Tonys: Predicting This Year's Nominations Using Just Math

TOOTSIE Production Still 8 -SANTINO FONTANA and COMPANY - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

An early insight into where the race stands six weeks before the awards for the best of the Broadway season are presented.

The theater community will rise early Tuesday morning in nervous anticipation of the 73rd annual Tony nominations. And in the most prominent categories — best play and best musical — there’s more nerves to go around than usual. When I predicted the nominees last year, three shows across these two categories (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Band’s Visit and Mean Girls) had greater than a 90 percent chance to get nominated, and all three did. This year, no original plays or musicals topped that 90 percent threshold, so no producers can rest easy.

The percentages that follow are based on a mathematical model that combines which categories a show is nominated in at the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League Awards, along with assorted critic predictions. The more aligned these predictors have been with the Tony nominations in the past, the more weight they are assigned in the formula. The net result is not only a set of predictions for Tuesday morning, but also an early insight into where the race stands six weeks before the awards are announced.

Best Musical

Early on, it’s shaping up to be a tough year to predict best musical. Do you go with Tootsie, the only musical with Drama Desk nominations for best musical and best direction of a musical? Or maybe The Prom, the only other show with best book and best music nods from that organization? Then there’s Hadestown, which racked up a leading 12 nominations at the Outer Critics Circle Awards but was ineligible for most Drama Desk categories, having been considered in a previous year for its off-Broadway premiere. And don’t forget Be More Chill, which went three-for-three with best musical nods from the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama League Awards.

No show is anywhere close to a lock for the fifth and final spot, but the math says Temptations biography Ain’t Too Proud is next in line.

Best Play

A year after winning best new play at the Olivier Awards (London’s equivalent of the Tonys), the Northern Irish play The Ferryman is in the lead to add to its trophy collection. But Aaron Sorkin might have something to say about that, as his adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird reaches 69 percent to be nominated in this model. Just one point behind, Heidi Schreck’s part-autobiography/part-political-commentary What the Constitution Means to Me is a strong contender as well.

The political themes are just getting started, because after What the Constitution Means to Me comes Hillary and Clinton (the story of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign), Ink (a play about Rupert Murdoch transforming the British tabloid The Sun) and Network (an adaptation of the Oscar-winning 1976 film). But as with all political battles, not all of the contenders can come out on top once the votes are tallied.

Best Musical Revival

With a burst of originality on both the play and musical sides, Broadway theater owners largely shunned musical revivals this year. Only Kiss Me, Kate, whose original run won the first Tony for best musical, and Oklahoma!, whose inaugural production predates the Tony Awards, are eligible in this category. That will make this the first time in eight years that only two shows were nominated for best musical revival: that year, Anything Goes defeated How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Looking ahead to the one-on-one showdown in June, Oklahoma! would appear to have the initial edge, thanks in part to its 12 Drama Desk nominations against Kiss Me, Kate’s three.

Best Play Revival

Also hearkening back to the start of the Tony Awards, All My Sons sits in pole position to win best play revival. The original version won best author for Arthur Miller and best director for Elia Kazan at the 1st Tony Awards. But it will have tough competition from Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, which premiered off-Broadway in 2000 but didn’t make its Broadway debut until this season.

There are likely two spots left, and the math says we can’t rule any of the eligible shows out. Burn This and The Boys in the Band are in front, but King Lear, True West and Torch Song all have at least a 30 percent chance to get nominated.

Ben Zauzmer 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.