Jaquel Spivey, John-Michael Lyles and James Jackson, Jr. at the first Broadway preview curtain call for A Strange Loop
(Photo: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times).
I’ve been handicapping the Tonys since they first aired on national television in 1967. Sure, I was ten-years-old, but a savvy ten-year-old. Does this make me an expert? No. Did I see near to all of the nominees this season? Yes. Will I let history guide me as to who will win? No, because no one cares about history anymore. Will I get a majority of these predictions right? Yes, because even in my worst year, I do pretty damn well.
So, here’s how I’m thinking it will go down on Sunday night:
Clyde’s, by Lynn Nottage Hangmen, by Martin McDonagh * The Lehman Trilogy, by Stefano Massini and Ben Power The Minutes, by Tracy Letts Skeleton Crew, by Dominique Morisseau
I can be proven wrong, but I don’t see how The Lehman Trilogy loses this award. In my more than fifty years of attending Broadway plays, the scope and sheer theatricality of it were staggering. That its dozens of roles were played by three actors of outstanding abilities (with Simon Russell Beale, one of the greatest actors in the English language a true standout), made for an unforgettable experience. Sounds like hyperbole, but I saw it twice and could easily have sat through it a dozen more times. The other plays nominated were all worthwhile efforts, but Lehman Trilogy towered over their achievements.
Girl From the North Country MJ Mr. Saturday Night Paradise Square Six: The Musical * A Strange Loop
Of these nominees, it is inarguable that A Strange Loop is the most audience-challenging. The others are far more conventional (with Mr. Saturday Night an actual throwback to a musical from the 1950s), and though it is controversial, Michael R. Jordan’s autobiographical musical will shine through. The number of voters who left the Lyceum Theatre shaken by its drama and ambition will add up to a groundbreaking win.
Best Revival of a Play
American Buffalo for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf * How I Learned to Drive Take Me Out Trouble in Mind
Tough category here, with Take Me Out, for colored girls… and How I Learned to Drive equal frontrunners. But I believe voters will want to honor esteemed playwright Paula Vogel with what will be her first Tony Award for How I Learned to Drive, which won her the Pulitzer Prize twenty-five years ago. Her play has been given new life by its original triumvirate of actors (and director) who first interpreted it off-Broadway in 1997. It conveys complex ideas and emotions with an ease that belies its simplicity. No mean feat.
Best Revival of a Musical
Caroline, or Change * Company The Music Man
With its score as brilliant and relevant as ever, Marianne Elliott’s gender-reversed revival of the fifty-two-year-old Company (forever and always a game changer of a musical) will easily win in this category. And though crowned the season’s box office champ, The Music Man failed to impress most of the industry’s elite. Caroline, or Change (the show that would get my vote) will sadly come up short against the opportunity to honor Stephen Sondheim’s artistic legacy in the aftermath of his sudden death.
Best Book of a Musical
Girl From the North Country, by Conor McPherson MJ, by Lynn Nottage Mr. Saturday Night, by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel Paradise Square, by Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas, and Larry Kirwan * A Strange Loop, by Michael R. Jackson
The tale Conor McPherson weaved through the Bob Dylan songbook in Girl From the North Country was impressive, but not masterful. Michael R. Jackson’s twenty-year journey to seeing A Strange Loop to fruition will be honored for its boldness of thought, intense drive and passion.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Flying Over Sunset, Music by Tom Kitt, Lyrics by Michael Korie Mr. Saturday Night, Music by Jason Robert Brown, Lyrics by Amanda Green Paradise Square, Music by Jason Howland, Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare Six: The Musical, Music and Lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss * A Strange Loop, Music & Lyrics by Michael R. Jackson
For the very fact I don’t see a way to separate his superb accomplishment between book writing and song writing, Jackson will take home the score award as well.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
* Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy Adam Godley, The Lehman Trilogy Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy David Morse, How I Learned to Drive Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues David Threlfall, Hangmen
Seven nominees — unprecedented. Conventional wisdom has the trio of Lehman Trilogy actors’ chances negatively affected in the belief they will cancel each other out. But anyone with a well-versed knowledge of Tony history knows there have been multiple times where that has made no difference. Gary Beach triumphed over two of his fellow cast mates inThe Producers, as did did L. Scott Caldwell in Joe Turner’s Come and Goneand Brid Brennan in Dancing at Lugnasa, in addition to other examples.
That said, I won’t be surprised if David Morse wins for his subtle performance in How I Learned to Drive. But if I were a betting man (and I am), my money is still on Simon Russell Beale, who captivated my imagination in ways that will stay with me the rest of my life (that opening fifteen-minute monologue alone).
Simon Russell Beale in The Lehman Trilogy (Photo: Mark Douet).
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Gabby Beans, The Skin of Our Teeth LaChanze, Trouble in Mind Ruth Negga, Macbeth * Deirdre O’Connell, Dana H. Mary-Louise Parker, How I Learned to Drive
We come now to my “cause” of the night, the one person I hope to see handed a Tony over all others. Not only has Deidre O’Connell been a New York theatre mainstay for forty years, but she delivered one of the most astonishing performances ever (again, sounds like hyperbole, but not so much if you saw her). There are wonderful actresses in this category who all did stellar work (though I missed Ruth Negga’s Lady Macbeth, I don’t doubt she shined). Dana H didn’t run long, but I have my fingers crossed that O’Connell ekes out a win here.
Deidre O’Connell (Photo: Krista Schlueter for The New York Times).
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Billy Crystal, Mr. Saturday Night Myles Frost, MJ Hugh Jackman, The Music Man Rob McClure, Mrs. Doubtfire * Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop
Never underestimate Hugh Jackman’s ability to charm (meaning if he heavily campaigned for this and met a lot of voters, the Tony could easily be his). But the overwhelming feeling from the cognoscenti is that he underwhelmed as Harold Hill in Music Man (though NOT as Hugh Jackman). In my bones, I’m certain that Rob McClure will win a Tony some day in the same way Danny Burstein eventually did (only let’s hope it doesn’t take McClure as long). Myles Frost has a strong chance for his Michael Jackson, but it’s Jaquel Spivey’s heartbreaking performance in A Strange Loop that felt the most fully lived. And it makes sense that voters checking their ballots in a multitude of categories for this show will find it difficult to ignore Spivey’s work.
Jaquel Spivey and the entire A Strange Loop company (Photo: Marc J. Franklin).
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Sharon D. Clarke, Caroline, or Change Carmen Cusack, Flying Over Sunset Sutton Foster, The Music Man * Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square Mare Winningham, Girl From the North Country
Joaquina Kalukango’s standout performance in Paradise Square was a revelation this season. It also doesn't hurt that her Tony nominated dramatic turn in 2019's Slave Play, possibly still fresh in voters' minds, proves a breathtaking versatility And even though Sharon D. Clarke also had an 11:00 showstopper, the show closed five months ago and Kalukango, in the ever-struggling Paradise Square, is still getting standing ovations at 11:05 eight times a week. Almost for that alone, she will win. Please note: I adored Mare Winningham in Girl From the North Country, and if she takes a walk to the podium, I will be cheering.
Joaquina Kalukango in Paradise Square (Photo by Kevin Berne).
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Alfie Allen, Hangmen Chuck Cooper, Trouble in Mind Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out Ron Cephas Jones, Clyde’s Michael Oberholtzer, Take Me Out * Jesse Williams, Take Me Out
First off, all really great performances in this category. Second, in spite of yet another trio of nominees from the same show, I believe a Take Me Out actor takes home the Tony. But which one? At first, I thought it would be Jesse Tyler Ferguson, beloved by the theatre community and also playing a role that won his predecessor, Denis O’Hare a Tony nineteen years ago. And even though he only appears in three scenes, they’re practically designed for awards purposes. Michael Oberholtzer brings layers of complexity to what could easily be a caricature, but it was Jesse Williams (in his New York stage debut) that wildly impressed. Subtle, strong, vulnerable… he nailed his character with authenticity and enviable stage presence. And it might factor in the voting that he was the victim of a violation of his personal rights when photos of his nude scenes unfairly appeared online. It could be enough to put him over the top.
Jesse Williams (Photo: Sabrina Santiago for The New York Times).
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Uzo Aduba, Clyde’s Rachel Dratch, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive * Kenita R. Miller, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew Julie White, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive Kara Young, Clyde’s
Another insanely strong category and perhaps the one that could truly produce a win for any of these six nominees, who are all deserving of a Tony. I’m going with Kenita R. Miller who had the key advantage of a shattering Ntozake Shange monologue. That it was performed nightly by the actress in the latter stages of her real-life pregnancy makes it feel too tough to beat.
Kenita R. Miller in for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
* Matt Doyle, Company Sidney DuPont, Paradise Square Jared Grimes, Funny Girl John-Andrew Morrison, A Strange Loop A.J. Shively, Paradise Square
I firmly believe this Tony has been engraved with Matt Doyle’s name on it since Company had its pre-pandemic preview period in March 2020. No one’s come since with a better performance in a show stopping role.
Matt Doyle as Jamie in Company (Photo by Matthew Murphy).
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Jeannette Bayardelle, Girl From the North Country Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night Jayne Houdyshell, The Music Man L Morgan Lee, A Strange Loop Patti LuPone, Company Jennifer Simard, Company
Yeah, this one is in the bag, too. A blue Tiffany’s bag, at that.
Love this popular new meme featuring Patti LuPone. 😌
Best Direction of a Musical
Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop Marianne Elliott, Company Conor McPherson, Girl From the North Country Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage, Six: The Musical Christopher Wheeldon, MJ
Marianne Elliott is a Tony favorite (she’s won two for directing since 2011). Say what you want about the choices she has made with Company, but she made them and they are inventive as hell. She brought an originality and vitality to an old “war horse,” and for that she will be rewarded. I also have my eye on Stephen Brackett (A Strange Loop), who would be my personal choice, but look for Elliott to take to the stage Sunday evening.
Best Direction of a Play
Lileana Blain-Cruz, The Skin of Our Teeth Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf * Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy Neil Pepe, American Buffalo Les Waters, Dana H.
Perhaps the evening’s easiest lock. Mendes’ staging is sensational and his way with his actors uncommonly good. His direction is in a league all its own. Period.
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf Warren Carlyle, The Music Man Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Six: The Musical Bill T. Jones, Paradise Square * Christopher Wheeldon, MJ
An easy joke, but the feeling is that Wheeldon’s dances for MJ are so strong he can just tell the rest of the nominees to “Beat It.”
David Cullen, Company Tom Curran, Six: The Musical Simon Hale, Girl From the North Country Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg, MJ Charlie Rosen, A Strange Loop
Making old songs seem fresh is a major accomplishment, especially anthems like Dylan’s "Like a Rolling Stone." For his beautiful arrangements on Girl From the North Country, Simon Hale deserves to be honored.
Best Scenic Design of a Play
POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, Beowulf Boritt Skeleton Crew, Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong * The Lehman Trilogy, Es Devlin Hangmen, Anna Fleischle American Buffalo, Scott Pask The Skin of Our Teeth, Adam Rigg
Its possible Adam Rigg can pull a win by “The Skin of Their Teeth,” but look for Es Devlin’s ingenious set for Lehman Trilogy to win this.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Flying Over Sunset, Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions * Company, Bunny Christie A Strange Loop, Arnulfo Maldonado MJ, Derek McLane and Peter Nigrini Paradise Square, Allen Moyer
I want Flying Over Sunset to win so badly for this extraordinarily designed musical from Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions. I’m tempted to predict it as a way of forcing it to happen, but the general consensus is that it’s going to be Company.
Best Costume Design of a Play
* The Skin of Our Teeth, Montana Levi Blanco for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Sarafina Bush Trouble in Mind, Emilio Sosa Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, Jane Greenwood Clyde’s, Jennifer Moeller
Here’s a chance for voters to award the revelatory revival of “The Skin of Our Teeth” with a Tony that I think may prove irresistible.
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Caroline, or Change, Fly Davis Paradise Square, Toni-Leslie James Diana, the Musical, William Ivey Long The Music Man, Santo Loquasto * Six: The Musical, Gabriella Slade MJ, Paul Tazewell
I think this one’s easy. Six has only six costumes, but they are loaded with character and originality.
The women of Six (Photo: Joan Marcus).
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Hangmen, Joshua Carr for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Jiyoun Chang The Lehman Trilogy, Jon Clark Macbeth, Jane Cox The Skin of Our Teeth, Yi Zhao
Makes sense for voters to check this box in relation to scenic design favorite Lehman Trilogy.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Company, Neil Austin * Six: The Musical, Tim Deiling Paradise Square, Donald Holder MJ, Natasha Katz Flying Over Sunset, Bradley King A Strange Loop, Jen Schriever
Dazzling lighting for Six will make this another easy win for the popular musical.
Best Sound Design of a Play
for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Justin Ellington Dana H., Mikhail Fiksel The Skin of Our Teeth, Palmer Hefferan The Lehman Trilogy, Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey Macbeth, Mikaal Sulaiman
Since the auditory element of Dana H was essential to the play and its artistic success, I’d find it hard to swallow any other play winning here.
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Girl From the North Country, Simon Baker Six: The Musical, Paul Gatehouse Company, Ian Dickinson for Autograph A Strange Loop, Drew Levy MJ, Gareth Owen
MJ is something of a rock concert, but Six is purely a rock concert. Eighty-three minutes of non-stop music with a sound design that is essential to its success.
And there you have it. Twenty-six picks in twenty-six categories for the 75th annual Tony Awards. Curtain up!
If you enjoy these columns, check out Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, available at Amazon.com in hardcover, softcover and e-book. Also, follow me here and feel free to email me with comments or questions at Ron@ronfassler.org.