For a Broadway season that will go down in the record books for its abbreviated 42-week length, Covid cancelations and stark decline in attendance attributable at least in part to New York City’s pandemic-era dearth of tourists, the 2021-22 theatrical season was surprisingly healthy in one very significant way: As this year’s Tony Awards nomination roster makes clear, Broadway venues were well-stocked with the talent and quality that can make trophy-voting an endless cycle of on-the-other-hand second guessing and nitpicking.
In a Broadway season that made noticeable (if never enough) strides in presenting new creative voices – Black artists, Queer artists, artists who brought downtown avant-garde sensibilities uptown – so much of the work represented in this year’s Tony nominations roster is bold in ways that would have been unthinkable just a couple seasons ago before the disaster of Covid and the miracle of Black Lives Matter arrived to shake things up.
Of course, not everything that opened on Broadway this season was award-worthy – now is probably not the time to name those names, but you can read my Broadway reviews for the season to get the idea – but it’s more than safe to say that, in a season when illness and economy teamed up to form a daunting and damaging coalition, each and every staging was worthy of celebration and our gratitude.
As for the award-worthy, here are my choices and predictions for this weekend’s 75th annual Tony Awards. The four-hour June 12 Tony evening begins at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT with The Tony Awards: Act One, a one-hour streaming event of exclusive content live on Paramount+ hosted by Darren Criss and Julianne Hough. The 75th Tony Awards, hosted by Ariana DeBose, follows at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS and Paramount+. The awards will be presented live coast-to-coast from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Deadline will provide full Tony coverage on Sunday. Until then, my musings:
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE/PLAY
This is one of the categories – there will be others, to be sure – with not a single bad choice for a winner. How I Learned To Drive‘s David Morse, revisiting a role he originally played 25 years ago, had only grown in power and nuance over those decades. Sam Rockwell was a delight in American Buffalo, David Threlfall flawless as the pompous execution of Hangmen, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson summoned a vivid memory play that melded nostalgia and unblinking perspective in Lackawanna Blues.
And then there are the Lehman Brothers, specifically actors Simon Russell Beale, Adrian Lester and Adam Godley, who played various members of the entrepreneurial family chronicled in The Lehman Trilogy. There’s always the possibility that they’ll split the vote, giving the Tony to one of the non-Lehmans, but I doubt it. I suspect the winner will be Beale, whose role as the original Lehman, Henry, gives the play its guiding force, but my choice would be Godley, if only for his unforgettably mesmerizing spin as the dissolute 1960s-era Bobby Lehman and his party outing that turns the Twist into a stunning Danse Macabre.
Will Win: Simon Russell Beale
Should Win: Adam Godley
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE/PLAY
As with Morse, his How I Learned To Drive co-star Mary-Louise Parker was astonishing in the revival of Paula Vogel’s great play, and LaChanze was both powerful and heartbreaking in Roundabout’s top notch production of Alice Childress’ remarkably prescient 1955 play Trouble in Mind. I wasn’t bowled over by the revivals of The Skin of Our Teeth or Macbeth, but the performances of Gabby Beans and Ruth Negga, respectively, made up for many overall shortcomings. As good as they all were, it’s Deirdre O’Connell’s revelatory depiction of a traumatized kidnapping victim in Lucas Hnath’s Dana H. that has taken residence in my memory. Lip-syncing to the actual interview recordings of the real-life victim – Hnath’s mother – O’Connell proved beyond question that experimentalism deserves, and has, a place on the Broadway stage.
Will Win: O’Connell (or LaChanze)
Should Win: O’Connell
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE/MUSICAL
Another category ripe with the possibility of upset. Billy Crystal, star of Mr. Saturday Night, could well be the sentimental favorite – and he’s consistently terrific in a show that’s inconsistently terrific – and Hugh Jackman is the type of bona fide superstar that has audiences lining up down the block for The Music Man and screaming approval with his every tap. Rob McClure is a Broadway favorite, but Mrs. Doubtfire did him little favor. So unless star power pulls extra weight this Sunday, the contest here is between Myles Frost, who is dazzling in his dance numbers as Michael Jackson in MJ, and Jaquel Spivey, making, like Frost, a Broadway debut that caught just about everyone off guard. As A Strange Loop‘s “Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer” – that’s the strange loop, or one of them – Spivey turns in a performance that’s hilarious, heartbreaking and absolutely, thoroughly uncompromising.
Will Win: Spivey
Should Win: Spivey
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE/MUSICAL
Yet another strong category, with the marvelous Carmen Cusack in the under-appreciated Flying Over Sunset the only contender that could be considered a long-shot. Sutton Foster, like her Music Man co-star Hugh Jackman, has the razzle-dazzle factor, but the revival itself didn’t exactly wow critics (audiences, on the other hand, have made it the season’s biggest box office success). Mare Winningham was a scene-stealer in the very fine Bob Dylan musical Girl From The North Country, reimagining “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young” in gorgeous fashion. The category this year, though, belongs to newcomer Joaquina Kalukango for Paradise Square, or Sharon D Clarke for Caroline, Or Change. Since no musical number this year moved me as much as Caroline‘s “Lot’s Wife,” I have to go with Clarke.
Will Win: Clarke
Should Win: Clarke
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE/PLAY
The Take Me Out team is strong and perhaps unbeatable in this category, with Jesse Williams likely having the slight edge over his equally deserving cast mates Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Michael Oberholtzer. Any of the three could take the Tony with no complaints from me (and the grace with which Williams and Oberholtzer conducted themselves after some creep posted nude video from their Take Me Out scenes was commendable and not to be forgotten). Meanwhile, the excellent Chuck Cooper’s Trouble in Mind performance included a harrowing scene in which his aging, genial character emotionally recalled a long-ago lynching. Ron Cephas Jones as the Zen sandwich master of Clyde’s was that production’s grounding force, but could well get lost in this competition. As much as I liked each of those performances, the one that sent shivers up my spine was Alfie Allen’s creepy portrayal of the seemingly sinister Mooney in Martin McDonagh’s thrilling Hangmen. Allen’s a longshot, but he’d be my choice.
Will Win: Williams
Should Win: Allen
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE/PLAY
Uzo Aduba was terrific fun as the diabolical cafe owner in Clyde’s, Rachel Dratch was given free rein to display her outsized comedy panache in POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, and Kenita R. Miller movingly delivered a gut-wrenching spoken-word piece about horrific spousal abuse in for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Any one of them could pull a spoiler, but the category likely belongs to Phylicia Rashad for her affecting, understated performance as an aging factory worker in Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, and I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed in that choice. But here again, I’d opt for a longshot: Julie White in POTUS, who was the sole cast member in Selina Fillinger’s outrageous political farce with nary a single false moment.
Will Win: Rashad
Should Win: White
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE/MUSICAL
Jared Grimes was easily the standout performer in the underwhelming Funny Girl revival, upstaging stars Beanie Feldstein and Jane Lynch at every turn, and Sidney DuPont brought real nuance to an often unsympathetic character in Paradise Square. That show’s A.J. Shively was also a bright spot in a deeply flawed production. Still, I suspect the race is down to John-Andrew Morrison, so compelling in multiple roles of A Strange Loop, and Matt Doyle for his showstopping performance of “Getting Married Today” in the Company revival. Edge to Doyle.
Will Win: Doyle
Should Win: Doyle
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE/MUSICAL
Fine nominees one and all – Jeannette Bayardelle, Girl From The North Country; Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night; Jayne Houdyshell, The Music Man; L Morgan Lee, A Strange Loop; and Jennifer Simard, Company – but, c’mon, Patti LuPone in the Sondheim role she was born to play? “Ladies Who Lunch”? Any other choice would be the shocker of the night.
Will Win: LuPone
Should Win: LuPone
Another maddening choice of entries that in any other year could be frontrunners. Nottage’s Clyde’s was an offbeat delight, Tracy Letts’ The Minutes is a marvel of humor and chills with one of the strangest, most unpredictable plot turns in recent Broadway memory, and Hangmen is yet another of Martin McDonagh’s gorgeously constructed gems that could come only from theater’s virtuoso of the macabre. But this is the year of The Lehman Trilogy, the Stefano Massini-Ben Power epic masterpiece, directed by Sam Mendes and brilliantly designed by Es Devlin. If there’s a shoo-in this year, it’s Lehman.
Will Win: The Lehman Trilogy
Should Win: The Lehman Trilogy
I loved Girl From The North Country, Conor McPherson’s musical that reimagined Bob Dylan’s unrivaled catalogue of songs into a mythic and poignant fever dream of the Great Depression, personal transitions and their toll on the American spirit. Six was an unexpected delight, one of the unlikeliest and best executed concepts – an upbeat, girl-power retelling of the lives of the queens who endured the head-chopping antics of a certain British King who shall go unnamed – since the arrival of Cats. Mr. Saturday Night showcased Billy Crystal at his most endearing, and Paradise Square (mostly) managed to rise above its flaws. That leaves, for me, MJ and A Strange Loop. I was captivated by the dancing and the eye-popping staging of MJ, less so of its hagiographic, formulaic book, so for me the clear choice is A Strange Loop. Daring, wildly entertaining, beautifully executed, A Strange Loop, should take the trophy, though there’s always the chance that the more commercially minded road producers and presenters could tilt the vote to the crowd-pleasing showcases MJ or Six, either a very real possibility.
Will Win: A Strange Loop (or MJ or Six)
Should Win: A Strange Loop
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
More worthy nominees. American Buffalo, despite playwright David Mamet’s increasingly nutso pronouncements, remains a modern American classic, and was expertly staged and performed this season. The same – minus the nutso pronouncements – can be said about Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Paula Vogel’s How I Learned To Drive has lost none of its power since winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, but Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg’s 2002 play about a gay professional baseball player and the ugliness his honesty unleashes, was one of the season’s most surprising successes: Despite early speculation that the story might feel dated, Take Me Out proved itself to be both enduring and all-too-timely.
Will Win: Take Me Out
Should Win: Take Me Out
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Caroline, or Change is a powerful musical and was given a suitably powerful revival by Roundabout Theatre Company, but a likely win for star Sharon D Clarke might be Tony voters’ way of showing appreciation fo the production as a whole. Critics (including this one) were lackluster on The Music Man, so unless Hugh Jackman’s star power – or the lure of unstoppable box office – takes hold, the winner of this category will almost certainly be Company, director Marianne Elliott’s joyously reimagined interpretation of the beloved Sondheim classic. The Tonys will no doubt honor the late composer at some point during Sunday’s ceremony, but the crowning tribute should be the award for the amazing Company.
Will Win: Company
Should Win: Company