Editor’s Note: In a CultureMap tradition, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts president and Tony Awards voter Fran Macferran shares his take on the favorites for this year's awards.
This year the Tony Awards are breaking new ground. Hamilton received 16 nominations, which makes it the most nominated production in Tony’s 70-year history. And, it is the leading contender for winning all major categories. With sales heading toward $100 million, journalists are using “juggernaut” to describe the hit show — and it’s no surprise to this Tony voter either.
Hamilton should win out.
The wins will be justly deserved for this revolutionary musical with an incredibly talented cast and music and lyrics that are pure genius. Houston audiences will get to experience first-hand just what I am talking about as the national tour will be part of our 2017-2018 Broadway at the Hobby Center season.
One of the most noted and applauded aspects of Hamilton is the racial diversity of its cast, which is also reflected on Broadway as a whole this season, and in the Tony nominations. It is exciting to see Broadway’s diversity represented in so many of the categories this year.
This is my 10th year as a voting member for The American Theater Wing’s most famous award. It has been one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory – Broadway is on fire! Besides the media and audience darling of Hamilton, there were so many excellent performances and stories. Here are a few of my thoughts, ahead of Sunday’s award show with predicted winners at the end of this column.
Best Revival of a Musical
The Color Purple and Spring Awakening were completely re-imagined and each deserving of a win. To say The Color Purple was “scaled down” doesn’t even begin to describe the bare-bones, dramatic set featuring a backdrop of wooden chairs, mounted in every direction. It was an emotional experience, purely between you and the actors. Spring Awakening was produced with Deaf West Theatre from California where the hearing-impaired audience was top-of-mind. Several of the principal roles did not speak or sing – their parts were signed. It was a goosebump-inducing experience.
Leading Actors in a Play
Gabriel Byrne in Long Day’s Journey Into Night delivered a performance that was like attending an acting master class. It was every bit of almost four hours and not a light day in the theater. Tim Pigott-Smith from King Charles III is another strong contender for this award.
Leading Actresses in a Play
Lupita Nyong’o is nominated for her role in Eclipsed. She’s got major acting chops and it’s really cool to witness. The skills that won her an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave beautifully and easily transfer from screen to stage. Other notables in this category are Jessica Lange for her work in Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Sophie Okonedo for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
Leading Actors in a Musical
Hands down, the two from Hamilton are the top contenders with Lin-Manuel Miranda as the creator and “Hamilton” himself taking home the prize. Although fans will agree that Leslie Odom, Jr. in the role of Hamilton’s nemesis “Burr” is completely captivating as well.
Leading Actresses in a Musical
I think the race is between Cynthia Erivo from The Color Purple and Phillipa Soo from Hamilton. Erivo was off-the-charts as “Celie” and received a standing ovation in the middle of the show for one of her songs. Other nominees include Jessie Mueller for her role in Waitress, which I hope has a future life on the road. Carmen Cusak from Bright Star has a promising career ahead of her. She delivered an outstanding performance as well, but the competition in this category is too strong to overcome this year.
Actors in a Featured Role in a Musical
Daveed Diggs as “Jefferson” in Hamilton will take it. There are two other actors from Hamilton in this category. Jonathan Groff, who originated the role of Melchior in Spring Awakening, delivered a memorable performance as “King George.” I am glad I saw him in this role before he left the show; he was terrific! Christopher Jackson as “George Washington” was excellent, but the Tony will most likely go to Mr. Diggs.
Actresses in a Featured Role in a Musical
The race is between Danielle Brooks from The Color Purple and Renee Elise Goldsberry from Hamilton. Goldsberry as “Angelica” has a gorgeous voice. It is stunning. Everything about her is amazing. We shall see what Tony voters think on Sunday night.
Hands down the award for Best Scenic Design of a Play should go to Jan Versweyveld from Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge. In a musical, it is likely that David Korins from Hamilton will win. Yet, Es Devlin and Finn Ross from American Psycho will give it a run for the money. It is an edgy and interesting show.
I think Best Costume Design for a Play will be awarded to Jane Greenwood of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. In a Musical, it will be tough to beat Paul Tazewell from Hamilton. There are so many actors. The sheer volume of cast to clothe is worthy of a win here.
The Tony for Best Direction of a Play should go to Ivo Van Hove who directed Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge. This is his year. And Thomas Kail from Hamilton is definitely the frontrunner for Best Direction of a Musical. The director award doesn’t always follow the winner of Best Musical, but in this case Hamilton probably won’t be denied a win for both.
Best Choreography looks to be a win for Hamilton again for Andy Blankenbuehler’s magnificent work. I would be shocked if he doesn’t win here. The set includes a large turntable creating constant and really interesting movement and transitions onstage, which is only a fraction of what makes Blankenbuehler’s genre-transcendent choreography so remarkable.
There are no other contenders. Lin-Manuel Miranda will get the win for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. Best Orchestrations usually follows who wins Best Score, so Hamilton again should win for Alex Lacamoire’s work.
Missing In Action
Surprisingly though, some terrific productions and celebrated talents did not receive more attention. Topping my list of surprises is the musical On Your Feet!, The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan, receiving only one nod for Choreography. Then, multi-talented actress Audra McDonald and American greats from The Gin Game, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson, were also missing from this year’s list.
The picks below reflect my opinions only, and not necessarily even my personal favorites nor do they necessarily reflect how I voted.
Best Play: The Humans
Best Musical: Hamilton
Best Revival Of a Play: Too close to call
Best Revival Of a Musical: Toss up between The Color Purple and Spring Awakening
Best Book of a Musical: Hamilton/Lin-Manuel Miranda
Best Original Score Written for the Theatre: Hamilton/Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Gabriel Byrne for Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Jessica Lange for Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Toss up between Lin-Manuel Miranda for Hamilton and Leslie Odom, Jr. for Hamilton
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Cynthia Erivo for The Color Purple
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play: Toss up between Reed Birney for The Humans and Michael Shannon for Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play: Too close to call
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical: Daveed Diggs for Hamilton
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical: Renee Elise Goldsberry for Hamilton
The Broadway at the Hobby Center 2016-2017 season begins in October with a special engagement of the farewell tour of Mamma Mia! followed in November by Jersey Boys — a winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. For more information on the entire season, click here.