fell short, against Susan Stroman’s choreography for Contact. Maybe Kiss Me, Kate was just “too darn hot” for Tony voters. But this year, Warren Carlyle’s take on the classic Cole Porter show may finally prove a winner, holding a narrow lead over Ain’t Too Proud and Hadestown.

Orchestrations

The one is a real tossup between the frontrunners for best musical and best musical revival. The critical choice is Hadestown, but the precursor awards sided with Oklahoma!. And Ain’t Too Proud ain’t too far behind, either. The last three best musical winners all won this category first, and the math just barely predicts that Hadestown will make it four in a row.

Original Score

David Yazbeck is the defending champion in this category for The Band’s Visit, and after his Drama Desk win for Tootsie, he has a decent chance to repeat. But Anaïs Mitchell wasn’t eligible at the Drama Desk Awards due to opening a couple years earlier off-Broadway, and Mitchell won their head-to-head contest at the Outer Critics Circle Awards. It’s not a strong prediction, but look for Mitchell to do the same at the Tonys.

***

It is quite unlikely that every single favorite emerges a winner on Sunday night. With 26 categories at stake, upsets are bound to occur. But with a night filled with musical numbers and Broadway’s biggest stars, the audience is certainly guaranteed to come away a winner from the 73rd annual Tony Awards.

Ben Zauzmer (@BensOscarMath) uses data to write about awards shows for The Hollywood Reporter, including his mathematical Tony predictions which went 20 for 26 last year. He works as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.