Tony Awards predictions: Best Musical battle between ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and ‘Come From Away’

Last year’s Best Musical outcome was predictable to the point of being boring. “Hamilton” swept its way through the awards and easily claimed the top prize. This season is the complete opposite, as two tuners have legitimate claim to the top prize.

Dear Evan Hansen” emerged as an early frontrunner and has the support of 14 of our experts drawn from journalists who cover the Broadway beat year-round. The story focuses on a high school student with an anxiety disorder, dealing with the fallout of a classmate’s suicide. The music has become widely successful, particularly with young theatergoers. The cast album debuted at number eight on the Billboard charts, the highest debut of a Broadway cast album since 1961’s “Camelot.” That the score is courtesy of recent Oscar winner Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land”) is certainly helping its success. The musical has been left out of many of the pre-Tony awards since “Dear Evan Hansen” is an Off-Broadway transfer that competed for many of those kudos last year. The team is clearly aware that this gives other musicals a time to shine, as the show has a robust visibility in the press. Director Michael Greif (“Rent”) and stars Ben Platt, Rachel Bay Jones, and Mike Faist have all been profiled by major outlets.

Thirteen Experts: Gordon Cox (Variety),  Suzy Evans (American Theatre),  Jeremy Gerard (Deadline), Susan Haskins (Theater Talk), Andy Humm (Gay USA), Brian Lipton (CitiTour), Michael Musto (Out), Tom O’Neil (Gold Derby), Paul Sheehan (Gold Derby), David Sheward (ArtsInNY), Jan Simpson (Broadway and Me),  Jack Smart (Backstage), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone), Matt Windman (amNY)

Who is nipping at the heels of this hot ticket? The most fearsome competitor is “Come From Away,” say two of our experts. It tells the story of how the citizens of a small town in Newfoundland suddenly found themselves housing thousands of stranded passengers when airlines were diverted there on September 11. Plenty of industry insiders predicted financial failure after it was branded the “9/11 musical,” but it’s cathartic message of hope and human kindness has propelled the show into weekly grosses of over $1 million. This is a success built almost entirely on rapturous word of mouth, and that type of rooting factor is paramount in any awards race. It recently won Best Musical from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards.

Two Experts: David Gordon (Theatermania), Wayman Wong (Talkin’ Broadway).

No experts are predicting “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” to take home Best Musical, but perhaps they should. With 12 nominations, it is the most cited production of the year. Curiously, 10 of our experts predict Rachel Chavkin to take home Best Director (Musical) for her imaginative staging and reshaping of the Imperial Theater. But the last time a director took home that prize for a tuner that did not win either Best Musical or Best Musical Revival was in 2006. John Doyle won for his bare bones revival of “Sweeney Todd” even though “The Pajama Game” claimed the Revival award (“Jersey Boys” won Best Musical). If our experts are correct and “The Great Comet” is set to take Director and several design awards, voters might check it off for Best Musical as well after seeing how many categories they’ve thrown its way.

Groundhog Day” is not currently predicted by any experts either. It’s best hope for Tony wins are in Lead Actor (Andy Karl) and Choreography, but it would be an upset in either category. The Tonys have shied away from rewarding movie adaptations recently, so we can count this one out for the top award.

Where does this leave us? “Dear Evan Hansen” has captured the zeitgest. “Come From Away” provides the season with heart. And “The Great Comet” is the technical and design marvel of the year. All of these types of musicals have won in the past. So expect a nailbiter and some genuine suspense when the presenter reads “and the Tony Award goes to…”

Tony Awards Experts: Best Musical

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