Winner-take-all may be a term more commonly associated with primary elections. But if the Tony Award nominations announced on Tuesday in New York are any indication, that phrase could very well apply on the night of the awards ceremony in June to the musical that has dominated this Broadway season like no other show in history.
To no one’s surprise, “Hamilton,” with advance sales heading toward $100 million and rows of accolades already lining its creators’ shelves, was the favorite of the Tony nominators, scooping up a total of 16 nods, including those for best musical, best score, best book and best direction. An astonishing seven cast members — including the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda — made the Tony cut as well.
The musical beat the previous record for most nominations, 15, set by “The Producers” in 2001 and “Billy Elliot the Musical” in 2009. The fact that no one is particularly surprised about that, either, suggests how massive “Hamilton’s” presence has grown on Broadway in the months since its Aug. 6 opening at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Although “Waitress,” “Bright Star,” “School of Rock” and “Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed” were also nominated for best musical, don’t expect to hear those titles uttered too often when the envelopes are opened on Tony night, June 12. “Shuffle Along,” a reworking by director George C. Wolfe of a landmark black musical, came in second Tuesday, with a more-than-respectable 10 nominations. And “Bright Star,” the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell bluegrass musical that made a stop at the Kennedy Center before heading to Broadway, received five. The shows deprived of a best-musical nod included “American Psycho,” “Tuck Everlasting” and the tunefully infectious Gloria Estefan jukebox musical “On Your Feet.”
With the disclosure of the nominations in 24 categories from among the 36 eligible productions, the Tonys this year present a considerably more diverse portrait of the entertainment world than did the controversial 2016 Oscars. While for a second year in a row, all 20 actors up for Academy Awards were white, a total of 14 of the 40 acting nominees for Tonys this year are actors of color. Their nominations were spread out over five shows: “Hamilton,”“Shuffle Along,” “The Crucible,” “The Color Purple” and “Eclipsed,” a play that takes place in a Liberian warlord’s encampment. (The Tonys have double the acting slots because they hand out awards separately for musicals and straight plays.)
The mega-success of “Hamilton,” with music, book and lyrics by Miranda — who personally racked up three nominations, including for one best actor in a musical — has tended to muffle the fact that this has been a strong season for non-musicals, both new and in revival. The nominees in both best-play categories reflect this fact. The race for best new play among Stephen Karam’s “The Humans,” Danai Gurira’s “Eclipsed,” Mike Bartlett’s “King Charles III” and Florian Zeller’s “The Father” should be a lively one, although “The Humans” and “Eclipsed” — the latter having had its world premiere in 2009 at Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre — seem the early favorites.
And the five nominees for best revival of a play set up an equally intriguing contest: They are Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and “A View From the Bridge,” both directed by Ivo van Hove; David Harrower’s “Blackbird”; Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” and Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
The competition for best musical revival may come down to a choice between two critically lauded productions: “She Loves Me,” which garnered eight nominations, and “The Color Purple,” which snagged four. The others in this category are director Bartlett Sher’s “Fiddler on the Roof” and Deaf West’s “Spring Awakening,” the latter already having shuttered. Traditionally, the several hundred members of the theater industry in New York and across the country who make up the Tony voters tilt in favor of productions that are still running, and thus can reap box office benefits.
In the acting contests, the handicapping makes the “Hamilton” entries prohibitive favorites, except perhaps in the best actress in a musical category, in which “Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo faces extremely stiff competition from “The Color Purple’s” Cynthia Erivo. Filling in the other slots in performing categories are six other actors from the hip-hop historical musical about Alexander Hamilton: Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, face off for best actor; Daveed Diggs (Thomas Jefferson), Jonathan Groff (King George III) and Christopher Jackson (George Washington) are vying for best featured actor; and Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler) is up for best featured actress.
Other interesting acting nominations include Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne as best actress and actor in a play, for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, a best actress nominee for “Eclipsed.”Van Hove, whose “A View From the Bridge” comes to the Kennedy Center this fall, was nominated for his direction of that play, but both “Bridge” and his production of “The Crucible” received berths for best revival of a play.
One of the categories brimming with worthy candidates is best actress in a musical. In addition to Erivo and Soo, the nominees are Laura Benanti for “She Loves Me,” Carmen Cusack for “Bright Star” and Jessie Mueller in “Waitress.”
The fact that it’s such a highly contested category is reflected in the Tonys’ most unexpected omission. There was — shocker! — no Tony love for Audra McDonald’s bravura performance in “Shuffle Along.” But don’t cry for McDonald. She’s won six of the trophies already.