In a Broadway season that proved to be unusually crowded with Tony Award contenders, especially in the category of Best Musical, the 2017 Tony nominations offered great news for several of the Great White Way's most prominent productions—and disappointments for others that had hoped to break through. Here are some early reactions.
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Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and Dear Evan Hansen have solidified their positions as front-runners for the biggest Tony prize, Best Musical. It will be an interesting race to watch. Although The Great Comet earned 12 nominations to Hansen's 9, that doesn't necessarily give it the edge; it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which voters give the big awards to runaway hit Hansen, while the less conventional Comet pulls a Peter and the Starcatcher–style sweep of the design categories. The race for Best Play is also tight, with A Doll’s House, Part 2 (8 nominations) and Oslo (7 nominations) duking it out in the lead; but although the Pulitzer Prize–winning Sweat received only three nominations, it can't be counted out just yet. The Little Foxes and Jitney, with six nominations apiece, will do battle for Best Revival of a Play; with 10 nominations, the Bette Midler Hello, Dolly! is now, as expected, a lock for Best Revival of a Musical.
We made our own choices for the Tonys yesterday in our annual TONY* nominations (sorry!), and today's real nominations mostly line up with what we chose and/or expected. Of those who did not make the cut, I am especially saddened by the absence of Significant Other's extraordinary Gideon Glick in the race for Best Actor in a Play. (The revival of Six Degrees of Separation, including star Allison Janney, also got less love than it deserved.) The biggest surprise among the nominees? Dear Evan Hansen's excellent Mike Faist for Best Featured Actor in a Musical; the sheer volume of contenders means that the featured categories are usually the doors through which dark horses can bolt in. The underappreciated Bandstand and Anastasia remain underappreciated, perhaps in part because the Tony nominators tend to vote in slates for shows they like—though set designer David Korins was, somewhat unexpectedly, nominated for War Paint instead of for his equally fine work in Dear Evan Hansen.
A few quick notes:
* Hello, Dolly! was nominated, remarkably, in every single category for which it was eligible. A Doll's House, Part 2 almost achieved a similar sweep—only its set didn't make the cut—but pulled off the rare feat of earning acting nominations for its entire cast of four. Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 fell short only in the category of Best Featured Actress in a Musical (a category in which it fielded several worthy candidates). Left out of the nominations entirely this season were an unlucky 13 shows: The plays Significant Other, The Encounter, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Cherry Orchard and Oh, Hello, though The Encounter is receiving a Special Tony for sound design; and the musicals A Bronx Tale, Amélie, Paramour, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, In Transit, Sunset Boulevard, Cats and Sunday in the Park with George. (If the last of these had not been removed from competition by its producers, it would surely have garnered a few nods.)
* The diversity of last year's Hamilton-dominated Tony Awards, in which all four of the musical acting categories were won by performers of color, seemed almost like a rebuke of the mostly white Oscars. This year looks quite different: Only two productions, Jitney and Miss Saigon, featured significant contingents of nonwhite actors. But it may be worth noting that several productions in the 2016-17 season featured actors of color in roles that did not specifically call for nonwhite performers, including Tony nominees Denée Benton (The Great Comet) and Condola Rashad (A Doll's House, Part 2). And the race for Best Play includes two female playwrights, Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel—one of the very few instances in Tony history when this has occurred.
* The difficulty of choosing individual honorees in ensemble-driven shows like Oslo, Indecent, Jitney, The Front Page, Come from Away and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 makes a strong argument for the wisdom of a Best Ensemble Cast award (or two). Granted, the rules for such an award would need to be hashed out carefully—how would it deal with, say, the superb but small casts of shows like A Doll's House, Part 2?—but it's a conversation well worth having.
* Speaking of rules, it is surely time for the Tony Administration Committee to reconsider its ill-advised 2014 change to the four top categories for shows. Prior to that, the categories had four slots apiece; now they can expand to five, but only if there are nine or more eligible productions and only if the fourth and fifth vote-getters are separated by fewer than three votes of the 42-member nominating committee; conversely, if there are five or fewer eligible productions, the categories shrink to three slots unless the third and fourth vote-getting are separated by fewer than three votes. Confused yet? Of course you are. The fifth slot has only been triggered three times (for Best Play in 2014 and Best Musical and Best Revival of a Play last year), but the possibility of an expansion makes a regular four-slot category look like a snub of the possible fifth nominee. That's pointlessly misleading: Either a crowded field of candidates—like the 13 shows vying for Best Musical this year—should automatically cause the category to expand, or the category should remain fixed at four slots.