Tony Awards nominations preview: Will ‘Hamilton’ set a record and 7 other burning questions

Hamilton” is poised to lead the Tony Awards nomination count on Tuesday by a landslide, having won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama earlier this month. But while “Hamilton” has completely dominated the season, there are plenty of other musicals looking to steal away some of its thunder. After all, “Hamilton” can’t win every award? Or can it?

1. Just how many nominations for “Hamilton”?
“Hamilton” has a shot at being nominated in every single musical category except, obviously, revival with the chance of also doubling down on Best Actor (Lin Manuel-Miranda and Leslie Odoms) and Best Featured Actress (Jasmine-Cephas Jones and Renee Elise Goldsberry) and pulling off a triple play in Best Featured Actor (Jonathan Groff, Daveed Diggs and Christopher Jackson). That brings it to 17  nominations, which would be the record. “The Producers” pulled off 15 nominations in 2001 with multiple acting contenders in several categories. It still holds the record of most wins in a single night with 12 taking every award but one. Best Actress went to Christine Ebersole (“42nd Street”) because, alas, “The Producers” does not have a leading female role. “Hamilton” would need to win every single musical category, sans Best Revival, to break that record.

2. What other musicals will get lots of nominations?
Shows that earn a combination of technical and acting categories have the best shot at a high nomination count. “She Loves Me” just led the Drama Desk nominations (as “Hamilton” was ineligible having contended there last year for it’s Off-Broadway run).  Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Nicholas Barasch, Gavin Creel, and Michael McGrath could all nab acting nominations. Past Tony winners Larry Hochman (Orchestrations), David Rockwell (Scenic Design), Donald Holder (Lighting Design) could contend again while Jeff Mahshie (Costume Design) could reap his first bid. Directors John Doyle (“Sweeney Todd,” “Company” and “The Visit” ) and Bartlett Sher ( “The Light in the Piazza,” “South Pacific” and “The King And I”) have a knack for leading their shows to multiple nominations so expect “The Color Purple” and “Fiddler on the Roof” to have a big presence. Even if it doesn’t make it into Best Musical, “American Psycho” could still rack up several nods. Duncan Sheik is a renowned theater composer, having won his first Tony for the original production of “Spring Awakening.” He could end up in Best Score again this year, and the show’s sleek design could give the competition some heat, namely in lighting design and orchestrations. And the team behind “Shuffle Along” is impressive as well.

3. Will the precursors awards prove right?
As “Hamilton” was ineligible for the precursors, we weren’t able to see how the competition would fare against it. All three of the major New York theater bodies have five to six nominees in some of their categories. That makes things difficult when trying to narrow them down to four for the top races at the Tonys. And they also honor Off-Broadway productions, so the pool of nominees is much larger.

The strength of “Waitress,” “School of Rock,” “She Loves Me” and “Fiddler on the Roof” was solidified while “Tuck Everlasting,” “American Psycho” and “Bright Star” were given boosts. “American Psycho” led the Outer Critics Circle nominations, which has proved to benefit shows of years past,including “Something Rotten!” (nominated for Best Musical), “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (won Best Musical), “Pippin” (won Best Revival), “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (nominated for Best Musical), and “Sister Act” (nominated for Best Musical), to name a few. The only problem is, it’s about a serial killer, though that didn’t stop “Sweeney Todd.” Thankfully, the precursors were kind to Carmen Cusack, the lead of “Bright Star,” who is hoping to grab her rightful spot in the Best Actress lineup. Oh, and everyone is still scratching their heads about the chances of “Shuffle Along.” It was included on the Drama Desk’s shortlist, but could Scott Rudin’s push to get it in Best Musical Revival backfire at the Tonys?

4. What will join “Hamilton” in the Best Musical race?
“Hamilton,” “Waitress,” and “School of Rock” have proven formidable over the last several weeks and are likely locks for nominations. “Waitress” has a score by pop songstress Sara Bareilles, direction by Tony favorite Diane Paulus, and stars Broadway darling Jessie Mueller. “School of Rock” is the latest tuner by Andrew Lloyd Webber on Broadway and is based on the successful film of the same name; its omission would be absolutely shocking.

“Bright Star,” “American Psycho,” and “Tuck Everlasting” are three new musicals that made stronger showings at the precursors than initially expected (all three got nominated at both the Outer Critics and Drama Desk), but each of them is likely fighting for that fourth and final spot. And with“Shuffle Along” officially not a revival, it seems logical that it’d fill the category because of the insane assemblage of theater talents including Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry, Brooks Ashmanskas, George C. Wolfe, and Savion Glover. “Disaster!” and “On Your Feet” could surprise, but the buzz is all about the aforementioned titles.

It’s difficult to decide which will ultimately prevail because each selection is vastly different. You’ve got a folk musical with a score by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell in “Bright Star,” a show about a sexy murderer with a Duncan Sheik pop score in “American Psycho,” a period fantasy based on a beloved book in “Tuck Everlasting,” and an all- black cast of Great White Way favorites restoring a classic Eubie Blake incarnation in “Shuffle Along.” It’s anyone’s game at this point.

5. Will “Spring Awakening” do as well as it deserves?
It’s biggest negative is that it closed several months ago. Add to that the fact that “The Color Purple,” “She Loves Me,” and “Fiddler on the Roof” are the competition and how does it stand a chance? But now that “Shuffle Along” is out of the running, its odds are definitely better. Luckily, Michael Arden’s unique vision for the story will likely be remembered in the Best Director category, as it has been at both the Outer Critics and Drama Desk Award nominations. Looking to join him are Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”), John Doyle (“The Color Purple”), Barlett Sher (“Fiddler on the Roof”), George C. Wolfe (“Shuffle Along”), Diane Paulus (“Waitress”), Scott Ellis (“She Loves Me”), Laurence Connor (“School of Rock”), Rupert Goold (“American Psycho”), and Casey Nicholaw (“Tuck Everlasting”). After frontrunners Kail and Doyle, picking the rest is no easy ordeal. “Spring Awakening” will have a tougher time in the acting categories due to the fresh crop of spring musicals. Opening in April certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to getting Tony nominations.

6. Which way will Best Actor (Musical) go?
Many of this year’s Best Musical and Best Musical Revival  contenders have male leads: Danny Burstein (“Fiddler on the Roof”), Miranda and Odom (“Hamilton”), Benjamin Walker (“American Psycho”), Alex Brightman (“School of Rock”), Zachary Levi (“She Loves Me”) and Austin P. McKenzie (“Spring Awakening”). Burstein and the “Hamilton” men are comfortable locks, with the last two slots up for grabs. The success of “School of Rock” could push Brightman into the top five, but the critical acclaim of “She Loves Me” could help Levi shove him aside.

7. Which way will Best Actress (Musical) go?
Everyone agrees that Cynthia Errivo (“The Color Purple”) is the frontrunner. Her performance has been praised as one of the best of the year by anyone, play or musical, so she will surely be nominated. Tony winners McDonald (“Shuffle Along”), Benanti (“She Loves Me”), and Mueller (“Waitress”) get nominated almost every time at bat, so there exclusion is improbable. The Tonys are kind to their leading ladies when it comes to getting nominated again and again. Just ask Kelli O’Hara (who finally won her first last year after five losses), Kristin Chenoweth, Chita Rivera, Patti LuPone, and Bernadette Peters. So, it looks like it’s down to Cusack (“Bright Star”), Ana Villafañe (“On Your Feet”), and Philippa Soo (“Hamilton”) for the fifth slot. If “Shuffle Along” gets shut out for some reason, two of these ladies could make the cut, but Audra has six Tony Awards and betting against her is crazy. If “Hamilton” sweeps as we expect, Soo could get carried along. But if Cusack continues to grab people’s hearts the way she has been, her chances at a nod are as good as anyone’s.

8. Will “Hamilton” dominate Featured Actor & Actress?
The Tony Awards love bestowing multiple acting nominations on one show. Last year’s big winner, “Fun Home”, landed three of its actresses in featured actress in a musical: Judy Kuhn, Sydney Lucas and Emily Skeggs. In 2002, two musicals took up half of the 10 featured slots with Hairspray” landing two featured actor nominations — Dick Latessa (winner) and Corey Reynolds — while “Nine” earned three featured actress nominations: Jane Krakowski (winner), Mary Stuart Masterson, and Chita Rivera. “Hamilton” is poised to grab at least three slots for frontrunners Renee Elise Goldsberry and Diggs as well as Groff. There is a strong chance that Cephas- Jones and Jackson will join them.


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