The 2016-2017 Broadway season has been an unusually strong one for straight plays. So it is only fitting that the race for Best Play remains in flux just hours before ballots are due on Friday, June 9. Let’s take a look at how the category will shake out on Tony night, June 11.
The front-runner, with the support of 13 of our experts drawn from journalists who cover the Broadway beat year-round, is “Oslo” by J.T. Rogers. This Lincoln Center Theater production is nominated for seven awards (including leads Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle, and featured player Michael Aronov). While its three hour run-time will seem daunting to some, its examination of the Oslo Peace Accords lends the play a sense of importance. As the current political landscape heightens the importance of international affairs, voters who check off this title can also feel like they are voting for a message they believe in. Indeed the piece has already won Best Play at the Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
Thirteen Experts: Gordon Cox (Variety), Jeremy Gerard (Deadline), David Gordon (Theatermania), 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), Matt Windman (amNY), Wayman Wong (Talkin’ Broadway)
However, those kudos have little overlap with the Tony voting body, something “A Doll’s House Part 2” is banking on according to two of our experts. Newcomer Lucas Hnath won critical adoration for his accessible comedy. Whereas “Oslo” is an epic, this unofficial Ibsen sequel runs at a brisk 90 minutes. Anchored by an acclaimed performance by Laurie Metcalf as Nora (all four of the cast are nominated), the play has the audience in stitches from start to finish. That could help set the production apart from its much more serious competition. And producer Scott Rudin has run a smart Tony campaign. This includes increased advertising, a raucous midnight performance for the Broadway League, and an extension through January 7. By contrast, “Oslo” will close shop on July 2. If voters want to back a success story that will stick around after awards season, they will go for “A Doll’s House Part 2.”
Two Experts: Jack Smart (Backstage), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)
In a standard season, “Sweat” would easily walk away with the prize. It’s written by celebrated playwright Lynn Nottage in her much anticipated Broadway debut and claimed the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a stamp of approval no other Broadway show can boast. That it depicts the collapse of a factory town in rural Pennsylvania makes it extremely potent in the wake of the presidential election. But when Tony nominations came out, it fell short with the design categories, and director Kate Whoriskey was shockingly snubbed. The Pulitzer will surely tempt some voters to give it Best Play according to one of our experts. The only other category it could win is Featured Actress. Both Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson are nominated there.
Expert: Suzy Evans (American Theatre)
That’s two more acting nominations than “Indecent” got. It has taken decades for Pulitzer winner Paula Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive”) to make it to Broadway, and though her stunning play was well reviewed, it received just three nominations. The ensemble nature of the show, where actors shift in and out of multiple characters, is likely to blame. However, “Indecent” is widely expected to win Best Lighting Design. And since helmer Rebecca Taichman was a co-creator of the show, her directorial stamp is ever present during the play. She already took home Best Director at the Outer Critics Circle and would be just the fifth woman to win this category at the Tonys. So should “Indecent” win two of its three nominations, would Best Play follow? The subject matter may not have as wide appeal as the other nominees, but Vogel is a legend in the theater community and voters might jump at the chance to finally reward her.
Can “A Doll’s House Part 2” surge ahead of “Oslo”? Could “Sweat” or “Indecent” upset the race? Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on June 11. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums. Keep up with all the latest Gold Derby entertainment news.