Some early thoughts on the 2024 Tony nominations

What do the nominations tell us about the Tonys?

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman
Theater and Dance Editor, Time Out USA
Gayle Rankin in Cabaret
Photograph: Courtesy Marc BrennerCabaret

The nominations for the 2024 Tony Awards have now been announced, setting off a six-week period of campaigning, complaining and arguing before Broadway’s biggest prizes get handed out on June 16. We’ll have more Tonys coverage for you before then, including our predictions of who will win. But here are a few quick reactions to today’s crop of nominations.

RECOMMENDED: A full guide to the 2024 Tony Awards

The Tonys have Stereophonic fever.

David Adjmi’s long, beautiful play about a 1970s British-American rock band that is definitely not Fleetwood Mac recording an album that is totally not Rumours racked up an astonishing 13 nominations—the most of any play in Tony Award history. In large part, this accomplishment was made possible by the original music that Will Butler created for the show, which put it in two races usually reserved for musicals: Best Score and Best Orchestrations. (It’s the first play ever nominated in the latter category.) But Stereophonic also dominated elsewhere, earning noms in all four design categories as well as featured acting nominations for five of its seven cast members. 

Photograph: Courtesy Julieta CervantesStereophonic

There are now two front-runners in the race for Best Musical.

The 2023–24 season was notable for its large number of new musicals: 15 in all, the most of any season in decades. The Tony nominations have put two of them at the front of the pack in the race for Best Musical, the biggest prize of the season: Hell’s Kitchen, a jukebox show drawn from the catalog of Alicia Keys, earned 13 nominations, including for four cast members and all of its designers; The Outsiders, a musical adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s young-adult novel, earned 12, including one for Best Score. The season’s other contenders for Best Musical got significant but smaller tallies across the board: seven nominations for Water for Elephants, six for Suffs and five for the dance show Illinoise. That doesn’t mean they’re out of the race, but the other two shows have pulled noticeably ahead. 

The lead acting categories for plays are star wars this year.

More and more, nonmusical productions tend to rely on big names to draw audiences, and that's reflected in this year's nominations. The Best Actress category is a face-off between American Horror Story mainstays Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson, with Rachel McAdams a potential dark horse. Best Actor is a battle between HBO stars Jeremy Strong (Succession) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire), but I wouldn't rule out Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr.

Tony nominators and theater critics don’t always agree.

Although this year’s Tony nominations matched my own choices exactly in only two categories—Best Revival of a Play and Best Lighting Design of a Play—I can’t object to most of this year’s Tony nominations, which recognize fine work. That said, there are interesting points of divergence, in the aggregate, between the nominations and the overall critical consensus on certain productions. The Outsiders, which was met with mostly middling notices, received more nominations than the reviews might have suggested—as did the outlandish Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, which sharply divided critics but earned nine nominations, including for stars Eddie Redmayne and Gayle Rankin. Conversely, the flashily designed reimagination of The Who’s Tommy, which critics loved, got a nod for Best Revival but nothing else. (A desire to support current shows may also play a role in this crowded season for musicals; there’s no way to know, but I suspect that the critically lauded Here Lies Love and Days of Wine and Roses would both have gotten more love if they were still running.)

The Outsiders
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew MurphyThe Outsiders

It may finally be Michael Greif’s year…

As far as the Tonys are concerned, director Michael Grief can’t get no respect. He did not win Best Director for Rent, which won Best Musical in 1996. Nor did he win for Next to Normal or Grey Gardens, two of the best Broadway musicals of the 2010s. Nor did he win for Dear Evan Hansen, which won Best Musical in 2017. But this year—when he directed or co-directed three new musicals, an unprecedented feat in modern Broadway history—he may finally get his flowers. He’s nominated for Hell’s Kitchen, but his very fine work on Days of Wine and Roses and The Notebook could help give him the edge over Merrily We Roll Along’s Maria Friedman and his other competitors this year. 

…but other prolific contenders got overlooked.

I tend to dislike talk of snubs because there are only so many nominations to go around, and many worthy candidates are always going to be left out—especially in perpetually overcrowded categories such as those for featured acting. But I will single out two people whose omissions seem especially egregious because, like Grief, they had more than one worthy contender this year: Lorin Latarro, who choreographed The Who’s Tommy and The Heart of Rock and Roll; and Paul Tate dePoo III, the scenic designer for The Great Gatsby, The Cottage and Spamalot. Both should have been shoo-ins, I think.

The Who's Tommy
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew MurphyThe Who's Tommy

Category sizes still confuse many people.

A quick glance at the nomination list raises an obvious question for many people, which I’ve seen a lot on social media: Most categories have five nominees, so why does one have only three and another has only four, but one has six and another two have seven? The answer is mostly straightforward, and has to do with the number of eligible candidates. When there are at least nine candidates, as in most races, there are five slots; when there are fewer (as is usually the case for revivals), the number of nominees shrinks. There were only five play revivals this season, so Best Revival of a Play has three nominees; there were six musical revivals, so Best Revival of a Musical has four nominees. But here’s where it gets more complicated: If there is a tie for the bottom slot in a category, the category expands to accommodate it. That’s why there are five nominees for Best Actress is a Play this year, even though there were only eight candidates, and it’s also why there are six nominees for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. But the categories can only expand to seven at most: If there is still a tie at that point, it triggers a somewhat complicated tie-breaking vote on weighted ballots.So we don’t know exactly what happened in the two categories—the very competitive fields of Best Featured Actress in a Play and Best Scenic Design in a Musical—that have seven nominees; all of the tying candidates may have been included, or there may have been others who tied on the first round but were subsequently cut. Either way, though, the expansion of a given category is the result of an automatic process determined by Tony rules, and does not reflect a conscious decision by nominators to widen the field. 

Let the bickering begin!

Jeremy Jordan in The Great Gatsby
Photograph: Courtesy Evan ZimmermanThe Great Gatsby

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