Tony Math: Predicting Who Will Win Alongside 'Hamilton'

Courtesy of Joan Marcus
'The Humans'

'The Humans' and 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' could both scoop up multiple trophies.

Hamilton is the prohibitive favorite to capture the lion’s share of trophies at the 70th annual Tony Awards, which will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday night. But exactly how strong are its chances in each of the 13 categories in which it will contend? And on the non-musical side of the aisle, which play is positioned to take lead in the awards parade?

To answer those questions, I’m taking a page from the math-based playbook I’ve used to predict the outcome of the Oscars for the past five years. And I will attempt to perform the same feat for the Tonys.

Starting the day after this year’s Oscars, I began gathering as much Tony data as I possibly could — everything from the lists of nominations for individual shows to critics' predictions from news sources across the internet to data from other theater award shows. Once I had all of that data, stretching back to 1997, I used statistics to determine how important each of those factors are in predicting the Tony Awards. Then, I applied that information to weight this year’s data accordingly.

The result is a model that tells us the percentage chance each nominee has of winning in all 24 categories. I certainly don’t expect the results to be perfect since there is a lack of precursors (Oscar season has a much fuller calendar) and due to the simple fact that upsets happen every year.

But if this experiment goes well — and even if it does not — to quote a certain record-breaking musical, “I am not throwing away my shot!”

So, in this article, I’ll look at the 10 play categories, to be followed by a separate article on Friday that will survey the musical categories. 

Best PlayStephan Karam’s The Humans, which looks at a dysfunctional family as it gathers together for Thanksgiving, is no Hamilton — either in cultural significance or awards dominance. But in its own quiet way, The Humans has put together an impressive résumé for best play. The Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League all agreed on Humans. The last time a play won that entire trilogy but lost the Tony was 1998, when The Beauty Queen of Leenane fell to ‘Art’. While its six nominations don’t make it seem insurmountable, each of the past five original play winners had six or fewer nods themselves.

Best Revival of a PlayThough two of the three major precursor awards went to Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, its competitor Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s grand-daddy of dysfunctional family drama, leads the way with seven nominations and a 5 percent lead.

Best Direction of a PlayIn the last 12 years, the Drama Desk play director champion went on to claim the same prize at the Tony Awards nine times. If The Humans and Long Day’s Journey into Night grab the two top honors for plays, and Tony voters still want to recognize Ivo van Hove, the Drama Desk director winner for A View from the Bridge, this is the spot to do it.

Best Performance By a Leading Actor in a PlayThis one isn’t much of a contest. While The Father may have only received two nominations, it’s got nearly as much of a chance of winning this as the other four nominees combined for Frank Langella’s performance as an old man battling dementia.

Best Performance By a Leading Actress in a PlayJessica Lange won the Drama Desk, won the Outer Critics Circle, and won the hearts of critics with her performance as the drug-addicted family matriarch, Mary Tyrone. And now she’s likely to win the Tony.

Best Performance By a Featured Actor in a PlayWith The Humans serving as the clear favorite for original play, Reed Birney will be the pick of many. But Michael Shannon, playing another member of the tortured Tyrone family, has put together a solid awards resume this Tony season, and my model rewards him with a 7 percent lead.

Best Performance By a Featured Actress in a PlayEclipsed costars Saycon Sengbloh and Pascale Armand risk splitting their vote, as do Noises Off castmates Megan Hilty and Andrea Martin. Thus, the critical and mathematical consensus is that Jayne Houdyshell, from The Humans, will take advantage to swoop in and pick up the victory.

Best Costume Design in a PlayIn six of the last ten years, the play with the most total nominations won in this category. With its leading seven nominations across the board, Long Day’s Journey into Night has a good chance to improve that record.

Best Lighting Design in a PlayThis is a tough category. Not only are the critics split, even the nominees are split, as Jan Versweyveld designed lighting for both The Crucible and A View from the Bridge. But Justin Townsend won the Drama Desk for his work on The Humans, and that’s good enough to make him a weak favorite for the Tony.

Best Scenic Design in a PlayHughie and Thérèse Raquin each earned their sole nominations in this category, but there’s not much of an indication that voters are going to flock to them here over best play frontrunner The Humans.

Tomorrow: A look at the contenders in the 14 musical categories.

Ben Zauzmer (@BensOscarMath) uses math to predict and write about the entertainment awards for The Hollywood Reporter. He recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied math, and he now works as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.